Mayor Poe attentively listens to the mission statement of the Gainesville Peer Respite. (Eve Rosen/WUFT News)

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe Visits Non-Profit Organization Peer Respite


Mayor Lauren Poe stepped into the Gainesville Peer Respite this scorching Tuesday to tour the property and discuss the mental health symposium and resource fair scheduled for Thursday.

Poe sat down with new staff members, as well as Susie Lyons, Peer Respite’s executive director, and Jackie Davis, one of its founding members.

Together, they discussed what the respite does and why it is important to those who have mental health issues and those who have experienced previous trauma.

“It’s funny (Gainesville) is a town where healthcare is big, you have Shands, you have North Florida,” said Terry Prince, who works at Shands Vista, noting it’s “the little resources nobody knows about.”

The respite aims to provide sanctuary and support to those who are or have experienced mental and/or emotional distress. The Serenoa House has five bedrooms and can host three to five people at a time, which is typically eight nights a month.

Susie Lyons presents the respite over the snacks and drinks she prepared for the mayor’s visit. (Eve Rosen/WUFT News)

“The Serenoa House came from the Serenoa palm, which is the first tree to come back after a fire. It is a very resilient tree,” Lyons said.

The peer respite will be receiving a grant of $100,000 annually through the Lutheran Services of Florida and the Department of Children and Families. Some Peer Respite employees earlier this year were worried that it might have had to close, but this grant will allow them to remain open. It will be receiving the grant in early August. Currently, respite employees are ensuring they are able to weather the slower months of April, May and June.

The Lutheran Services of Florida requires the respite to conduct background checks on all of their incoming employees.

Poe recommended that the respite look into some Community Development Block Grants during these slower months and in the future, should funding from private donors decrease. That’s been the case in recent months.

The City of Gainesville will host a Mental Health Symposium on Thursday from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church at 100 NE First St. in Gainesville.

“We need to talk about this like we talk about diabetes or heart disease and more people need to know about this as a medical issue,” Poe said.

From left, Amber Hodges, Mayor Poe, Maria Montenegro — the new operations director of Peer Respite — and Leah Jones. Amber showed Mayor Poe around the Serenoa House. (Eve Rosen/WUFT News)

About Everitt Rosen

Everitt is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by emailing or calling 352-392-6397.

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