Mike and Pam Demers: Spirit of Gainesville nominee
Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 9:28 p.m.
Mike and Pam Demers came to Gainesville in early 2008 to create a service for reintegrating people recovering from serious mental illnesses back into the community through opportunities for employment, socialization, and education. Their vision followed the successful Clubhouse model in which participants are called members instead of patients or clients, and treatment focuses on their strengths and abilities; not their illnesses. Staff and members work together as a team, as peers and as partners to help all members in recovery reach their full potential. Clubhouse programs have shown to result in successful employment, reduced hospital stays, and improved well-being for members in cost-effective ways.
Category: Community Service
Occupation: Gainesville Opportunity Club Executive Director
Years in Gainesville: 4 1/2
Children: Two boys and one girl
Mike began the hard work of seeking community support and adequate funding. In March 2008, he secured funding from Able Trust and started the Clubhouse without Walls program to develop a Clubhouse community while gathering additional funds for a physical location. In July 2008, Gainesville Opportunity Center (GOC) opened in a space leased at a reasonable cost from the Catholic Charities of Gainesville and began receiving funds from the Department of Children and Families. In September 2008, Pam became the Program Director and was responsible for helping members find transitional employment. In 2011, funding for programs serving persons with mental illness decreased at both the state and local levels. Mike, Pam, the Board of Directors, and members visited legislators at the statehouse and locally to advocate for funding. The money simply was not available so Mike took a voluntary layoff and Pam became the Executive Director. At the beginning of 2012, the Clubhouse was informed that another tenant had been found for the entire building and they would need to find another location. After much searching, the Gainesville Opportunity relocated to its current location in the Meridian Centre on 43rd Street.
While some people would have said it is too difficult to constantly seek funding and a suitable location, Mike and Pam continued to support the members in seeking ways to keep the clubhouse open. They helped with fundraisers such as spaghetti dinners, yard sales, collaborations with various businesses, and grant applications. Many of these activities took place outside typical business hours. They traveled with members to the statehouse and to other clubhouses in Florida to seek ideas for funding.
Due to the efforts of Mike and Pam, the Gainesville Opportunity Center remains open. It currently has seventy-three registered members. During its existence, it has served over 300 people with needs such as housing, food, employment, education and socialization. Every setback is viewed by the Demers as a challenge to do even more for the members. This year they worked with local businesses and the University of Florida to set up a computer lab in the new GOC location. Their dedication to improving the opportunities offered is unsurpassed by any difficulties they encounter.
The Gainesville Opportunity Center is affiliated with the International Center for Clubhouse Development, the Florida Clubhouse Coalition, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Pam currently serves as President of the Florida Clubhouse Coalition. The center has worked with the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Florida Department of Children and Families, Lutheran Services Florida, Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Catholic Charities of Gainesville, University of Florida and various local businesses.
Mike and Pam have put a tremendous amount of energy and sacrifice to ensuring that the GOC remains open in an accessible building with appropriate equipment to meet the needs of members. Due to their efforts, members are able to become more fully engaged in our community. The symptoms of their illnesses decrease and their well-being increases. Members are given access to services that enable them to advocate for the right to live with respect and dignity. Mike and Pam foster the spirit of Gainesville in their selfless passion to help an often invisible and stigmatized group of citizens live more fully and productively in our community.
Submitted by Ross Woodbridge
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