The mission of Project HELP is one that never sleeps. This selfless organization continues to radiate endlessly, touching the hearts and homes of many within the community. Helping provide hope, empowerment, and healing to those affected by sexual violence, sudden death, and crime, Project HELP, has firmly established ties within the community and has left a profound impact. 2019 marked many pivotal points for Project HELP. Eileen Wesley, Executive Director, weighs in on the top milestones throughout the past year. As 2019 marches to a conclusion, all good deeds must be recognized. Project HELP has extended love and service to over 3.5k individuals. With such a demand, Project HELP hired new staff to meet the ever-growing need. The therapy program has expanded to three therapists who are passionate about the work they do. A therapy dog in-training is onsite. A new Medical Director will oversee operations as 2019 has more than doubled the number of forensic exams from the previous year.
Change is upon the horizon as many new regulations are in place. Last December, Collier County Commissioners promoted the Mental Health and Addiction Advisory Committee to address mental health and addiction. Part of the solution was putting into place a 1% sales tax to address the need. With the support of extra funding, organizations like Project HELP will have the resources they need to assist the public. Optimism, cheer, and excitement roared last November as the casino fundraiser, A Night in Monte Carlo, helped unite the community, raise much needed funds, and shine spotlight on the mission of change. All proceeds helped to fund Project HELP’s team of professional counselors and advocates who provide hope, empowerment and healing to those in need.
Marsy’s Law in Florida to support victims’ rights went into action. Amending the state constitution and various state laws to (1) expand the legal rights of crime victims and (2) restitution payment by criminal offenders, and (3) restricting the early release of inmates, and changing the procedures for granting and revoking parole. One of the resolutions of the rape kit back log has been implemented. Law enforcement has 30 days to turn rape kits into the local florida department of law enforcement laboratories and the laboratories have 120 days to test and return results to law enforcement. This is giving hope for the victims to receive justice quicker with a faster turn around time.
As the new year approaches, and the holiday season is upon us, Project HELP, along with its’ supporters, look to the horizon with optimism and excitement. Project HELP assists in matters of Sexual Assault, Grief and Lose, and Healthy Relationships. Health Relationships is the newest program offered at Project HELP, which became available in December of 2019.
Hadley was sexually assaulted while living in another state. Due to the trauma and fear, she moved back to Florida to be with her family. She left a lucrative career, a great apartment, and the friends she had made. It took her six months to call Project HELP. During those six months, she was unable to leave her parents’ home by herself, go to work, or even drive a car. When Hadley came in for her first appointment with us, she was clearly scared. She shared that she almost turned around and left before she got to the door. She didn’t want to talk to a stranger about the sexual assault, yet the pain of living in fear was greater than the fear of re-opening the wound. Hadley attended weekly counseling sessions at Project HELP for months. She also attended a Project HELP support group where she learned that her fears and concerns were much like those of the other survivors. After several weeks of attending group, Hadley was able to share her experiences to help a younger group member. After about six months, Hadley was able to get a part time job in her field. During the year and a half that Hadley has been receiving services at Project HELP, we provided her with the in-person crisis intervention counseling and support she had needed. We have also helped her with advocacy and referrals to access the civil legal and criminal justice services in the state where the crime occurred. Hadley has also utilized our 24-hour HELPline on those nights where the thoughts of the assault kept her trapped in her bed. Now, a year and a half later, Hadley is dating, and has a full time job.
It is because of the generous support of our donors, sponsors, and volunteers that stories like this are possible. Thank you for making a difference in the life of Hadley and the many other survivors who depend on Project HELP to rebuild their lives after tragedy and trauma.
Without the generosity of our sponsors and donors, it would not be possible for Project HELP to continue assist victims of violent crimes in our community. This giving season, we are grateful for every individual and organization who has thought about Project HELP when they were deciding where to make a charitable donation. This month we highlight Wayne and Toby Press for their ongoing generosity. We had the privilege to speak with Toby Press about what motivated her donation and she was very open about her passion for Project HELP and all that we do.
Toby became involved with supporting Project HELP when her daughter, Laura Press Spiller, who has been serving on the Board of Directors for the last six years, introduced her to the organization. Laura’s passion for Project HELP then inspired her mother to make a generous donation.
Toby Press grew up in Naples and has always felt like people are not aware of the violent crimes occurring in the community. Project HELP shines a light on the needs of victims of violent crimes and provides an array of services to support them. This is what makes Project HELP such a crucial organization in this community, and what sparks Naples residents like Wayne and Toby Press to continue their generous support.
Wayne and Toby Press are among the many advocates and supporters in the community that assist Project HELP to keep their doors open and to continue serving victims of violent crime everyday. We are extremely thankful to all of our supporters!
Saturday, November 23, 2019 was a night to remember! “A Night in Monte Carlo” fundraiser included blackjack, roulette, craps, poker, and wheel of fortune – guests enjoyed the gaming and being able to spend time together. The event raised funds to ensure that Project HELP services and programs continue to empower victims to move forward and recover from what was taken away from them. The funds generated will go toward providing hope, empowerment, and healing to those affected by sexual violence, sudden death, and other crimes. We are grateful to everyone who sponsored and attended the event.
Event guests were welcomed by the amazing Sabrina Katz from WINK TV. President of the Board of Directors, Jennifer Johnson, then spoke to those in attendance of the personal impact that violent crime has had on her life. She spoke on why she chose to get involved with Project HELP in 2013 and why she continues to support the cause. Project HELP is a platform that gives a voice to those who cannot speak out on their own. Other guest speakers included Francine Donnorummo, Chief of the Special Victims Unit for the 20th Circuit State Attorney’s Office,who spoke about the importance of the relationship between the State Attorney’s Office and Project HELP and how our vital work assists in the prosecution process, and Michelle McLeod, who serves on the Naples City Council, who bravely spoke about her journey of healing after the loss of her husband, and how Project HELP assisted through our support groups to piece her life back together. All of the speakers were able to show different examples of how Project HELP works diligently to assist crime victims at their most vulnerable time.
The night featured a wonderful performance by Jack Cassidy, known by many as a contestant on The Voice, Season 12. Jack comes from a family of professional entertainers. From a young age, Jack enjoys memories of being on tour with his dad, to shinning bright for his talents all through his time in school. Guests enjoyed the gaming, hors d’oeuvres, a grand buffet prepared by Hilton, Naples, and music by DJ Monz. Many of the guests excitedly lined up to capture the moment in the themed photo booth with their friends and loved ones!
One of the most exciting and notable elements of the night was the silent auction and raffle prizes. Items included an 18-bottle wine cooler, stay-cations, a record player with albums, restaurant packages, and many others!
We would like to thank all of those in attendance. Your continued support allows us to provide on-going services and programs to victims of violent crimes.
Cecil Hedrich, PCSW moved across the country to work at Project Help, Inc. because he believes in the mission of the organization and its focus of serving all victims of violent crime and sudden loss survivors. He currently holds a Provisional Clinical Social Worker license in the State of Florida and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker License in the State of Utah. He earned his Master’s in Social Work from the University of Utah.
Cecil has over 8 years combined professional experience working in the fields of mental health and crisis intervention. He has worked as lead counselor at a domestic violence agency, a child advocacy center director, and recently was a drug and alcohol therapist for an adolescent residential treatment center. Cecil is trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy by the Linehan Institute, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing through the EMDR institute, Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Cecil is a Florida Designated Victim Services Practitioner, and is completing certification as a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional through the International Association of Trauma Professionals. He is a member of the National Association of Social Workers and the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science. His approach to counseling and advocacy work is one of treating the client with dignity and respect and finding ways for them to approach the lives they want to live even as they experience the after effects of trauma.
Success HELPline Story: (names have been changed to protect survivor)
It’s 3 am and the phone rings. A kind voice comes on the line “Crisis and Sexual Assault HELPline. Sara speaking. How may I help you?” The caller (whom we will call Jane) says, “I need someone to talk to. I don’t know what to do.” Sara calmly states “Let’s see what I can do to help.” Jane shared that she was on a date the night before and started to feeling funny. Her date offered to drive her home. The next thing Jane remembers is that she woke up with most of her clothes on the floor, feeling as if something wasn’t right, like something had happened to her. Sara’s compassion and reassurance allowed Jane to talk openly and freely about her emotions and feelings. Sara and Jane discussed whether or not Jane believes she was sexually assaulted. Sara reassured Jane that she called the right place and explained that the sexual assault was not Jane’s fault.
During this call, Sara took the time to explain the options that are available to victims of violent crime and helped empower Jane to be able to make important decisions. Should she report the crime to law enforcement? Should she have a forensic exam done? Could the sexual assault response advocate come with her to the exam? Coping skills were shared with Jane so she could help herself during this stressful and emotionally painful time. Sara also discussed the Project HELP’s counseling options. Free of charge and confidential, the counseling could be the start of Jane taking back the power and control that was taken from her.
After exploring all of the options, Jane is empowered to make a plan. With Sara’s kindness, explanations, and support, Jane decided to report to law enforcement and have a forensic exam. Sara started the process by calling the Sexual Assault Response Advocate on call and connected her to Jane.
Calls like this are common for our HELPline and Sara provided immediate crisis intervention. Like many of us, Jane would not have known what to do, how to do it, and where to go for help. In the end Jane received all of the services that a victim of sexual assault will need to begin the healing journey. With a fully trained sexual assault advocate by her side to help navigate the path from victimization through prosecution, Jane is on her way to becoming a survivor. With survivor focused crisis intervention counseling and support groups, people like Jane do not have to feel as if they are alone with unanswered questions and the fear of the unknown. Project HELP empowers victims to become survivors.