Lin and Ron Wilensky were named Orlando Sentinel 2019 Central Floridian of the Year Award finalists. They were recognized for their spirit of generosity developing affordable permanent supportive housing for men and women with serious mental illness.
They were one of six finalists of respected community leaders, philanthropists, professional athletes and activists who have significantly influenced Central Florida and beyond in unique and meaningful ways. Since 1983, the Orlando Sentinel has recognized a person or group from Central Florida that has made a positive impact or difference in our community.
We thank all our partners, volunteer leadership and supporters who joined us at the Awards Celebration & Dinner on February 27. It was a spectacular evening of celebrating the finalists.
What started out 12 years ago to help a few people with serious mental illness has grown to a legacy of love in three cities, serving over 100 men and women. Lin and Ron began Dave’s House in 2008 to help individuals with serious mental illness succeed in life with the stability and safety of permanent supportive housing. They personally funded the two first Dave’s House homes in 2008 and established Dave’s House as a 501c3 non-profit organization in 2009.
Through Dave’s House, Lin and Ron have tackled two social issues mired in stigma: homelessness and serious mental illness. The network of Dave’s Houses has grown to a half-dozen locations across Central Florida — plus three more in Virginia and South Florida — each one a chance for the Wilenskys and the Dave’s House staff to help those with serious mental illness find a place to live, as well as treatment, fellowship and a sense of purpose.
Their impetus to create Dave’s House was a lifetime of love, support and advocacy for Lin’s brother, Dave Jeffreys. A gifted scholar and natural-born leader, he was in college, on a fast track to achieve his aspirations. But paranoid schizophrenia changed his life’s course forever. His world became a cycle of crises – delusions, hearing voices, hallucinations, suicide attempts, hospitalizations and periods of homelessness.
“The effects of serious mental illness on my brother were devastating to our family – to see his dreams shattered and his goals derailed,” said Lin. “Research at the time stated that people with this illness would never experience the emotion of happiness. That news knocked the wind right out of me. At that moment, I decided I would spend my life proving them wrong,” she said.
“Dave’s daily struggles showed us firsthand the challenges people with serious mental illness and their families face,” said Ron. “These personal experiences spurred us to develop the same kind of housing so that other brothers, sisters, sons and daughters with serious mental illness can have the same opportunity to live their best lives possible, just like Dave,” he said.