A first-of-its-kind community resource guide, pairing community needs with already existing resources, is taking shape with thousands of copies of the guidebook expected to be printed this fall.
A major steppingstone in creating the resource guide is set for Thursday, July 16, when the community is invited to take part in a conference identifying needs — and local resources to meet those needs.
The South Shore Mental Health Coalition is hosting the conference, set for 1:30 to 5 p.m., in the Florida Room of the Sun City Center Community Association Atrium.
“The first part [of the conference] is to gather and identify resources that we know are available for South Shore residents in this area, in this community,” said conference chairperson Anna Lively. “We find that for a lot of folks to drive to Brandon or Tampa is really very difficult, and in some cases, impossible. So the first [mission] is identifying the resources and providing a resource guide.”
The second part of the conference, said Lively, will identify “the gaps in services that are here so we can then take that to the next level to let our government services know where there are gaps in services and also to let local businesses know … that they may be able to fill those gaps.” Lively stepped up to chair the meeting after Karen Fredricks, a member of the Mental Health Coalition who was instrumental in launching the project, was unable to attend due to out-of-town commitments.
Almost 400 local organizations have been identified as potential community resources for inclusion in the guidebook.
With a print run expected to exceed 30,000 copies, the guidebook will be distributed throughout South County at libraries, local chambers of commerce, businesses and community centers. It will also be available online.
“We are inviting all non-profits, houses of worship, and government-supported programs to the conference to identify their platforms and include them in the resource guide database,” said Debbie Caneen, recently elected president of the Coalition.
Rather than wait on government to address local needs, the area’s nonprofits are tackling the issues, attempting to identify needs and how existing resources can meet those needs. The guide will provide information on everything from housing and transportation to animal care and mental health.
“The conference will begin with a report describing the Sun City Center area as having the highest number of people who go hungry every day … community resources that address hunger in the South Shore area are invited to present their programs and have those put into the resource directory,” said a Coalition statement.
Organizers, who would like to see the resource guide updated annually and see their approach expanded to other areas in the future, are under no illusions about the amount of work involved in the project.
“I don’t know what the capacity of the Florida Room is … but it would thrill me to pack the house, because this is going to need many, many hands,” said Lively, a member of the needs assessment committee as well as the Mental Health Coalition. A licensed mental health counselor, Lively has an office in Sun City Center.
“We have an excellent, strong core team of folks, but we’ve identified about 35 categories and 150 subcategories that are going to need to be researched, identified and the data gathered for this directory,” Lively said. “This is going to be a big project with a far reach.”
Bearing the scale of the project in mind, “Everyone is invited,” Lively said. “We are hoping to identify team leaders that will lead in those categories of researching the availability of services.”
Lively emphasized that the meeting, while long, is meant to produce real progress.
“I’d like to emphasize that it’s a working meeting, which is why it’s so long,” she said. “In that working meeting, it will be, in part, a training [session] so folks really understand what it is we’re trying to accomplish and why. And the folks that do agree to be a part of it will see the value. That it’s a long-range project.”
Volunteer members of local emergency response squads played a large role in the genesis of the project. “They were saying that when they go out, oftentimes it is really not their services that are needed, and they want to be able to connect folks with the services they do need. But they don’t have a means to do that,” Lively said.
An initial community-needs meeting, held May 11 in Sun City Center, drew more than 100 attendees representing more than 30 community groups. An ingenious seating system at the meeting brought the area’s shortfalls in services into stark relief. Each nonprofit group was asked to sit at a table that best described the service they offered. This left some tables empty, others full.
“To get the ball rolling, everyone invited to the conference is being asked to bring a can or box of food that will be donated to one of the participating hunger organizations,” said Caneen, another major force behind the event. “If you provide food to the hungry, please attend this meeting.”
Founded in 1992 by Dr. Kenneth Barringer, a retired pastor and clinical psychologist from Sun City Center, the nonprofit South Shore Mental Health Coalition acts as guide and clearinghouse for information on services available, and provides mental health services to the residents of South Hillsborough County, including Sun City Center, Ruskin, Wimauma, Apollo Beach and Riverview.
To learn more about the Coalition, formerly the South Shore Coalition for Mental Health & Aging, visit mentalhealthandaging.org or call 813-419-4902. For further information on the conference, call Caneen at 813-892-2990.