NAMI Collier County: Providing a Roadmap to Recovery

by Carolyn Staley-Penix, HUGS Clinical Director

Ruthnie was living in her car in February 2022 following a stay at a women’s shelter to flee an abusive relationship.

While she could find employment easily, she struggled to keep jobs because of difficulty maintaining a schedule, sleeping, safety and hygiene while being homeless.

Ruthnie found her way to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Collier County’s Sarah Ann Life Skills and Support Center, where she was able to eat, refresh, receive complimentary hygiene products and clothing and connect with other resources.

“When I was living in my car, I was crying every night,” Ruthnie said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was going to McDonald’s and doing bird baths in the restroom. I was spending money and wasn’t able to save. I felt like it wasn’t going to end. At one point I got real, real, real depressed and got Baker Acted.”

In addition to offering basic services to support the homeless, the Sarah Ann Life Skills and Supportive Employment Center is a safe, welcoming daily center for anyone over the age of 18 with a mental health diagnosis. It offers life skills and supportive employment opportunities, support groups, outings to encourage socialization and community engagement, lunch and activities to enrich the quality of life for members.

It’s all part of NAMI Collier’s mission to help connect people with services and stability on their road to mental wellness. The nonprofit organization works as a compass to help people find their way around obstacles.

At the center, Ruthnie connected with NAMI Collier’s Supportive Employment and Center Supervisor MaryKay Flood, who helped her find housing and ensure she can pay her bills and stay well. Flood also helped her with investments and to get car repairs.

NAMI helps people with mental illnesses overcome the barriers and challenges of homelessness and other challenges so that they are able to work on recovery and wellness.

Eventually, NAMI Collier County helped find a place for her with a room for her 15-year-old son, so she could have him with her at times. Since she moved in, she has found steady employment as a caretaker at a local assisted living center with a part-time job at a retail store to earn extra income.

“I was in a dark place and NAMI pulled me out from the darkness and showed me the light,” Ruthnie says. “I pray to God every single night, and I can’t stop saying thank you. I’m thankful to have a bed to sleep in, a roof over my head. I’m at peace.”

NAMI Collier is part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness network that includes national and state organizations. NAMI Collier provides more programs and services for children 3 months old through seniors than is typical of most local NAMI organizations, with many unique to NAMI Collier.

“NAMI Collier helps people and families navigate the complex mental health system,” Flood said. “We offer unique, nonclinical programs that focus on wellness and personal recovery journeys while offering direction, guidance and support. Our goal is to recognize the whole person and not just their diagnosis.”

NAMI Collier’s free programs include:

  • NAMI Collier Children’s Mental Health Program (HUGS), supported by the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF), founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, responds to the complex needs of children at risk of or with behavioral health problems in Collier County. The program provides English, Spanish and Creole universal mental health screenings, clinical oversight, connection to care coordination, resiliency and parenting education, and facilitates referrals for early identification and access to care.
  • Florida Self-Directed Care (SDC) allows program participants Tomaka their own health care choices and actively participate in their recovery from serious mental illnesses. Life Coaches assist participants establish measurable recovery goals. SDC serves 90 people each year in Collier, Lee Charlotte, Glades and Hendry counties.
  • CLEAR: Clearing the Way for Change in Florida is a peer-run service for any individual in search of connecting with someone who has lived experience in mental health recovery. The warm line service is free, confidential and available statewide from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. and receives more than 700 calls per month. With roots dating to 1987, NAMI Collier County remains a nonprofit dedicated to helping people navigate their mental health journey through an array of programs.

For information or to donate visit or call 239-260-7300

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