Naples Daily News
USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA
Vann Ellison, president and chief executive officer of the St. Matthew’s House homeless and recovery program, has retired effective immediately, according to the nonprofit organization in Collier County.
Chief Operating Officer Steve Brooder is serving as interim director while the organization conducts a national search for a new CEO, Joe Trachtenberg, chairman of the board of directors, said in an April 29 news release.
St. Matthew’s House operates the only homeless shelter with a residential addiction recovery program in Collier.
Ellison joined St. Matthew’s House in 2004 as president and CEO when it operated one homeless shelter with a$1.5 million annual budget. Ellison previously was the jail chaplain for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.
Under his leadership, St. Matthew’s House has grown to a $25-million annual operation with its year-long homeless and addiction recovery pro-gram and numerous businesses to sup-port its services. It employs 250 people.
Since the pandemic began, St. Matthew’s House has distributed food to more than 3,000 families a week.
“It is difficult to visualize St. Matt’s without (Ellison), given all he has accomplished over his 17 years of service,” Trachtenberg said. “We are sure that (Ellison’s) talents will continue to be used for a greater purpose.”
Reached Tuesday by phone, Ellison, 59, said he is proud of what he has done at St. Matthew’s House and how lives are being transformed.
He embraces a holistic approach that people need to get better in mind, body and spirit to be successful in their recovery from addiction and homelessness.
“I have looked at my options in front of me and the circumstances, given I have chosen to take early retirement and move on to the next chapter of my life,” he said. “I’m excited about the future. I tend to have a more optimistic view of life.”
Ellison said he and his wife, Lisa, will travel to Africa next week where they will be involved in missions in South Sudan and Uganda to rescue girls being trafficked and boys who are forced to become soldiers. They plan to stay in Africa a month.
Officials at other nonprofit organizations in Collier that provide food, medical care and addiction and mental health services for people housed or helped by St. Matthew’s House praised Ellison for his leadership. Some were caught oﬀ guard when they learned he had left St. Matthew’s House.
“I’m surprised that he has left the organization,” said Stephen Popper, president and CEO of Meals of Hope, a food-packing and food outreach organization based in Collier. “(He) has done so much to help the people of need in this community. We wish him well and look for-ward to working with whomever is hired to replace him.”
Leslie Lascheid, chief executive officer of the Neighborhood Health Clinic in Naples, said in an email: “Our partner-ship with St. Matthew’s House over many years has been impactful in providing medical care for their residents who are in need. We have appreciated Vann Ellison’s collaboration and sup-port in growing our relationship. We wish (Ellison) and his family well.”
The clinic provides medical care to low-income and uninsured Collier residents.
St. Matthew’s house runs a 120-bed shelter off Airport Road in East Naples and a 44-bed shelter in Immokalee, plus residential recovery programs in La-Belle for up to 88 men and in Alva for women with 36 beds. It also owns Wolfe Apartments, a 46-unit transitional housing facility in Golden Gate.
Under Ellison’s tenure, the organization started numerous businesses that provide job training and employment for program graduates.
Since starting its one-year residential recovery program 11 years ago, more than 600 people have graduated with an 80% success rate, meaning they remain substance-free two years after graduation, according to Trachtenberg.
St. Matthew’s House employees who are program graduates work in the organization’s two catering companies, LuLu’s Place restaurant, six thrift stores in Collier and Lee, a car wash and a hotel in LaBelle.
Scott Burgess, president and chief executive officer of the David Lawrence Center, a nonprofit behavioral health organization in Collier, said Ellison will be missed.
“(He) is an incredible servant leader and we’ve been deeply blessed to work with him and the St. Mathew’s House staff on many fronts,” Burgess said in an email. “Collaboration is the key to mobilizing robust collective impact, and the (David Lawrence) team and I would like to formally thank (him) for his partner-ship in advancing care for those in need. He will be greatly missed in his role at St. Matt’s, but I am sure he will continue his ministry efforts in innumerable and impactful ways as he moves into his next chapter of life.”