Collier County Public Schools – Moving Forward with the 2020-21 School Year

By: Quinton Allen CCPS Communications Specialist II

 As the sun rose in Naples on Monday, August 31st, Laurel Oak Elementary (LOE) principal Dr. Brian Castellani, a long-time Collier County Public Schools administrator, stood alongside his colleagues and welcomed back bright-faced students – albeit masked – on this first day of school for Collier County Public Schools (CCPS). “For the past six months, we have been doing things differently, but to see the kids here this morning has made it so exciting,” shared a very happy Castellani.

     Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Kamela Patton, started her day by visiting the home of the Balan Family, one of the District’s families learning virtually. The Balan’s youngest children, son Alex (kindergarten) and daughter Adriela (second grade), started the year via CCPS Classroom Connect. “It’s an incredible day,” said Patton, “to be able to offer a virtual learning option for students. It takes an enormous amount of work and coordination, along with a technology department that is second to none, to provide these choices for parents.”

     Students and staff returned to school campuses that looked a little different this year, with health and safety being a top priority as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the changes include students and teachers wearing masks at all times when on campus, social distancing (at least six feet apart), classroom desks separated to the greatest extent possible, water fountains disabled, and hand sanitizer strategically placed throughout schools. These changes, along with other safety measures, will help the District provide a safe learning environment where our students will be able to grow and succeed.

     As CCPS bus drivers began their routes, a familiar sight returned to the roads of Collier County. The freshness of a new school year was in the air, and you could feel that first-day excitement. Throughout the District, schools like Osceola Elementary decorated their campus with balloons. Veterans Memorial Elementary staff anxiously awaited the arrival of students, smiling ear-to-ear as students exited their bus or parents’ car. Dr. Patton, as she does every year, visited several CCPS schools throughout the day. Each stop confirming what she already knew – students were excited to be back at school! While things will no doubt look and feel a bit different this school year, the District is motivated to continue to build upon the strong parent and community relationships that already exist.

     Dr. Castellani shared his optimism as he greeted his LOE students on their first day: “I hope we learn a lot about each other, and learn that we are resilient people. I hope that we help each other and will be respectful. In the end, we will come back to normal – whatever that means. It might be different than we are used to, but we will come out learning so many things about each other, about technology, about psychology – and that we are gritty people.”

FGCU Art Galleries plan full season of shows, with some twists By Drew Sterwald

The FGCU Art Galleries have reframed some exhibitions planned for the 2020-21 school year and postponed others in light of COVID-19-related complications and safety precautions — which currently include limiting gallery visitors to students, faculty and staff until further notice. Nevertheless, the art will go on.

“We’re essentially maintaining the number of exhibits planned, but the content will change,” explained Gallery Director John Loscuito.

Spring graduate Meg Brunner discusses her senior project in The Wasmer Gallery. Photo: James Greco/FGCU

As the galleries move forward with installed as well as virtual projects, they usher in the new season with a look back showcasing last spring’s graduating seniors, who had to forego their traditional moment in the spotlight earlier this year. Art majors’ senior projects are being displayed through Sept. 3 in the Wasmer Art Gallery and the ArtLab; digital design majors will have their projects exhibited Sept. 18-Oct. 1 in Wasmer.

Private receptions were being held for parents, administration and faculty to recognize graduates’ college-career crowning achievements. At the end of their studies, art majors are required to develop and present a coherent body of self-generated work. The senior project combines their knowledge of techniques and concepts while drawing on research of historical and contemporary artists.

You can read more about each artist’s projects on the galleries’ website. One of those featured, Meg Brunner, said she found it “rewarding and exciting” to finally see the exhibit come together after a challenging final semester. “With the COVID delays we weren’t even sure if we were going to have an exhibition at all,” said Brunner, who has been getting her career off the ground as a freelance photographer and graphic designer since graduating.

Tanner Yorchuck in front of his work “Storm Squad.” Photo: James Greco/FGCU

“Senior project is such a defining moment for students in the art program because it’s a way for us to showcase who we are as artists and put all of our skills that we’ve been taught to the test. Being able to share this moment with everyone has been amazing. All of the stress and long studio nights feels so worth it when I look around the galleries and see all of the incredibly meaningful work my classmates and I were able to create.” Plans are already in place to showcase December’s graduating seniors with an online catalog and videos of the artists.

In the meantime, the annual alumni exhibition will feature Eagle grads collaborating virtually with current students to create a printed project. “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To An Exhibition…” will begin with 2018 grad Chloe Lewis teaming up with 2009 alum Steven “Rusty” Coe — online, because she’s a freelance illustrator living in New York City and he’s an independent woodworker and installation artist in Sebring. Florida.

“They will be creating a physical and online ‘zine of their work against a backdrop of adaptability and how to deal with change,” Loscuito said. “They’ll be creating that in September and then we’ll invite the student body to contribute images to that ‘zine and layer them into the artists’ images in October. We’ll print that in November and give it to contributors and our donors. That’s a really responsive way to change from a physical exhibition. How can we create something that’s still engaging to students and alumni but do it virtually and still have a physical object at the end?”

Heather Couch’s “Untitled” installation incorporates ceramics and wool. Photo submitted.

In the midst of the pandemic’s unpredictable impact on operations, no one can see what lies months ahead, but “When We See Further” is still scheduled as an installation to run Oct. 16-Nov. 19 in the Wasmer Gallery. The group exhibition of sculpture, ceramics, photography, drawing and painting features four south Florida artists collaborating for the first time: Heather Couch of West Palm Beach, Marina Font of Miami, Renee Rey of Naples and Terre Rybovich of Homestead. The exhibit explores themes of self-image, physical and psychological connection, impermanence and spirituality.

Artists referencing the body is a topic Loscuito and Assistant Curator Anica Sturdivant had been discussing for a few years. They already had connections with a couple of the artists, and a series of studio visits convinced them the foursome would complement each other in a group show.

“None of the artists had worked together before,” Loscuito said. “Some knew of each other, but they did not know each other personally. After the studio visits, Anica and I discussed inviting all four artists to talk about the possibility of an exhibition. These discussions led to the exhibition we have planned.

“We intend to install it — we can’t capture it with just (one-dimensional, digital) images. We will have an opening virtually with a small group in one of the studios asking questions to the artists. People will be able to join online and ask questions. These are timely narratives.”

“The Eternal Spring,” a triptych in acrylic on canvas with gold leaf, by Francheska Castano of. Photo by James Greco/FGCU

Another topical, multifaceted collaboration involving California artist Travis Somerville, the Black History Museum of Fort Myers and FGCU had been planned for the spring semester. It has been postponed until the 2021-22 school year, when it is hoped that such cooperative projects can happen more effectively without coronavirus-related constrictions. “He really likes to involve the local community,” Loscuito said.

Somerville’s work delves into social injustice and the economic and political structures that perpetuate oppression, racism in America, the refugee crisis and the current global political environment, according to his website.

A rotating exhibit of pieces from the galleries’ permanent collection will take the place of that show, incorporating hands-on workshops for students on matting, framing and hanging artworks. Meanwhile, Loscuito holds out hope that conditions will allow for fully public shows and receptions for the galleries’ much-anticipated annual rites of spring: the juried student show and the senior projects exhibit.

CCSO Update on Collaborative Response Graphics

Under a new initiative, deputies responding to 911 calls inside public buildings and certain businesses are now able to quickly navigate rooms, hallways, stairwells and parking areas at these locations, using a new mobile mapping technology called Collaborative Response Graphics.

The graphics are part of the Collier County Mapping Initiative, aimed at improving response times and incident command during emergencies. The initiative is funded in part through a federal grant the Collier County Sheriff’s Office received. The agency is working with veteran-run, special operations company Critical Response Group to complete the maps.

The mapping technology combines facility floor plans and high-resolution imagery to create an overlay map, detailing the locations and names of various rooms and features of each building. Having this information readily available helps deputies navigate unfamiliar structures to quickly locate callers in need.

“The CCMI creates a single common operating picture for all the first responders within the county,” Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said. “This will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our response in multi-jurisdictional operations, special events, and emergencies at public and private infrastructure across the county.”

Maps are stored on a secure, cloud-based server and access is granted to first responders through a mobile application. The CCSO’s federal grant is covering the cost of server storage. Private businesses looking to be added to the server will have to contract for their own maps, which will then be added to the agency’s database.

Local agencies participating in the new initiative include: Naples Police Department, Marco Island Police Department, Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department, City of Naples Fire Rescue, North Collier Fire Rescue District, Greater Naples Fire Rescue District, Immokalee Fire Control District, Collier County EMS, and county representatives of the Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The Collier County Government Complex and Collier County Public Schools are the first to take part in infrastructure mapping as part of this project. The first private organization to take part is Artis – Naples.

Businesses interested in participating in the initiative should contact Sgt. Neal Bohannon at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office at (239) 252-0018, or by email




When a Marine becomes a Chaplain ….chris sheriff tells his story

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come,” we sing and it is the Amazing Grace that song declares that has been a steady foundation for me. When I was only a child, my grandparents gave me the gift of respect for God and others as they exampled for me what it looked like to be faithful in devotion to God and His church. Imagine me, an 8 year-old hyperactive little kid having to sit on my grandfather’s knee as he read to me the wisdom from the Bible, specifically the book of Proverbs (he likely had hopes that those words would somehow reign in my hyperactivity and mischievousness). If you imagined a frustrated grandfather and an equally frustrated kid then you got it right! But though the words from that King James version bible fell on deaf ears for an 8 year old, it would be the example of that faithful follower of Christ that would help shape who I am today.

 After college I joined the United States Marine Corps. Paris Island, where recruits from east of the Mississippi are sent to become Marines, welcomed me with open arms…arms ready to break me, shape me, and turn me into a US Marine. Later that year, after completing my initial training (Boot Camp, Marine Combat Training and my occupational training), I was sitting in a chow hall at Camp Pendleton, C.A. as we watched those two planes fly into the World Trade Center in NY. Breakfast was quick that day. As part of 1st Marine Division, we began desert training in Twenty-Nine Palms, CA and Yuma, AZ. That training lasted all throughout 2002 and by January of 2003 we had landed in Kuwait, offloading ships and prepping the gear to get ready for the order to invade Iraq; that order came in March, 2003.

 Yet, even through the trials and pain that come with military service, I was being prepared for a greater call. Through the dust of that war-torn place, I could still see God’s hand guiding and protecting me; leading me through many dangers, toils and snares. Finally after two tours to Iraq I decided to become a civilian again in 2009 and traded one uniform for another. Many lessons are learned in service to your country, but the greatest lesson for me was the same one my grandfather tried to teach me from the safety of his knee nearly 40 years earlier…love the Lord your God and your neighbor with all your heart, no matter the cost.

 The military added to my appreciation for hard work and sacrifice, understanding that though the work may sometimes seem fruitless in the moment, the seeds we plant will ultimately bring fruit. I worked for a few years in business but knew that there was another place I should be. It was a nagging kind of dissatisfaction I felt no matter the success I was having. One day in an uneventful and quite boring way, I felt as if I was being nudged out of my daily routine and into a life of full-time ministry. It was a surprise to most who had gotten to know me, but certainly wouldn’t have been a surprise to my grandfather, had he been alive to see it. So I began my seminary studies and after three years I entered my first pastorate in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. Almost four years later our family moved to beautiful Naples, Fl where I continue my ministry at The Arlington of Naples…a paradise within paradise!

As a Chaplain at The Arlington of Naples, I now have the distinct honor and genuine pleasure in serving the residents who have chosen to make this community their home. It is no overstatement to say that I find full joy and fulfillment in my work as I counsel, pray with, teach, and worship with the residents of The Arlington. Who would have known that though it seemed hopeless at the time, my own grandfather was helping to shape me into the man that would one day care for the grandparents of others? God knew. Though He chose quite a journey through the wilderness to bring me to this place, it is the experiences of life that have helped shape me into a tool for God to use to bring hope to others. You also have a chance to shape someone. Will you?

 All of us travel our own path in this journey of life. I don’t know what your path has been like, but it has been my experience that through all the turns, valleys, and mountains of life, God is leading me to my destination. Who knows what the future holds?

That’s right, He knows!

Telling the Stories of Upstanders

     Education is the core of our work at the Holocaust Museum & Cohen Education Center.                                                                 

So what are we teaching, you may ask? History? Yes, certainly. We teach students and adults about the important facts about the Holocaust. One of our founders, Lorie Mayer, a Holocaust Survivor, always emphasized that there is no need to embellish a story about the Holocaust to make it seem more dramatic or horrific – it was horrific.

We explain when and how it happened, who suffered and died, who were the perpetrators, the bystanders, and the upstanders. “Why did it happen?” is a question students often ask. “Why, how could humans do this to other human beings?”  Part of the answer is that too many bystanders let it happen. Not enough people stood up against this evil. But importantly, some did. Some people stood up against tremendous evil, often at great risk to themselves and their families, in order to save lives, do the right thing, and not be a bystander.

Who were these people who stood up against this evil? Were these heroes special, or ordinary people like you and me? These heroes, or Upstanders, came from all walks of life. Farmers, social workers, college students, journalists, and diplomats.  We tell the stories of these helpers, heroes and heroines, Survivors and Liberators so that people can understand the power and importance of their own actions today. Our local Survivors tell the stories of the Upstanders who helped them and their families survive or escape the Holocaust.  Diplomats like Col. Castellanos who issued citizenship papers to Rob’s family,  families in the south of France who took in Renee and Rosette as their own children, and strangers who offered food and shelter to young Abe who escaped from several concentration camps.

Education about the Holocaust is education about the best and the worst of human behavior.

When you walk through the Holocaust Museum or watch a movie about the Holocaust or other genocide, you may think it yourself, “what would I have done?” But the more important question to ask yourself is“what am I doing today to be an Upstander and not a Bystander?”

During this pandemic there are many opportunities to help others and be Upstanders.  Fear can often result in people striking out and looking for a scapegoat. Being calm and responsible rather than blaming others is one way to be an Upstander. Volunteer, help a neighbor, and be a helper wherever and whenever possible.

We look forward to seeing you at the Museum or on one of our virtual programs. Please visit or call 239-263-9200 for more information.

Susan L. Suarez, MBA, CFRE  President and CEO                                                                                                                                                 


Educating Summer Camp Kids on Americanism

Since 1914 the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary has united Americans from all walks of life with a common purpose to improve the lives of veterans, for service members, their families, and our communities.

The Naples area VFW Post 7721 was organized on 16 December 1971 and chartered by the VFW National Headquarters on 25 November 1976. The Post 7721 Ladies Auxiliary was chartered on the same day.  The National Department realized the importance of uniting the Men’s and Women’s Auxiliary therefore the Auxiliaries were combined, and the new charter issued on 21 August 2015. Programs offered bring needed services, information, and assistance to different groups thru both national and local programs.

A few of the programs offered:  Veterans & Family Support, Americanism – conduct patriotic programs with thousands for students and the community, Buddy Poppy Programs, VFW National Home for Children, Hospital Support – visits with hospitalized Veterans, Legislative – assist to pass or block legislation that impacts the veterans and their families, Scholarships for children – offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships for our nation’s youth, Youth Activities.

Recently VFW Post #7721 and Auxiliary presented a special program on Americanism to the summer camp at the Fran Cohen Youth Center, located on the Salvation Army Campus. Over 60 kids and their teachers were part of the presentation of the Colors, Folding of the Flag, meaning of the thirteen folds, a history lesson about WWII.

All the kids then went into smaller groups where Veterans taught them learn how to fold the flag correctly.

Auxiliary members Alice Kuskin, Betty Bailey, Theresa Mook, Mary Ellen Cash and Daryll Davis (member of Post Ritual Team) along and Post Ritual Team members: Jim Burch, Dick Miller, J B Holmes, Jack Fulmer, Harvey Sturn, Gary Asztalos, Jordon Tompkins, Erle Taube were part of the presentation.

It was a wonderful day of education, smiles and dedication by all who were part of this special program. Each child was given a flag, pledge of allegiance bookmark and information on respecting the flag to take home. The VFW has been asked to do this again sometime later this year for children attending after school programs.

Membership in the VFW Post #7721 is open to all Veterans of Foreign Wars, the VFW Auxiliary membership open to Veterans who served stateside and all family members who served in active duty, for membership contact Betty A Bailey, bann652@aol. Com for more information.



Seminole Family Man and Traditional Artist

by Tina Marie Osceola

Artists create. They see the world differently and it seems as if life’s current events are nothing more than a palette of inspiration. As this global pandemic continues, I find myself drawn to the pages of artists. I have found hope in their hands, their minds and their voices. When researching this article, I turned to a handful of local Seminole artists and asked questions about traditional art. I wanted to know their inspiration, downtime, their lives as artists. One artist stood out…

Pedro M. Zepeda. Pedro was born and raised in Naples. He graduated from Lely High School in 2001 and from Stetson University in 2005, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in… go figure… Art! For those who know Pedro, he is rarely seen without one or all of his four children in tow.

He and his wife, Kaleena, live in Golden Gate while surrounding themselves in the art and culture that is indigenous to this land. Pedro is known for his kindness,  compassion and for having a heart as big as his stature. Seminole traditional art has a very broad definition, but generally includes; Seminole patchwork and applique, baskets, wood carving, leatherwork, beadwork, chickee building and silverwork.

Pedro is a master at all of the above and then some. His art is found in museums across the state and private collections
all over the world. I asked Pedro about being a traditional artist and staying busy during these last months, “I’ve always been surrounded by art since I was a child. When I was very young my grandmothers would watch me while my parents were at work. They were always sewing, doing beadwork and often cooked outside over the fire.

On some weekends the family would sell their traditional arts at festivals and powwows. As I became a teenager I began to make some of our traditional arts myself. As an adult I really immersed myself in our arts to refine them as much as I could. To me it’s important for traditional arts to be functional, beautiful, and at times innovative. For me having learned traditional arts means having a certain level of independence. There’s always something to make!”

Lately, Pedro has focused on woodcarving and dugout canoes. He is only one generation away from a time when dugout canoes were used as a means of transportation. Cypress logs are carved and hewn out and when dry, they will float even when filled up with people and provisions.

Rather than sitting and using short paddles, Seminole dugout canoes were primarily used in shallower waters and navigated by standing up in the canoe and pushing the canoe along with a long pole.W hen asked about staying home during this pandemic, Pedro said, “It’s been interesting being home so much. Normally from December to May I travel with my family around the Southeast to different events and festivals to demonstrate Seminole traditional arts.

Being home has allowed time for catching up on things I’d normally put off,  like  maintaining my tools, but has given me time to reflect on what I do and where I want to go from here in all aspects of my life. My wife and I have four children and the two oldest (10 and 9) are old enough to begin learning to make some of our traditional arts. Being home more during this time does allow this to happen more frequently than it might otherwise.”

It seems only natural that Pedro would want to make sure the art is passed down to his children. The Seminole lifeblood flowing through his veins was passed to him from his grandmothers and family, “One of my biggest inspirations in my traditional
arts journey has always been my Grandmother, Tahama Osceola. She’s always encouraged me and took the time to teach.

I think one of the most important things she taught me was how to learn through observation. Woodcarving  I learned from Ingram Billie Jr. I began to learn about dugout canoes from my older brother, Brian Zepeda. All my teachers led me down those paths, but it was up to me to continue down paths of learning. Our traditional arts are so much more than simple objects, they carry the teachings and knowledge of our ancestors. I’m excited that I can pass on the knowledge that I’ve been carrying onto my children.”

Collier Resource Center A Broker for the Needy

by Dave Trecker

Altruism is not uncommon in Collier County, where moneyed organizations support many causes and  philanthropists are thick underfoot. However, not all charitable groups have big budgets and well heeled backers. Some rely almost entirely on volunteers who really believe, who feel the mission is worth the sweat and tears, no salary required. The Collier Resource Center is one of those.

Founded four years ago by Nina Gray, a veteran of Naples healthcare, the CRC makes do with very little. Its office, opposite St. Matthew’s House resale store on Airport-Pulling Road, is just big enough for a desk and two chairs. That’s all it needs. Located at the entrance to a clinic run by the Health Care Network of Southwest Florida, the CRC has a simple but challenging mission: Connect people in need with health and human service providers.

The CRC is a brokerage house for the underprivileged. It helps the needy find food. It points the way to sources of employment. It connects the elderly with essential services. It finds aid for the disabled. All of this they accomplish for very little. No taxpayer money is involved, no expensive overhead. CRC is funded by individuals, foundations and churches. Ms. Gray says, “Our return on investment is through the roof. With an annual budget of about $50,000, we helped 620 people in 2019.” Since its inception in 2016, the CRC has aided over 1,500 vulnerable individuals.

Ms. Gray is certainly the right person at the right place. A licensed mental health counselor with an M.S. in counseling
and rehabilitation from the University of South Florida, she served as the first CEO of Avow Hospice (then Hospice of Naples) and
later as CEO of the Neighborhood Health Clinic.

In addition to Ms. Gray, who serves as the volunteer CEO, the CRC staff consists of Marioly Soto, the only salaried employee, and a  volunteer team of 15 dedicated individuals who donated over 1,200 hours of service in 2019.

CRC’s clients are diverse. Sixty-eight percent are women seeking help for their families. Most clients are elderly (56% over age 65), financially strapped and living in the 34112 and 34116 zip codes. Some speak little English and many live in substandard housing. Few have computer access and they typically don’t know where to turn for help. “Navigating the maze of health and human services organizations can be daunting,” says Ms. Gray.

CRC assists in a number of ways.

• A family of five driving from Immokalee to Naples for medical treatment didn’t have enough money for food or gas. CRC provided gas and food cards and a list of food pantries.

• CRC brokered a program to build a wheelchair ramp for a blind woman trapped in her mobile home and arranged payment from charitable groups.

• An elderly woman sought help for her son, who was suffering from depression. CRC provided a list of counseling and support agencies.

• CRC connected a financially bereft senior citizen who needed cataract surgery with Bonita Eye Care, who provided pro bono treatment.

• A woman living in a rural area by the Everglades reached out to CRC when her mobile-home floor rotted. CRC located a group of church volunteers to rebuild the floor.

• CRC connected a destitute woman with dementia to the Area Agency on Aging, who provided a nurse and 20 hours a week of care.

The coronavirus pandemic has presented additional challenges. Ms. Gray says, “Our client numbers have tripled since the virus
began, and everyone has to work from home.” Nonetheless, help has been provided for utility bills, obtaining diapers for babies,
advising what food pantries are open, setting up grocery deliveries, completing online job applications and much more.

Ms. Gray says, “People are scared and confused. They often just need someone who listens. We take all the time needed. They get to talk to a person, not a recorded message.” The aftermath of Covid-19 will put additional strain on the CRC. More volunteers and financial assistance will be needed.

To learn about ways you can help, visit

If you need assistance, if you are struggling and don’t know where to turn, call 239-434-2030 or email

Life Etched into Memories: The East Side of the River

“Family life is full of major and minor crises — the ups and downs of health, success and failure in career, marriage and divorce — and all kinds of characters. It is tied to places and events and histories. With all of these felt details, life etches itself into memory and personality. It’s difficult to imagine anything more nourishing.”
-Thomas Moore

Lois Bolin, PhD, Old Naples Historian

After 11 years of trying to understand my family (translated: myself), the awareness came into focus while I was reading a generational marketing. Imagine. I had spent all those years and a boatload of money searching for something that was in a marketing book all along.

So that’s why they do that
Generational marketing, a term coined by The Yankelovich MONITOR, was the new buzz in the last millennium. It became one of my favorite consulting programs, so much so that I went to Atlanta in 1997 to interview the author of “Rocking the Ages: The Yankelovich Report on Generational Marketing,” for a 13 week TV series called “The Changing Tides of Business.” Dr. Walker J. Smith reconfirmed my fireside chat with myself.

Each generation has its own cultural values that drives them to do what we do. We all go through life stages, rites of passage, so to speak, and come out at some point knowing that no matter what your family was like, to feel and be connected is still one of the deepest yearnings we have as humans. Naples pioneering matriarch, Jessie Naomi Allen Browning (formerly Chesser), did not need a marketing book to tell her that.

Gone but not forgotten
Having lived her life to the fullest, Ms. Jessie went to her heavenly home on June 25, 2020, but before her departure; she made sure this connection to family would be passed on for generations to come by writing a compendium of stories called “The East Side of the River: A True Story.” Through an introduction via  Jackie  Sloan, whose daddy was the first real estate broker in Naples, Ms. Jessie proudly (and lovingly) gave her lineage.

“I came from the Walker-Kirkland family,” she stated. As she was verbally laying out her genealogy, I thought of my family and how, no matter where I went when I was home, someone was bound to be my cousin. And so, it was with Ms. Jessie, whose family came here in the late 1890s and produced six generations to carry forth the stories contained in her book.

Her book is about growing up on the east side of the Gordon River. It’s a tribute to Ms. Chesser’s heritage and to a group of hard-working fishermen and farmers who helped shape the early culture and magic of this place we call home. “I spent the last year taking care of my mama and began taking notes on the stories she’d tell me — stories I’d heard hundreds of times before, but this time I thought, I don’t want my children not knowing these stories.”

She dedicates her book to her mama, Grace Allen, “the kindest woman I ever knew.” From the tender look on the face of Ms. Jessie’s daughter, Donna Bare, she must feel the same about her mama. As I watched these two generations talking about a past
generation, I realized Ms. Jessie’s book was more significant than she knew.

Although there’s no Pulitzer Prize in her future, my hope was that her book would prompt a new tradition among those who read ‘those felt detail where life has etched itself into memories and personalities’. It’s difficult to imagine anything more magical and nourishing.

RIP Ms. Jessie. You will be long remembered and sorely missed.

Some Doors Open As a Result of the Pandemic

Pamela Baker, CEO, EdD, NAMI Collier County

As the impacts of the pandemic were just starting to be realized in March and April, NAMI Collier County was able to find encouraging success securing housing for homeless members with mental health issues.

Using an Emergency Solutions Grant from Collier County, which is funded by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, we were able to find housing for three people in 2018 and nine people in 2019. Since March, we have found housing for 12 people using a $30,000 grant matched by our own funds.

The grant allows NAMI Collier County to pay six months of rent for qualifying individuals, allowing them to find stability with program support. NAMI Collier works with each individual to develop a housing plan and improve the likelihood of long-term financial and mental health stability, while encouraging integration into                                         the community. The homeless situation for many of our clients was made worse with the pandemic because we had to close our Sarah Ann Drop-In  Center, where some of our homeless clients were able to get a hot meal, fresh clothing, friendship and continuous mental health  support.

But Bower Thomas, our Supportive Housing Specialist, said the pandemic may have had the upside of finding suitable housing
more available, as the guarantee of six months of paid rent was beneficial to landlords. Thomas is a former accountant who started with NAMI Collier as a certified peer counselor after suffering his own mental health issues seven years ago that included being in and out of mental health institutions and a significant brush with the law.

In mid-April, he was tapped to help facilitate the housing program, working to establish relationships with landlords and reduce the perceived stigma of renting to people with mental health disabilities. “With the economy influx, it was opportune time to provide guaranteed rent,” Thomas said. “We also look to find the right people with openness in their hearts. I have been through the system and it gives me the ability to get things done locally and see our client’s situations more clearly. It’s in my Rolodex to benefit them, and it feels good.”

Two of the women we placed were victims of domestic violence and were temporarily living in a shelter. When their time at the
shelter was over, they had nowhere to live and few resources. Now they are safe, sharing a house together, and one of the women
recently got a job. Another client, a veteran with untreated PTSD who fell into substance abuse and lived on the street for five
months, is the third roommate in the house, helping the women feel secure.

One gentleman had lost everything due to a stroke and fell into extreme depression and PTSD. Now he is happily living in a guest
house where he can enjoy his landlord’s horses. Another veteran was staying at St. Matthews House, a temporary homeless shelter, and another was receiving treatment for substance abuse at The Willough at Naples. All are now off the street and finding some stability, with several finding jobs.

For many of our clients, these challenging times are making already difficult lives even more challenging. Imagine a “stay home,
stay safe” order without having a home to retreat to. For individuals with a mental health diagnosis, finding secure housing is so much more than a roof over their heads, it not only provides safety but also increases mental well-being, physical health, independence in society and reduces recidivism/arrests and acute care/emergency department visits, a service that we are honored to provide.

Pamela Baker has been CEO of NAMI Collier County since March 2015. The mission of the NAMI Collier County is to provide advocacy, education, public awareness and support so that all individuals and families affected by mental illnesses can improve the quality of their lives.  Learn more about programs and how you can help at