The Pasco County Commission paused during its April 20 meeting to celebrate the work of its community development department, which recently received a national award for its role in a collaborative project known as The Vincent House Project.
The department received the 2021 Audrey Nelson Community Development Achievement Award from the National Community Development Association. The honor was bestowed in January.
The Vincent House Project is aimed at increasing the availability of mental health services in Pasco County, according to a resolution passed by the board.
The project came about through the county’s donation of 10 acres of land in Hudson, coupled with the expenditure of more than $1 million in Community Development Block Grant Funds to construct a 10,000-square-foot facility.
“Vincent House’s facility and programs exhibit innovation, sustainability and collaboration for the residents of Pasco County experiencing serious and persistent mental illness,” the resolution says.
It also recognizes “the contributions and partnership of Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative in the implementation of this award-winning community project to benefit low- and moderate-income persons living with a serious and persistent mental illness to regain the skills needed to become productive members of our community.”
The mission at Vincent House is to assist, promote and celebrate individuals recovering from a mental illness in their effort to improve social and vocational skills, and become employed in the community, according to the Vincent House website.
Co-founders of Vincent House, Elliott and Dianne Steele, became interested in creating a facility that would help people living with a serious mental illness when their daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia, the website says.
They tried to find something that would help their daughter overcome the problems related to her diagnosis but could not find anything in the state of Florida.
Eventually, they found just what they wanted in the Clubhouse model, a place that provided hope, respect and dignity; a place where participants, called members, could practice work and then become employed in the community when they were ready, the website adds.
In addition to the Vincent House Pasco, there’s also a Vincent House Pinellas in Pinellas Park and a Vincent House Hernando in Spring Hill.
The Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative is another partner on the project.
Dave Lambert, of the electric cooperative, told board members: “What you’ve done with Vincent House is going to change the lives of thousands of people in Pasco County, for years and years to come.”
Marcy Esbjerg, director of community development, offered some remarks, too.
“This is a national award. We did assist with community development block grant funds, to build the building and you all donated the land. I thought it was a great public-private partnership with Withlacoochee Electric Cooperative,” Esbjerg said.
“I want to take a moment to recognize the staff from community development that were frontline in making sure that the building went vertical, that all of the gopher tortoises were safely removed, all those things that happen behind the scene.”
She singled out Denise Lindsay, the department’s community development specialist, and Michael Ball, its housing rehab specialist.
“They were really on the front lines to assist,” Esbjerg said.
She added that her department had an opportunity to make a presentation about the project.
“The most exciting aspect, was to hear remarks from members of Vincent House,” she said.
“It is just an honor and a privilege to be a part of their journey, of healing and restoration in the community. That’s what this is all about, and we all get to share in that,” Esbjerg said.
Published April 28, 2021