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 www.collierresourcecenter.org.
If you need assistance, if you are struggling and don’t know where to turn, call 239-434-2030 or email email@example.com.