Selling cars and trucks is a means to an end for one area couple. What they really love to do is help people find new hope.
Sunset Automotive Group owners Bob and Joan Geyer were the perfect power couple for the creation of the forthcoming Vincent Academy in Sarasota.
“In the first six months, the conversation evolved from, 'How can we help you to get started in Sarasota?' to 'Let's custom build you what you need here,'” says William McKeever, executive director of Pinellas Park-based 501(c)(3) Vincent House, which facilitates job training and placement for adults living with mental illness. The program often diverts adults from repeat hospitalizations, incarcerations and even patterns of drug abuse.
“Many of these people have been living in isolation,” says Joan Geyer. “This organization brings them out of isolation and separates them from the list of 'nevers' they are given when they are diagnosed.”
That list of “nevers” includes steady employment, which the Vincent House model dispels. This year alone, members of Vincent House collectively earned more than $750,000 from paid employment, and 200 members found community opportunities, purpose and independence. The Sarasota location has a goal to serve 75 members in its first year, expanding to more than 200 members in years to follow.
The Geyers had been supporting Vincent House for 14 years when discussions of expansion to Sarasota began two years ago. They were already confident in the organization's recovery-through-work approach and what it could do for the community, which is why they agreed to fund construction of the 8,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility on Glengary Street, about five miles south of downtown Sarasota. The building will include technology and conference rooms, as well as a full commercial kitchen and dining space in which to host events.
Vincent Academy, which is scheduled to open in February, is modeled after Vincent House, but has a custom look, designed by Sarasota's Thorning Little architecture firm.
The Geyers provide little details about their sizable fiscal contributions to the cause. Bob Geyer, who owns and operates 15 car dealerships from Fort Myers to Palmetto, stresses the importance of public-private partnerships and collaborations to increase the sustainability of programs like Vincent Academy.
“As a businessman of 38 years, I have to say more and more, you have to involve the private sector. It has to be a collaboration because the funds are drying up,” Geyer says.
It was the couple's contribution to Vincent Academy that got the attention of the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, which has committed to fund a large portion of the operations side. McKeever says the Geyers' generosity and commitment as successful businesspeople set an example for other partnerships statewide.
Vincent Academy has more money to raise. Currently, there is an active $200,000 matching campaign, which the Geyers facilitated with the Steinwachs Family Foundation. Money from the campaign will go to outfitting the facility with technology, including computers, point-of-sale systems and a phone system, as well as scholarships. The campaign has raised $100,000.
“We are deeply appreciative for the Geyers for making this possible,” says McKeever, who will also take on the role of executive director of Vincent Academy. “It wouldn't be happening without their involvement.”
The Geyers also continue to build a network of local companies willing to partner with Vincent Academy as part of a unique employment model. With the model, Academy staff will be sent to corporate partners to learn the job skills of a particular, oftentimes hard-to-fill position — free of charge to the company.
Joan Geyer, an active member of the board, is still figuring out what her day-to-day role will be once the Academy opens. Bob Geyer will continue to be a voice within the community as well as in his company for this cause and others the Geyers support.
“The speed of the boss is the speed of the organization,” says Bob Geyer. “And you have to set an example and have a culture of integrity, honesty, and helping in the community.”
Executives: Bob and Joan Geyer, Sunset Automotive Group
Organization: Vincent Academy, Sarasota; Vincent House, Pinellas Park
Giveback: Purchased land and are funding construction of the Vincent Academy, a program that uses a recovery-through-work approach to support adults with mental illness.
Mission: The Vincent Academy will assist, promote and celebrate individuals living with a mental illness in their effort to improve social and vocational skills and become employed in the community.