Denise Kolivoski began her relationship with Gannon University as a child. Her dad, George Kolivoski, graduated from Gannon in 1976 with a degree in mechanical engineering. A big fan of Gannon’s basketball program, he took Denise to numerous home games where she fondly remembers throwing toilet paper for the first shot, and eating really salty popcorn.
As a student at Gannon, Denise was a member of the Honor Society and enjoyed being a DJ and music director for WERG-FM, Gannon’s award-winning radio station.
After graduating in 2001, Denise began a successful career in local Erie broadcasting. Her career took a significant turn in 2008 when she joined the board of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) of Erie. After seeing the challenges that families affected by mental illness face, Denise came to strongly believe in the life-changing impact of NAMI’s mission of education and support. However, at the time she joined the agency it was plagued with several financial and organizational issues and, as board treasurer, Denise was tasked with closing the agency.
Over the years, Denise met with several local families battling mental health challenges and began to truly comprehend the importance of NAMI’s presence in the Erie community. She created and implemented a strategic plan that was endorsed by funders, financial institutions and donors. She was named Executive Director of NAMI of Erie County in 2009 and continues in that role today. New to the job, she established NAMI’s first investment fund and expanded the organization’s educational programming, such as the Peer-to-Peer and Family-to-Family programs. These programs, offered at no cost to the community, provide individuals and families the education, skills, and tools they need to continue on the path to recovery.
Naturally, Denise is also actively involved in the community. She serves on the Erie County Department of Human Services Board of Directors and the Office of Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities Board of Directors to help Erie address the most critical human service needs.
Denise is married to Michael Gorski ‘11M. He has been employed by Gannon for 10 years and serves as the University web master. They were married in September, 2017 at Chautauqua Institution’s Athenaeum Hotel.
When asked to give advice to Gannon’s students, she responded with “Dream big and work hard.” Denise hopes to continue growing NAMI of Erie in order to serve more families and individuals affected by the challenges of living with a mental illness. As a parting note, she added, “More people need to break down the stigma of mental illness, as mental health is just as important as physical health.”
(published July 2018)