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Training center celebrates grand opening

The Herald-Tribune - 11/6/2017

Nov. 05--You've just met someone for the first time. What's the first thing you ask?

"What do you do for a living?"

That can be an uncomfortable question for adults with mental health challenges, who often encounter multiple obstacles in their attempts to reintegrate into the workforce. Nationwide, the unemployment rate for those with serious mental illnesses -- such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress and major depression -- is close to 90 percent.

Vincent Academy, a new Sarasota vocational training center for adults with mental health challenges, aims to change that. The recently-constructed 8,500-square-foot facility, which has been running on a limited schedule since a "soft opening" in June, will celebrate its official grand opening Thursday as it moves into full-scale operation. The public is invited to tour the complex, which will eventually include a job center, a wellness center and a garden in adjoining properties.

Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight and Sarah Pappas, president emeritus of State College of Florida and the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation will speak at the open house, which runs from 4:30 to 6 p.m. and includes refreshments produced in the facility's state-of-the art hotel-style commercial kitchen.

Vincent Academy is modeled after Vincent House, a similar facility in Pinellas Park. (Both are named after the artist Vincent van Gogh, whose mental illness led to suicide at 37). It will offer members vocational training in three areas -- culinary arts and hospitality services, graphic arts and design, and community relations (which includes everything from marketing to telephone reception to data entry). After training, staff will find and support employment placements for members at local businesses. The mutually beneficial arrangement will provide employers with a steady stream of trained labor and workers with the support they need to succeed.

The foundational funding for purchase of the properties and construction of the new facility came from Joan and Bob Geyer of Sunset Automotive. Vincent Academy will operate as a public/private partnership, supported by governmental agencies, local businesses and private philanthropy.


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