Mental health advocates shared their stories at the Kids’ Minds Matter signature gala Feb. 7 in Naples to help remove the stigma of mental health issues and raise awareness of the need to expand services. Through generous donations from attendees, the event raised more than $2.2 million to continue to build upon the strategic behavioral health plan designed by Golisano Children’s Hospital.
The fundraiser was kicked off by Kids’ Minds Matter founders Susan Goldy and Scott Spiezle, who introduced long-time Kids’ Minds Matter supporters John Siebart and Dr. Mary Beth Malay. Siebart shared his own story of losing his daughter by suicide eight months ago, and in her honor pledged $1 million to help make sure other parents don’t have to experience the same loss.
“Your presence, your support, your advocacy, your commitment – they are the threads weaving the fabric of a narrative that’s transforming the landscape of mental health care for our children,” said Lee Health Foundation System Director of Development Anne Frazier. “Every step we take, every advancement we make, it is all made possible because of donors like you. In your dedication, we find the true essence of heroism.”
Speakers at the event included:
• Kelly Maguire, a youth mental health advocate whose anxiety and depression in middle school resulted in a suicide attempt. That experience led her to earn a psychology degree from Florida Gulf Coast University in 2022 and pursue a career advocating for youth.
• Michael Rizzo, Ph.D., who has worked with children for more than 35 years for unexpected social, emotional, behavioral and/or academic difficulties. Rizzo is no stranger to these challenges, as he also struggled himself as a child and was later diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety and dyslexia.
The event, emceed by Kellie Burns of NBC-2, included presentation of the Courtnage Courage in the Community Award to Maguire. The award was created to honor Kathy and Larry Courtnage, long-time supporters of Kids’ Minds Matter. Past recipients include youth advocate Damini Parkhi and KMM founders Goldy and Spiezle.
Frazier also outlined planned developments for expanding mental and behavioral health in 2024, including:
• Expanding emergency care for kids in crisis
• Developing an intensive outpatient program and partial hospitalization program
• Growing Golisano clinics throughout Southwest Florida, including Cape Coral
• Establishing outpatient group therapy
• Increasing the number of providers at existing practices to meet demand
• Partnering with Collier and Lee County School Districts to expand the Mental Health Navigator program.
Last year, the event raised $800,000. Funding by Kids’ Minds Matter in 2023 resulted in the expansion of Lee Health’s pediatric mental health programs, services, and team. Additionally, 137 families were served by the Mental Health Navigator program, with a 70.5% increase in school attendance and 71.5% decrease in hospitalizations. More than 5,225 people attended advocacy events, including parenting classes, mental health first aid training, community events and presentations, and more. With the growth in the community and awareness of mental health services, Lee Health has seen a 21% increase in pediatric behavioral health visits from 2022 to 2023, with more than 500 children on a waiting list to receive care.
Sponsors of the event included Presenting Sponsor: Robb Family Foundation; Impact Sponsor: FineMark National Bank & Trust; Advocate Sponsors: Audi of Fort Myers and Naples, Cushman & Wakefield, George and Jill Hamilton, The Kim Foundation, Dr. Rick and Ellie Klein, Jill Kushner Realty, LeeSar, RMC Group, Scotlynn, Stock Development and Toler Foundation; and Media Sponsors: Gulfshore Life and The Naples Press.
To learn more about Kids’ Minds Matter or to make a donation, visit KidsMindsMatter.com.