Naples Winter Wine Festival invests in children’s post-Ian mental health

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:


The 2023 Naples Winter Wine Festival is coming up on Saturday, and the Naples Children and Education Foundation is behind it. All the money it raises during the upcoming auction will go right back to children in Collier County. When emergencies hit, NCEF will be ready to step in and help.

Hurricane Ian was just such an emergency. By four months later, NCEF has handed out $1 million to agencies working with the hardest-hit. Organizations like St. Matthew’s House and the Harry Chapin Food Bank, which provide food assistance; Youth Haven, which helps abused or homeless children; and the David Lawrence Center, NCH and Golisano Children’s Hospital, which help children’s physical and mental health.

The money given to Golisano adds five new positions to treat children: two licensed mental health counselors, one pediatric psychologist and two public education advocates who are deployed in schools to identify high-risk students.

Dr. Paul Simeone, the chief medical executive of Lee Health’s behavioral health division, explains how those advocates work.

“These are people who know something about mental illness because either it’s been in their… immediate or extended family,” Simeone said. “And then what they do is they shepherd people through the mental health and social service system.”

If the family can’t get their child to a therapy appointment because the car broke down, for instance, the advocates pay for repairs. In one case, they provided a baby monitor when one toddler kept escaping from home. Whatever is creating a barrier between a child and mental health services, they remove it.

Simeone told WINK News what Lee Health doctors are currently seeing in kids.

“High degrees of depression and anxiety in particular; those are the most prevalent conditions,” Simeone said. “A lot of trauma, a lot of traumatic stress, a lot of substance abuse, a lot of anger and aggression. We have a lot of kids showing up in our emergency room who are really angry and violent now.”

Simeone says children as young as 5 are showing up in the ER with violent behavior. he believes a lot of people in Southwest Florida, including adults, are walking around angry because of the cumulative loss of normalcy and of loved ones—first due to COVID-19, then Hurricane Ian.

If you want to help, you can.

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