Guest Column: Finding “Faces of Hope” in Our Community | News, Sports, Jobs

One in ten people in Lee County is affected by some form of mental illness. i am one of them

As an adult, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Although I had symptoms since I was a high school student, I never realized anything was wrong until I reached breaking point and finally reached out for professional help.

When that happened, I was fortunate to have my nursing team to fall back on during the most difficult time of my life. But that’s not the case for many people with mental illness. Many people have no support and no point of contact. That’s where Hope Clubhouse comes in.

The Hope Clubhouse provides a support community for adults living with mental illness. The clubhouse helps members find meaning in their lives. Hope Clubhouse gives just that – HOPE. It serves as the family many desperately need in times of crisis – available weekdays, some evenings and weekends and all bank holidays to offer support.

I can say with confidence that the Hope Clubhouse literally saved my life – I wouldn’t be here without the Clubhouse. My life has completely changed in the three years since I became a member of this community. I have found a new purpose and live to make a difference for myself and others living with a mental health diagnosis.

I used to withdraw from others and never left the house. I stopped taking care of my hygiene, lost long-time friendships, didn’t take medication as prescribed, and had all but given up on life. The clubhouse changed all that. Now I usually come to the Hope Clubhouse five days a week. My typical day often includes preparing meals with the kitchen team for delivery to members’ homes, as well as preparing lunch for the day. I also work on various business assignments including social media and website development. Here we are not defined by our illness and it is easy to socialize and make friends because there is no stigma – you can be who you are and you will always be welcome.

In addition to my membership, I also serve on the board of directors of the Hope Clubhouse to raise awareness of what I personally feel is a life-saving program.

Hope Clubhouse’s evidence-based model offers members the opportunity to participate in horticultural, culinary, employment and business development. In addition, Hope Clubhouse offers opportunities for paid employment and access to housing, education, wellness and much more. As a result of these programs, members have fewer acute episodes and hospitalizations, lower suicide rates, and lower incarceration rates. Members can also improve their support systems, which are vital to maintaining mental health stability. It is the only model of its kind in the greater Southwest Florida area, with the closest available programs in Sarasota or Miami. Hope Clubhouse is the best agency you may have never heard of.

The pandemic has created new or worsening barriers for people living with mental illness, while creating a whole new segment of people struggling with their mental health. The increasing isolation has had a devastating impact on those already suffering from feelings of loneliness.

In response, the Clubhouse has developed a hybrid service model to offer in-person and virtual participation options. HOPEConnects made sure every member who needed a technology device had one. This allowed isolated or housebound members to attend clubhouse meetings and also meet with healthcare providers, family and friends. By founding DeliveringHOPE, we have addressed the insecurities of our members. The hot-meal-at-home delivery service brought three meals a day to those in need. These programs provided life-changing services when our members were in dire need.

In 2021, the Hope Clubhouse served 205 members and provided 21,676 hours of training and capacity building to help secure paid employment and access to education, housing, food and wellness. The Garden of Hope, one of Fort Myers’ few municipal gardens, produced 4,710 pounds of produce used to support the culinary unit in serving 4,749 hot meals. It was also taken home by members or distributed in the Fort Myers and Cape Coral communities.

As the Hope Clubhouse strives to meet the increasing demand for mental health services in Southwest Florida, it has become clear that a new, larger space is needed to best serve members like me and new members, and to surpass the nearly 700 people who serve has served the organization for the last 10 years.

On March 10th, the Faces of Hope Luncheon will help raise critical funds to support the future expansion of the Hope Clubhouse from our current 2,700 square foot building to a 10,000 square foot facility that will more effectively serve the adults in our community may face psychological challenges.

The event also aims to raise awareness and support for adult mental health services in Southwest Florida and will feature a compelling presentation by Joshua Seidman, Ph.D. of Fountain House as well as a panel presentation with myself, Seidman and Damini Parkhi, an advocate for adolescent mental health in the community. It is an inspirational event that brings our members together with the community.

Join us on Thursday, March 10, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theater, 1380 Colonial Blvd. in Fort Myers. Tickets are $75 for adults, $25 for students, and $15 for virtual attendees. There are also opportunities for those who wish to support the event through sponsorship.

About the author

Ryan Benefiel is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and is a member of the Hope Clubhouse. He also sits on the board of directors of Hope Clubhouse, a nonprofit organization that transforms lives by focusing on adults with mental health issues and sharing resources to help them grow, recover, and thrive. For tickets or to learn more about event sponsorship, visit or call 239-267-1777.

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