Kids’ Minds Matter’s fourth annual Secret Garden Gala raised a record $2.8 million for pediatric mental and behavioral health services in Southwest Florida on March 4. Since its founding in 2016, Kids’ Minds Matter has raised approximately $10 million to support its mission to increase access to care to ensure children receive the right care at the right place and right time.

“We are overwhelmed by the generosity and support for Kids’ Minds Matter from the Collier and Lee County communities as we strive to provide mental healthcare for the many children living in Southwest Florida,” whole-heartedly expressed by Susan Goldy and Scott Spiezle, founders of Kids’ Minds Matter. “We have made great progress in providing care over the last three years, but it is only the tip of the iceberg.  Our success last night is the beginning of our entire region coming together to support mental healthcare for our children through Kids’ Minds Matter at Golisano Children’s Hospital.”

NBC2 anchor Kellie Burns emceed the event. Keynote speaker, mental health advocate and best-selling author Kevin Hines shared his personal struggles with mental illness and the story of his miraculous survival following his near-fatal suicide attempt jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Hines also told his mental health wellness story to high school students in two schools in Lee and Collier counties earlier in the day.

Following his presentation, a powerful video highlighting caregivers, patients and mental health advocates was shown, then a “Fund the Need” call by benefit auctioneer Rick Gallo raised more than $2.8 million.

“Last night was one of the most magical nights I’ve experienced in Southwest Florida, not just because of the incredible generosity of our donors, but also because of their dedication to the mission of helping the children of our region,” exclaimed Chris Simoneau, chief foundation and development officer, Lee Health. “Generations of families will benefit from the generosity of a single night.”

The goal of Kids’ Minds Matter is to increase access to pediatric mental and behavioral health care in our region, focusing on four critical areas: evidence-based patient care, community engagement, education and legislative lobbying. An estimated 46,000 Southwest Florida children are impacted by mental and behavioral health disorders like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, psychosis, substance abuse, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Philanthropic support for Kids’ Minds Matter has allowed Lee Health and Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida to: implement a tiered model of care that clinically aligns community, inpatient and outpatient care; hire additional psychiatrists, child advocates and other mental health professionals; offer Mental Health First Aid training to local pediatricians, emergency service providers and others who work directly with children; renovate an outpatient center in Fort Myers where a child’s needs can be addressed in a therapeutic setting; and launch a first-of-its-kind Pediatric Digital Cognitive Behavioral Health diagnostic and treatment protocols interlaced with Tele-Psychology support to treat anxiety, depression and trauma. Most recently, Kids’ Minds Matter introduced mental health care navigators into Lee County schools who will help families find resources and care to address their child’s mental healthcare needs.

“Words truly cannot express the gratitude I feel for the donors, sponsors and organizers of last night’s Kids’ Minds Matter Secret Garden Gala,” expressed Armando Llechu, chief administrative officer of Golisano Children’s Services. “I am so humbled by the generosity of this community and eager to work with other Lee Health leaders to put the dollars raised to work in expanding access to mental and behavioral healthcare.”

Funds raised at the Gala will be used to add additional care navigators in local schools, establish an Autism Testing Center in collaboration with Florida State University and Florida Gulf Coast University, expand metal health clinics throughout the region and provide counseling sessions for under and uninsured children in need of care.

“I am deeply moved by the enormous and compassionate support shown by our caring community,” shared Paul Simeone, M.D., VP of mental and behavioral health at Lee Health. “These gifts will go a very long way in lessening the suffering of the children and their families struggling with mental health conditions. Thank you!”

The Secret Garden Gala was presented by Dr. Rick and Ellie Klein of Bonita Springs. Leader Sponsors included Dorothy and Ron Fitzgerald, Helen and Dan Gerner, Susan Goldy and Scott Spiezle, Audi Fort Myers, Audi Naples, FineMark National Bank & Trust, Fountain 33 Foundation, Fort Myers Florist, Jill Kushner, The Kim Foundation, LeeSar and Stock Development.

Organizing committee members included Albert Abdo, Jeanne Beaulieu, Shavon Chester, Kathy Courtnage, Larry Courtnage, Gillian Draper, Dorothy Fitzgerald, Anne Frazier, Rick Gallo, Susan Goldy, John Halstead, George Hamilton, Tina Keating, Jennifer Parisi, Jason Powella, Paul Simeone, Ph.D., Phil Simon, Chris Simoneau, Bill Skidmore, Pat Smart, Scott Spiezle, Laura Tombs and Tiffany Whitaker.