Dottie Pacharis to be keynote speaker for Food for Thought symposium

October 12, 2016 CONRIC PR

Well known author and mental health advocate Dottie Pacharis has just signed on as the new keynote speaker for “Food for Thought: Feeding the Mind, Body and Soul.” HOPE Clubhouse of Southwest Florida presents its annual mental health educational symposium from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Oct. 24, at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theater, 1380 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers. Miss District of Columbia and mental health advocate Haely Jardas, originally slated as keynote speaker, is taking time to mourn the loss of her brother, Corporal Thomas Joseph Jardas, who lost his life on a U.S. Marine Corps training mission.

Pacharis is the author of Mind on the Run – A Bipolar Chronicle, based on her son’s struggle with bipolar disorder, which sadly resulted in his death. She has channeled her grief into advocacy for greater funding for research and support for those living with mental illness and their caregivers. Pacharis is a frequent News Press contributor, and is a highly sought-after speaker and writer, whose articles have also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, the Guardian and many other publications.

Pacharis said she became “sold on” the clubhouse concept after she was invited to serve as keynote speaker for HOPE Clubhouse of Southwest Florida’s Mental Health Educational Symposium in 2013. She now proudly serves on the organization’s board of directors. HOPE Clubhouse is dedicated to helping people with mental illness lead lives of dignity, respect and acceptance. It was founded on the belief that recovery from mental illness is possible with the help of the community.

The Clubhouse is one of more than 350 clubhouse programs worldwide, based on the principle that meaningful work is critical to bringing positive change to the lives of those living with mental illness. It helps its members build self-esteem and develop work skills so they can obtain employment in the community. Unfortunately, there was no clubhouse program available to Pacharis’ son where he was living in northern Virginia.

“Mental illness is not a character flaw. It is not something people choose. It affects all segments of society. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or that you’ve done something to cause the disorder. At the Clubhouse, members are there for each other,” Pacharis said. “There are many heart-warming stories about how the Clubhouse saved members’ lives. I know it would have made a big difference for my son.”

In Lee County, 150,000 of our family, friends, coworkers and neighbors are living with some form of mental illness. How do we recognize the signs? What community resources are available? What is the most supportive way to talk about mental illness?

Mental illness represents a wide spectrum of disorders, but those living with it are disproportionately affected by nutritional deficiency, which can contribute to the onset and severity of the disease. “Food for Thought” is a continuation of a theme that grows from HOPE Clubhouse’s new edible Garden of Hope, which promotes better nutrition and healthier lifestyles for adults living with mental illness.

Additional speakers will include the Honorable H. Andrew Swett, 20th Judicial Circuit Judge and founder of the Lee County Mental Health Court, respected Fort Myers psychiatrist Dr. Omar Rieche, and HOPE Clubhouse member Cindy Bishop. Cindy McCurry-Ross, News-Press executive editor and vice president of content, will serve as emcee.

Tickets are $50, including a buffet lunch, and can be purchased at or by calling (239) 267-1777. Continuing Education Units can be earned for qualifying professionals in attendance. Individuals may sponsor a HOPE Clubhouse member to attend the symposium for $50.

Sponsorship opportunities are still available. For more information, contact James Wineinger at (239) 900-4200 or email

HOPE Clubhouse of Southwest Florida thanks Title Sponsor Scott White Advisors, plus The News-Press Media Group; Gavin’s ACE; Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre; FineMark National Bank & Trust; NAMI Collier; NAMI Lee, Charlotte & Hendry Counties; Beasley Media Group, Inc.; CONRIC PR & Marketing; Sovereign Health; Grady-White Boats; Fish Tale Boats; SalusCare; Park Royal; William and Sharon Dardy; Dr. Omar Rieche; Dottie and George Pacharis; Miller & Lucas Families; Carolyn Cusak; and John & Kathryne A. King.

About Hope Clubhouse

Hope Clubhouse is a community of support for adults living with a mental illness in Southwest Florida providing opportunities for meaningful work, education, friendships and access to housing. Hope Clubhouse is a 501(c)3 organization located at 3602 Broadway Ave., Fort Myers, Florida 33907. Call (239) 267-1777 or visit to donate or for more information.

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