Kathryn Leib-Hunter believed in keeping her office door open.
Unexpected visitors were greeted like old friends. No matter how busy her day — and she juggled a lot — Leib-Hunter had time. She remembered details of others’ lives no matter how much time had passed.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness in Collier, NAMI, lost their longtime executive director Wednesday at age 54, after a battle with health issues.
On Friday, the staff at the Sarah Ann Drop-In Center, which Leib-Hunter was passionate about, faced telling clients about her death.
Additional staff was called in to help, said Eileen Streight, program manager at Sarah Ann, located on Trails Boulevard in North Naples.
Leib-Hunter was proud of the Sarah Ann center. It provides a place for people with persistent mental illness to socialize and enjoy group activities. It’s a place where they overcome the isolation that often accompanies mental illness.
“We will miss her laugh. We will miss her smile,” Streight said. “She would come over and see how everybody was doing. I know that is what we will all miss about her. We just want to continue her legacy.”
Leib-Hunter had a knack for getting people to work together, said David Schimmel, who retired two years ago as executive director of the David Lawrence Center.
She was instrumental in putting together the mental health initiative in 2011 that is funded by the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF), sponsors of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, he said.
The mental health initiative started with $1.2 million in NCEF grant funding and later became the Beautiful Minds program with $4 million in grant funding from 2013 to 2015.
When they first met years ago, Schimmel said his relationship with Leib-Hunter was antagonistic.
“We quickly turned that around because I listened to her,” he said.
Whenever an issue arose between the two organizations, she knew to call and they could get it resolved quickly. They got together for breakfast four or five times a year to stay current.
The David Lawrence Center used to run the Sarah Ann center but turned it over to NAMI years ago, he said. She made it thrive.
“It was a good move,” Schimmel said. “She ran it very effectively.”
Leib-Hunter connected with people and families facing mental illness. One of her brothers was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He chose not to take his medication and died from substance abuse. She opened up about the loss in a 2014 guest column in the Naples Daily News.
“She really related to people. She could relate to their struggles,” Schimmel said. “It was personal for her. It wasn’t a job.”
State Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, worked with Leib-Hunter on mental health issues at the state level.
“She had a tremendous passion for working for those with mental illness,” Hudson said.
One training program that all 900 people in the Collier County Sheriff’s Office take is crisis intervention, where they learn how to interact with someone who is dealing with mental health issues, said Sheriff Kevin Rambosk.
“Without her leadership, it would not have been done,” Rambosk said.
It has had a significant impact for deputies getting people with mental illness the care they need instead of carting them to jail, and it helps officers de-escalate potentially dire situations. In the end, everyone is safer, Rambosk said.
“We’re going to miss her,” he said.
Maria Jimenez-Lara, executive director of NCEF, said she was invaluable.
“Kathryn’s work in our community will have a lasting impact, she was an advocate for those who could not advocate for themselves,” she said. “I am so proud to have known and worked with her. Sadly, we have lost a champion for children. ”
Leib-Hunter leaves behind her husband, Patrick, and twin sons, Forrest and Taylor. Details of funeral arrangements were not available Friday.
Originally posted via Naples Daily News, here…