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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The yellow house on University Avenue has a name: Serenoa.

It’s the Latin name for the Saw Palmetto Palm Tree — the first tree to grow back after a raging fire. And for the employees at Gainesville Peer Respite, a new sanctuary for people working to prevent personal mental health crises, it is the ideal symbolism for the nonprofit’s mission.

“It was the perfect metaphor for what we’re trying to accomplish here,” said Lexi Braun, director of guest services. “There’s always regrowth after a crisis.”

The nonprofit respite, the first of its kind in Florida, opened earlier this month at 728 E. University Ave. to give free support to any adult who self-identifies as having emotional distress or other mental health challenges.

“Our main goal is to prevent hospitalization and crisis from happening,” Braun said.

The nonprofit offers four services: support groups, wellness activities, telephone support and overnight stays. Guests in need can stay at the house for up to five days, but must be able to feed and take care of themselves, Braun said.

“We provide community and connection so people know there’s somebody else out there,” she said.

The two-story house has four single bedrooms, a living and dining room and a lounge space where visitors can participate in wellness activities, Braun said. Tacked on the white walls are “props,” or positive notes of reinforcements, for residents.

The house isn’t run by doctors or counselors, but eight staff members who have each experienced a challenging past, Braun said. The house is run through private funds and a grant from the Alachua County Commission.

The house offers tours Wednesday through Sunday for people interested in staying. Guests who would like to stay overnight first interview with staff members, Braun said.

Ernesto Escoto, the director of the UF Counseling & Wellness Center, said with Florida ranked almost last in the nation for mental health funding, the new respite is an important addition for Gainesville.

“There’s a need for additional resources statewide and at the community level,” Escoto said. “It’s extremely valuable to have this resource in our community.”

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Contact Max Chesnes at mchesnes@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter at @chesnesmax

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