The Story of Serenoa House

     Beginning in 2012 and for the next two years, a dedicated member of our community, Jackie Davis, visited several peer respites in Georgia and California researching the origin stories of some of the country's few established peer respites.  With help from another mover and shaker in the community, Jim Probert, director of the Counseling and Wellness Center at the University of Florida, a grant application was submitted in April of 2014 to a local non-for-profit that assists with community development.  Eight months later, representatives responded and we began discussing funds that could launch such an organization.  The summer and fall passed.  In January of 2015, Jackie and Jim had their first face-to-face meeting with representatives from the fund.  The feedback was positive, so Jackie and Jim were tasked with creating a board of directors, a business plan, and scheduling a follow-up meeting.

     It took three months to assemble the founding board which first convened on March 12, 2015.  Attending were Mary-Ellen Cross, Jackie Davis, Karen Johnson, Robert Hutchinson, and Shelly Wilson; individuals who had agreed to be on the board but were unable to attend this meeting included Rory Causseaux and Jim Probert.  Our ranks were bolstered the following month when Roseann Walker joined the board!  It was at this point, in April of 2015, when our nascent organization began looking for a site and investigating training programs for staff.  It was also at this point that we made strides in blueprinting a development plan, a mission statement, by-laws, job descriptions, and formal operational procedures.
     Over the summer of that year, we reached other milestones: the fundraising video was shot, we became a 501.3c non-profit, and the decision was made to host a “soft opening” by hiring a director and beginning to offer groups at a supportive community hub that was willing to donate space: the United Church of Gainesville.  The budget for the “soft opening” was submitted to the Mental Wellness Fund.  We interviewed for director's position and hired our first executive director: Phil Schulman. 

     That fall, the focus was location location location!  Significant work was done investigating sites. Builders and inspectors were constantly consulted, and raising funds for the initial launch was a priority since money for a down payment to purchase the location was not part of the money from the original donation.  Our board of directors expanded to nine members, and we finally settled on a site at 728 E. University Ave.  It was originally the Gertrude Robertson McIntosh House, a yellow Victorian house in the historic district of downtown Gainesville. 

     Over the winter, we began offering support groups and opened an office at the United Church of Gainesville.  Fundraising continued, permits were pulled, and we insured the property.  We were finally able to purchase of the house in the Summer of 2016, which launched a whole series of accomplishments: the parking lot was paved, the interior was significantly renovated while maintaining respect for the historic quality of the house, and (possibly the most important milestone for homeowners in Florida) A.C. was installed!  Staff was interviewed, hired, and trained to assist with the support groups and social activities at the United Church of Gainesville.  We began with the goal of opening at the end of the Summer but an increase in the scope and cost of renovations delayed this by eight months.  The launching of the Gainesville Peer Respite culminated in the planned “soft” opening in March of 2017 and with the wiping of brow-sweat, our doors officially opened in April.

     Five days a week we began having overnight guests, hosting groups, hosting regular social events, and operating our warm-line service.  We also worked to develop relationships with other mental health resources in the area by co-hosting events, offering space for a weekly NAMI meeting, and exploring other opportunities that would create a stronger net of services.  In the winter of 2017, thanks to a CAP grant, our staff grew significantly and we were able to stay open to guests six days out of every week.  In a culmination of the efforts of our community, we were honored with a Beautification Award from the City of Gainesville in April of 2018. 



 Gainesville Peer Respite provides sanctuary and support to those who are experiencing or have experienced overwhelming mental /emotional distress.   We seek to create a community that supports open dialogue, empowerment, self-determination, recovery and wellness.  Our staff members have lived experiences similar to those we serve. Together we hope to create an environment that helps people transform experiences of distress into opportunities for learning and life enhancement.


Core Values

Gainesville Peer Respite wants to provide a safe environment that encourages honest and open dialogue about the effects of mental illness, substance use disorder and trauma on our communities. The values that we ascribe to are central to the consumer operated model and will be vital to creating a network of volunteers Peer support professionals and community leaders all working to advocate for change and to reduce the negative stigma associated with mental illness.

Gainesville Peer Respite Core values are

  •   Respect - recognizing that all people are different and come from different backgrounds and different experiences; having admiration and esteem for the things that make us different while embracing the things that we all share.

  • Openness - a willingness to be emotionally accessible and able to process trauma in a healthy way that builds trust in our abilities and in others.

  • Community - a group of people from similar background or circumstances who come together to share their experiences and support each other.

  • Self-Efficacy - an individual’s belief in their innate abilities to affect positive change in their own lives and the lives of others.

  • Empowerment - The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights.

    Employees, volunteers, visitors and guests of the center are required to read and acknowledge their agreement to upholding these values and are expected to behave in a manner that is consistent with these values in word and deed. The Respite Center is devoted to fostering an environment where clients feel safe, respected, and heard. Our values of respect, openness, community, self-efficacy and empowerment are the foundation of our relationships with clients and the community.


Board Of Directors


Robert Hutchinson

Hutch has also served three terms on the Alachua County Commission where he has chaired the Criminal Justice, Mental Health, Substance Abuse grant committee, and pushed the effort to have all county employees receive Mental Health First Aid training. He also serves on the boards of NAMI, the Community Foundation, the Wagmore Foundation.

Hutch is the chief gravedigger at Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery. He co-founded the intentional community of Flamingo Hammock where he fosters dogs and plays music with the Weeds of Eden.


Joan Scully

Joan Scully has been a member of the GPR board for three years. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Master Certified Addiction Professional who has worked in both treatment and advocacy for individuals with lived experience of mental health and substance use disorders for over 25 years.

She has held positions at the Corner Drug Store, North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center, Florida Recovery Center and the University of Florida, where she helped develop and maintain innovative, solution focused, strength based interventions and programs to aid individuals in need of recovery services.

As a person in long term recovery, she has a unique capability to encourage and challenge individuals to live their best, most authentic, life.


Bill Gallagher

Bill Gallagher has been a GPR Board member since 2016. He received a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Florida and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of West Florida. Bill also earned a Certificate in Leadership in Public Service and Nonprofit Management from the University of West Florida.

Bill is a public administrator for the State of Florida where he has worked for over 25 years. Bill has been active in the Gainesville community for 30 years. He is active in the United Church of Gainesville and served in leadership roles of organizations including: ACLU of Florida, the University of Florida, the City of Gainesville, and other organizations. Bill was Chair of the Human Rights Board of the City of Gainesville from 2002-2004 and was a Board member since its inception in 1999.

In 1989 Bill received a leadership award from the University of Florida. In 1998, Bill received a Leadership Award from the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida. Bill is an advocate for mental health parody, mental health reform, and criminal justice reform.


Sandy Rasmussen-Carnes

Sandy was born and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida, she has been a resident of Gainesville since 1982. Sandy graduated from the University of Florida, Bachelor of Science in Zoology. Sandy is a committed public servant who has a passion for helping others who are struggling with mental illness.

Sandy has served on the Board for the University Park Neighborhood Association and is the President of the Daughters of the King, at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Gainesville which provides service to others; through the VA Fisher House, Ronald McDonald House and through pastoral care for those with both physical and mental health issues.