Surrounded by an abundance of sunflowers — a universal symbol of hope and inspiration for those battling mental illness — actress, activist and advocate Mariel Hemingway shared her own eye-opening survivor’s journey with a capacity crowd on Dec. 1 at NAMI Collier County’s annual “Hope Shines” luncheon.
The event, hosted at the Arthrex One ballroom, drew approximately 240 attendees while raising $185,670 on behalf of the Naples-based nonprofit.
“I’m so moved by this community and what you all are doing here on behalf of those with mental illness,” Hemingway said during her keynote address.
The Oscar-nominated actress, the granddaughter of novelist Ernest “Papa” Hemingway, described to a rapt audience her familial legacy of mental illness, which includes the suicides of her famed grandfather; older sister Margaux, also an actress; and five other relatives; along with rampant alcoholism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression.
She has written six books, including “Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the Legacy of Mental Illness, Addiction and Suicide in my Family” and “Invisible Girl,” written for young adults about the same subject but from her 14-year-old self’s perspective.
Beyond her personal narrative, Hemingway encouraged the audience – and the broader community – to firmly reject the stigma that still surrounds mental illness, while also pursuing both individual and collective approaches to its treatment and care.
“Mental wellness is an inside job,” she said. “Don’t think that someone else is going to give you a solution. It’s also a community’s job, by getting together and creating change. And you have done that here in Naples.”
NAMI Collier also honored two of its most dedicated supporters at the event.
Elizabeth Star of Naples received the group’s Hope Award for individuals — and promptly announced a $30,000 matching contribution.
The organization’s Leadership of Hope Award was presented to the Naples Children & Education Foundation, which since 2010 has contributed $5 million toward local children’s mental health efforts.
The NAMI Collier County program screens, assesses and educates children from 2 months to 18 years old experiencing developmental, social, emotional or behavioral difficulties, serving more than 400 local families.
Buoyed by Star’s matching gift, NAMI Collier County is continuing its Fund-a-Need fundraising drive through the end of this year. Donors can contribute online at namicollier.org, by mail or by scheduling a tour of the NAMI Collier location, which features a Christmas tree adorned with sunflower ornaments at different contribution levels.
“Our program participation is increasing and demand for our services continues to grow,” said Beth Hatch, CEO of NAMI Collier County. “We hope that those who attended will share this need with those who may be willing to give to this important cause in our community.
“Your gift allows those who need our services the most to know they are never alone.”
Toni Mueller, a NAMI Collier County board member, chaired the Hope Shines luncheon, assisted by event committee members Sandy Overton, Christine Portnoy, Robin McClanathan, Lynn Shotwell, Joy Smith, Elizabeth Star, Jennifer Sullivan, Jenny Sutton, Gina Thomas and Mary Vance Duggan.
WINK News anchor Cory Lazar served as the event’s master of ceremonies, supported by media sponsors Gulfshore Life and Naples Press. Other attendees of note included Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk; Lt. Leslie Weidenhammer, NAMI Collier County board chair and head of the CCSO Behavioral Health Unit; and the Rev. Sheila Zellers, who performed her “Song of Hope” for the audience. The event also celebrated NAMI Collier County’s move earlier this year into a new home in the former Naples Senior Center building, 5025 Castello Drive in Naples, consolidating all its programs and staff under one roof.