PHOTO/ MARK HOWELL
Rev. Stephen Braddock presents Sherry Read with her
humanitarian award

Cheers and tears of joy at FKOC Awards Luncheon

BY MARK HOWELL

STAFF WRITER

The Florida Keys Outreach Coalition’s 22nd annual meeting, held Wednesday, April 9, with a lunch hosted by One Human Family Fellowship on Georgia Street, was an emotional affair that celebrated the coalition’s April 1 assumption of its sponsorship of the Peacock Supportive Living Program for the seriously mentally ill. 

Guest speaker was Sherry Read of the Peacock program, unaware she was about to be awarded the 9th annual “Capt’n Kidd” Humanitarian Award, named after a homeless and mentally ill citizen of our streets who, despite all his challenges, had the spirit and generosity to “give it your best.”

(Documentary film director Dan Wilkens, who made a great movie about the late captain, founded the award.)

Read — who until a couple of weeks ago was president of Peacock and had been in charge of the program for years even while co-founding WomanKind and writing the original grant for Healthy Start— began her talk rhetorically.

“Would you expect to be ignored if you had cancer? The mentally ill face that every day. People confuse mental illness with retardation or developmental disability. It’s not. It’s a disease of opportunity no different from cancer. Mental illness causes biological mood changes and behavior that can affect anyone. But no one brings you a casserole.

“You don’t tell people with cancer to get a grip. Yet, those with mental illness face a stigma, even though they need what we all need, a place to live and an opportunity to work. Those are basic human rights.”

It wasn’t until 1977, she recalled, that a group in Key West sought the advice of out-of-town facilitators in meetings at which the real issues were revealed. It was after that that Peacock then devised a program of zero tolerance of drugs and a police presence at Poinciana that the housing became accepted and those housing-deprived with special needs finally found a safe place to live.

“Advocacy,” however, “is really hard work,” advised Read. “It’s about taking action and you have to really believe in what you do.”

Financial support for Peacock continued to become more and more of an issue but “closing was not an option.” It was only when Read’s close friend Linda Russin, owner of Radio 107, mentioned as a model the Florida Keys Coalition, which Steve Braddock and his team and board had brought to an enviable degree of stability, that Read declared “a stroke of genius.”

Now that the two concerns have indeed coalesced — with the Heron wing of the program in Marathon coming under the wing of the Guidance Center — Florida still has a long way to go, Read reminded us. The state continues to spend on supporting its citizens with mental health problems what it spent back in the 1950s.

Following her address, FKOC presented its board achievement awards and, most movingly, its client achievement awards during which a number of those whose lives had been saved by the outreach programs, men women and children, movingly told their stories. The air quivered with joy and bells of goodwill rang out in every mind.

Judge Peary Fowler then swore in the new board of directors: Jimmy Weekley; Jenna Stauffer; Sam Kaufman; Rev, Randy Becker; Rev, Sarah Fowler; Rev. Larry Schenk; John Sangston; Dr. Eric Nichols; Ronald Roberts; Neils Hubbell; William Malpass; Jennifer George-Nichol and Patricia Major.