Thomas Scimone sat quietly in a folding chair along the wall inside NAMI Pasco’s new headquarters.
He watched his daughter, Pat Scimone-Almasy, and her fellow volunteers talk about continuing their push, fighting to help those who are mentally ill and their families.
The importance of the work that the National Allliance on Mental Illness does is not lost on Scimone, whose bipolar son was shot to death by an officer in New York.
“It helps,” Scimone said. “There will be a lot of people out there who will be aware of mental illness and all the other things out there. They can help. These people are all angels.”
NAMI is a non-profit, volunteer organization that provides help for people with mental illnesses. NAMI Pasco was formed in 1988 under the name Alliance for the Mentally Ill of West Pasco. It became an affiliate of NAMI in 2005.
With help from Leadership Pasco as well as Paul Jallo, the owner of Jallo Plaza at 6480 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., the group has a headquarters for at least two years.
In addition to hosting an open house Tuesday, the group announced it will start partnering with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office to instruct deputies in a crisis intervention training program.
The program, developed by Sam Cochran of the Memphis Police Department in 1988, teaches law enforcement officers how to respond to an event involving someone with a mental illness and how to deescalate the situation.
“Last week I was at a training and it was majors, chiefs and sheriff’s from across the country,” Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said. “The one issue everybody could agree upon that our country has not really embraced … is those who have a mental illness. We talk about different crimes and different situations and everybody – from Canada, Australia, the United States – we all said it’s issues with mental illness. How do we help those people?”
Nocco and others said jail is not the proper place for someone with a mental illness. Locking them up doesn’t get them the help they need.
The training will be geared for 25 to 33 percent of the entire Pasco Sheriff’s Office staff, from dispatchers to patrol and detention deputies.
“What that does is allows us, when a call comes into the dispatch center or a call comes in on the road for a deputy to respond to, we will be sending these (crisis intervention) trained officers, these specialized officers, out to deal with any call that involves a consumer with mental illness,” said Pasco sheriff’s Lt. Larry Engle, who is also a NAMI board member. “That allows us to have those specialized skills and extra tools in our tool belt, if you will, to know how to deal with these situations in a less violent nature. It gives us an opportunity to take a different approach.”
The Scimone family hopes the training will help save lives.
Thomas Scimone Jr. died from wounds suffered from a November 2010 shooting by officers from the Suffolk County (New York) Police Department. At least 40 rounds were fired.
Thomas Scimone Jr. had not taken his medication and was holding a vintage, unloaded shotgun when he was gunned down, according to Scimone-Almasy.
“He was killed by untrained police officers,” Scimone-Almasy said. “See, this is what makes it so powerful and just so super, we have a young sheriff who understands things, who wants to help his community and who realizes this is really so important.”
The first training will be April 15-19 at the new NAMI office.
The centralized location will now cater to residents on both sides of Pasco County. In the past, most of the effort was geared toward the western portion of the county.
Scimone-Almasy began a group in Wesley Chapel about two years ago at her church.
It will benefit people like Kenny Wright, a U.S. Air Force veteran who said NAMI has helped him more than VA programs. The support has helped him become a new person, he said.
“Everyone in our support group has the desire to help somebody else that’s suffering,” said Wright, who first began NAMI meetings in New Jersey years ago, and now says his stigma is gone. “Anyone who comes into the group, we want them to know that through NAMI, there is hope. Now that NAMI is involved with veterans, the veterans have more resources to teach the families how to deal with their loved ones with mental illness.”
Leadership Pasco, the host of the Third Annual Taste of Pasco taking place May 11 at the Rotary Pavilion at the Concourse in Land O' Lakes, will donate the proceeds to NAMI. They hope those funds will purchase office furniture for the organization.
Scimone-Almasy said her group no longer had to beg, borrow or steal meeting space in order to help those in need.
“We were working out of people’s houses, working out of churches, working out of just anywhere that we could possibly find space to work out of,” Scimone-Almasy said with tears in her eyes. “Now we actually have a home where we can do family to family meetings, we can do support group meetings.”