Catholic Charities receives $100,000 grant

By Kirsten Pederson, Special to the Florida Catholic

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., has received a $100,000 grant as part of The Cigna Group Foundation Healthier Kids For Our Future® initiative to help support the organization’s youth mental health programs that provide school-based services for youth in Lee County public schools.

The Cigna Group Foundation’s Healthier Kids For Our Future program is a nationwide initiative that provides funding to non-profit organizations that are working to improve the health and well-being of children and families.

“We are thrilled to receive this grant from The Cigna Group Foundation,” said Eddie Gloria, Catholic Charities Chief Executive Officer. “This funding will allow us to expand our Youth Mental Health Services Program in Lee County public schools and provide much needed support to struggling young people in our community. We are committed to using this funding to make a meaningful impact in the lives of young, and with the support from The Cigna Group Foundation and other donors, Catholic Charities is able to provide licensed mental health counselors to offer onsite one-on-one counseling in respective Lee County public schools.”

Joe McNair, Catholic Charities Director of Behavioral Health, added, “This grant provides the funds to eliminate barriers to access care, care that many families need but cannot afford, and provides an innovative model to address the mental health needs of our youth.”

“Today’s youth are facing many challenges that impact their mental health,” said Bonnie Mann, program officer for The Cigna Group’s Healthier Kids For Our Future grant program. “By providing Lee County students access to much-needed services, we can put them on a path to thrive, not only during their school years but their entire lives. The skills they learn now will help them become healthy adults. We are excited to be a part of this great program.”

For more information on Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice, Inc., and its Youth Mental Health Services program, please contact Joe McNair at

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice, Inc., is a nonprofit founded in 1984 by the Diocese of Venice in Florida and serves as a resource to the community, offering assistance in the area of health and human services, food pantries, counseling, legal assistance, rapid re-housing, education, and disaster response. Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice serves 10 Southwest Florida counties, including Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Lee, Manatee, and Sarasota. The mission of Catholic Charities is to provide help, create hope, and serve all. For more information, visit

Bishop encourages mental health awareness

Susan Laielli – Special to the Florida Catholic

During the next edition ofWitnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane” airing at 8:30 a.m., May 28, 2021, Relevant Radio listeners will hear the sincere passion of Diocese of Venice Bishop Frank J. Dewane as he raises awareness for the importance of mental health across the Diocese of Venice.

“What do we hear, one in five people suffer from a mental health challenge in some way,” Bishop said during the show recorded at the Catholic Center in mid-May, which is also Mental Health Awareness Month.

Bishop Dewane welcomed Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., Family Counseling Center Program Director Geralyn Poletti, LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), since 1998, to highlight the importance of helping our sisters and brothers who may suffer from a mental illness or find themselves in crisis as the result of the impacts of Hurricane Irma followed by a global Pandemic.

“We were a little office in Collier County before Hurricane Irma, and the Pandemic,” said Poletti, during the radio interview set to air on 1410 AM and 106.7 FM in Fort Myers and Naples.

Beginning with Hurricane Irma the American Red Cross provided a grant to Catholic Charities for free tele-mental health services for those who lived in Florida during the storm. According to Poletti, these services rolled right into the Pandemic making them busier than ever.

“We are now seeing the economic pitfalls between those who have financial security and those who do not,” said Poletti, referring to the amount of people not able to use tele-mental services because of the lack of phones, or simply the lack of privacy in the home while trying to obtain the services.”

Poletti says they were inundated with referrals from pediatricians and schools following the return to in-person learning. The social worker teams serve families, students and individuals who may be struggling with isolation, depression, and anxiety due to the fallout from having to stay home, alone, or with someone who might be ill.

Bishop Dewane encourages parishioners to reach out to neighbors and friends who might be struggling with mental health due to the stigma still attached and show them you care or are simply willing to listen. He said there is a crossover to some degree between Faith and mental health.

In terms of making a difference, Poletti says she knows Catholic Charities tele-mental health services and their counselors in the schools are having an impact because the families and schools provide feedback, as well as the clinical treatment plans and customer surveys which are measured against the goals and objectives.  They also rely on an evidenced based online tool which provides an overall score for success.

Bishop Dewane also spoke about the initiative to have Mental Health First Aid training offered throughout the Diocese. Initial Youth Mental Health First Aid training sessions took place on April 29 and May 1, 2021. This training was offered through the Diocese Department of Religious Education for priests, deacons, principals, teachers and catechists. Additional training sessions will be offered in the fall.

If you know someone struggling with mental health issues who might benefit from free tele-mental health or in-person counseling services from Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, contact Geralyn Poletti, at 239-455-2655, ext. 3107, or by email at

Since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., mental health outreach has been supporting people with tele-mental health calls and video therapy, and recently resumed in-person therapy.

2,311 COVID-19 video therapy since March 2020

967 COVID-19 telephone therapy since March 2020

610 COVID-19 in-person therapy since February 2021

Youth Mental Health workshop informs

Dozens of Parish staff from across the Diocese of Venice recently took part in one of two workshops, learning how to respond to a mental health crisis among youth.

The Youth Mental Health First Aid workshops on April 29, 2021 at St. Agnes Parish in Naples and May 1 at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Sarasota, were offered through the Diocese Department of Religious Education in an effort to teach those who interact with teens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis.

Barry Groesch, seasonal resident who attends Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda, is a retired law enforcement officer with 30 years of experience who has been teaching Mental Health First Aid to groups for the past decades. The target audience for the Diocesan workshops was priests, deacons, principals, teachers, and catechists.

Groesch said Youth Mental Health First Aid is the help offered to a young person experiencing a mental health challenge, mental disorder or mental health crisis. The first aid given is administered until appropriate help is received or until the crisis resolves. He stressed that Mental Health First Aid does not teach people to diagnose or to provide treatment. Through role-playing, participants worked through various scenarios which addressed some of the situations they might face.

The reality is that most mental health issues are not handled because of the societal stigma that comes with mental illness, Groesch said. He was quick to point out that no two people suffer from the same issues and that the goal is to create a more supportive and understanding environment. This is all done so that when a crisis does occur the signs are recognized and an action plan is in place, lending appropriate support and bridging the gap until professional help can arrive.

John Gulley, Principal of St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers, said he hoped to learn about identifying the symptoms of mental health issues and being more proactive.

Kelli Bonner, Director of Religious Education at St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers, expressed her desire to leave the workshop with the tools necessary to confidently respond when the next crisis occurs.

This was precisely the goal Groesch set forth for the day, teaching participants the risk factors and warning signs of a variety of mental health challenges common among adolescents. Participants learn to support a youth developing signs and symptoms of a mental illness or in an emotional crisis by applying a core five-step action plan.

That action plan included: assessing for risk of suicide or harm; listening without judgement; giving reassurance and information; encouraging appropriate professional help; and encouraging self-help and other support strategies.

Each workshop participant also received a certificate upon completion of the workshop.