With a burgeoning career as an actress, Apple Valley native Brianna Brown often lends her celebrity to causes in Hollywood.

Because of her role as Lisa Niles on "General Hospital" as well as guest appearances on "Criminal Minds," "Body of Proof" and Showtime's "Homeland," plus her appearances in movies such as "Knocked Up" and the upcoming indie comedy "Screwed," she is being asked more often to support nonprofits by making personal appearances at events.

"I was getting people who know my character to actively support other events and realized I have something of value to help my own family," Brown said.

So she decided to bring her rising star power back home to Minnesota to help the Dakota County affiliate of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), which her grandparents founded 27 years ago after her aunt Jeanne was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Brown is part of a team of 10 that hopes to raise $10,000 for the NAMI-Dakota County Emergency Fund by running in races at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon next weekend. Brown plans to attempt her first marathon on her 32nd birthday Sunday.

"I've run multiple half-marathons, so it's time to take on something more challenging," Brown said. "Plus, my aunt Janice and my uncles have run the Twin Cities Marathon at different times to raise money for NAMI-Dakota County. I grew up helping this organization. It's a passion my family has. To support them and the non-profit, it was my turn."

Her grandparents, Jean and Tom Brown, started the emergency fund to help keep those suffering from mental illness from becoming homeless.

"The emergency fund, which is 100 percent donation-based, is especially helpful in the winter months for people who are unable to take care of basic needs," Brianna Brown said. "The fund helps provide food, clothing, winter coats, electricity bills for heating their homes. Unfortunately, many people with mental illness are homeless because their family doesn't know what to do and just gives up." The emergency fund, she said, also supports education and outreach programs.

Janice Brown said that her actress niece is helping raise the visibility of the organization.

"People are donating because they have seen her on 'General Hospital' and in other various roles and they know her personally," she said. Brianna's dedication and leadership are a valuable addition to the fundraising efforts, Janice Brown said. "My comments are not through the lens of a proud aunt, although I am that, but also as former president of NAMI-Dakota County."

Brianna Brown hopes her contribution will help maintain the work her grandparents started when they first passed around a cup at support groups -- perhaps even help it to flourish. This, she said, is especially important to her now that her grandparents, who presided over the organization for many years, can't do as much as they once did.

"It's been an incredibly taxing journey for my family because of the level of mental illness my aunt has," Brown said. "I want to honor them and their legacy."

For information or to make a donation, go to www.nami.org/sites/namidakotacounty.

Kara Douglass Thom is a Chaska freelance writer.