The Serenity Club of Southwest Florida, Inc.
January 21, 2008
The Serenity Club of Naples, Inc. opened in its present location at 12435 Collier Boulevard, in Golden Gate, on May 1, 1996, and this then ensured the continuous presence of Alcoholics Anonymous groups in this Naples, Florida suburb. However, the origins of the club preceded its foundation by several years. Those early beginnings are inexplicably tied to the groups and individual members of Alcoholics Anonymous that expressed their willingness to “carry the message” of hope to alcoholics in this community.
Therefore, no discussion of the sprout of a new club could be complete without an understanding of the deeper roots of the organization. The seeds that would one day blossom into The Serenity Club were first planted years earlier by the vacillations of the Golden Gate Group which met sporadically in various locations including the Northgate apartment’s clubhouse on Green Boulevard and the Messiah Lutheran Church on Golden Gate Parkway. Member support of the Golden Gate Group waxed and waned over time, and efforts to maintain the group were abandoned by the fall of 1995.
Meanwhile, the Living Sober Group had formed a year earlier. Their first meeting was held in the Fellowship Hall of the Seventh Day Adventist Church at 1055 Pine Ridge Road (presently the Crossroads Community Church) at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, September 30, 1994. This became the first regularly scheduled 7:00 p.m. Friday night meeting in Naples, and the members of this group would later spearhead the development of The Serenity Club. Founding members of the Living Sober Group were Jerry E., Neil E., Ellen D., Janie O., Jimi M., John C., Maggie, and Tommy D. This group used the AA General Service Conference-approved booklet Living Sober as the basis of its weekly discussions. The warm friendliness of the members and the frequent group laughter contributed to make this new meeting wildly popular, especially among younger AA members, and the group rapidly grew to a few dozen members.
The Fellowship Hall of the church proved to be an ideal meeting place, complete with a small kitchen area for the coffee pots and adequate parking. In arranging the room for the meeting, chairs were placed in a circle, and members sat facing each other. As attendance grew, more chairs were added, and the circle was expanded. Local treatment centers (the David Lawrence Center and The Willough) took note of the new meeting and began sending passenger vans loaded with their clients to the meeting. Combined with home group members and the attraction of other local AA members, attendance at Living Sober Group meetings swelled and the circle soon expanded to where the backs of the chairs were pressed firmly against the walls.
The meeting was so popular that one fellow approached us about the idea of starting a second Living Sober Group. He hoped to meet at St. John the Evangelist Church on 111th Avenue in Naples Park. However, he was encouraged to review a similarly designed AA General Service Conference-approved booklet called Came to Believe. He checked out the book and started a meeting using that booklet on Tuesday nights at the church, and the meeting is still going strong. That was how the Came to Believe Group got its start, and Jerry E. was honored to chair the group’s first meeting.
By the time the Living Sober Group celebrated its first anniversary, a frequent topic at group business meetings was the question of how to best accommodate the growing AA meeting attendance. Some thought was given to changing the circle arrangement, but support for that suggestion was lukewarm at best. Others thought of asking the church for additional or a larger meeting space. A few others suggested the possibility of moving the meeting to a new location.
The notion of opening a club may have emerged during these latter discussions. Mary H. had gotten sober at a clubhouse in Manassas, Virginia, and she suggested that since many of our most active members lived in Golden Gate we should find a place to open a meeting room in our own neighborhood. Jeff O., who had gotten sober attending meetings at the Little River Club in Miami, was a strong supporter of the idea. But most of the other group members were somewhat less enthusiastic.
In the spring of 1996 support for the idea of starting a new club was gaining momentum among Living Sober Group members, mostly due to continuing pressure from Mary H. and Jeff O.; a few other members were supportive but skeptical, and still others tried to remain open-minded.
The availability of commercial rental property in this rapidly growing area was rarely able to keep pace with the increasing demand for it; therefore, the assumption was that it might not be possible for us to locate adequate meeting space that would also be affordable.
However, Jeff O. found the recently vacated space that is now home to The Serenity Club in the Pine Plaza strip mall on County Road 951 (now also known as Collier Boulevard). On inquiry, Jeff O. and Jerry E. determined that the monthly rental was affordable, and the space was deemed adequate for our purposes. The only question that remained was whether the group would support the initiative.
An organizational meeting was held in Jerry’s living room. The following is a list of some of the Living Sober Group members in attendance: Jerry E., Neil E., Ellen D., Jeff and Janie O., Scott and Lynn G., Mary H., Tony P., Roy T., and Kevin C. The name of The Serenity Club was selected from among several suggested titles, and membership dues were established at $10.00 a month or $100.00 annually. Later, lifetime memberships would also be made available for $1,000.00. The new committee also determined that, since none of the organizing members had any experience with fellowships other than Alcoholics Anonymous, The Serenity Club would limit the use of meeting space to A.A. and Al-Anon (including Alateen) meetings.
Jerry E. and Jeff O. were elected as interim President and Vice President, respectively, and given authority to approach the Golden Gate Realty and Development Corporation to negotiate a lease and also to draft Articles of Incorporation for The Serenity Club. The property owner was receptive to the idea that a sober club might occupy the vacant space in the strip mall so terms were negotiated for the monthly rental fee, which included the amount of the security deposit spread out over the first year. A check was written for the first and last month’s rent, and the lease was signed. The Articles of Incorporation were filed in Tallahassee on April 22, 1996.
However, not everyone was happy about the idea of moving the Living Sober Group into the new Serenity Club. Particularly disturbed was Neil E. who was a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church where the Living Sober Group met. Therefore, Neil and a few of the others not in favor of the move decided to form a new group and to continue meeting on Friday nights in the Fellowship Hall of the church. The new meeting was quickly organized as the Still Living Sober Group. In a goodwill gesture, the Living Sober Group split their treasury and their stock of literature and chips with the fledgling group. Affectionately dubbed the “bawk-bawk” group, the group is still going strong.
The Serenity Club opened for business on Wednesday, May 1, 1996 with a schedule that included 32 meetings each week. The Living Sober Group expanded to three meetings each week, and the group still meets each Friday, Sunday, and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. In 2011 the Living Sober Group assumed responsibility for the New Saturday Nite Live meeting. Bob M. was contacted about reviving the Golden Gate Group, and that group began holding meetings each Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. Likewise, members of the struggling Pine Ridge Group decided to move their group to The Serenity Club. Unfortunately, this decision was not universally popular among all of the group members, and that group subsequently folded. Fortunately, this group was revived in 2011 at the 24 Hour Club.
Several new groups were organized: Kevin C. started the A Vision for You Group which meets daily at 5:30 p.m., and Jeff O. started the Sober Way Out Group which met most evenings at 8:30 p.m. That group was very successful for a long time, but then membership declined, and the group has all but disappeared. The remnants of that group survive only in the Saturday noon women’s meeting.
Other groups have started and had some measure of success before finally closing; the Friday night 8:30 p.m. Young People’s Meeting is but one example. The New Saturday Nite Live 8:30 p.m. speaker’s meeting has undergone several incarnations and survives today, as previously mentioned, as an adopted meeting of the Living Sober Group.
The noon Jaywalkers Group continues to meet each weekday, and a few years ago the Keep It Positive Group began meeting each morning at 8:00 a.m. Many people drifted toward the new club in that first year including some members of the Easy Does It Group after the 24 Hour Club decided to become a non-smoking facility in the summer of 1996. However, contrary to one popular rumor, The Serenity Club was opened prior to the 24 Hour Club’s decision, and, although the A Vision For You Group enjoyed a short-lived surge in attendance from a few disgruntled Easy Does It Group members, none of this was a factor in the decision to open The Serenity Club. Interestingly, it was only a few years later that The Serenity Club also went non-smoking.
A lot of younger and newer AA members came to The Serenity Club right after it opened, and many of them became distinguished as the “Class of ’96.” These newcomers contributed significantly to the successful start-up of the new club, and almost all of them have remained continuously sober. These alumni include, among others, Jesse G., Kirk S., Mike W., and Ramon H. Other groups have formed in Golden Gate outside of The Serenity Club; most notable among these has been the Spanish meetings of the Aprendiendo A-Vivir Group and the Live and Let Live Group which met for several years at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday nights at the Golden Gate Community Center. The institutional meetings at the David Lawrence Center continue to host a men’s meeting on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.
It should probably also be noted that many of the groups meeting at The Serenity Club have always held regular business meetings, conducted periodic group inventories, and been active at both the Naples Area Intergroup and in General Service at District 7. In July 1997, District 7 approved a motion to create a new subdistrict to encompass the Serenity/Golden Gate area meetings. The actual motion specified the geographic areas north and east of Interstate 75. The new subdistrict was designated Subdistrict R and continues to this day. On July 17, 2011 a new district was created to represent the groups in Collier County and Bonita Springs that chose affiliation with the new district. The new district was designated District 20, by the South Florida Area 15 assembly.
In addition to the aforementioned initial President and Vice President, the club’s first Secretary was Roy T., and the first Treasurer was Kim A. The initial board of directors also included Kevin C., Ellen D., Neil E., Lynn G., and Mary H. The first annual meeting was held on November 3, 1996, six months after the club opened. At that meeting the bylaws were adopted, and the first elections by the membership were held. The results of that election were: Jerry E., President; Denise R., Vice President; Kim A., Treasurer; Mary H., Secretary. Other officers and directors that first full year were: Tim A., Frank C., Rick C., Sean & Sharon D., Bob D., Larry D., Diana G., Bob M., George M., Cindy P., David S., Bill S., and Russell T. The Serenity Club opened on a monetary shoestring and has survived through memberships, concessions, basket donations, and fundraisers. During the first six months of its existence, The Serenity Club held four dances (three with a live band), four pot-luck dinners, and three picnics. These were augmented by spontaneous member efforts such as roller-skating, bowling, and horseback riding. Also, several individual members and some groups were active with “road trips” to other meetings and in support of institutional meetings.
These traditions of activity in and around AA continue through the active groups meeting at The Serenity Club. In the summer of 1996, Debera and Joe K., of the Gulf Group, hosted the first “Ham on Wry” Pig Roast to benefit The Serenity Club. Along with the annual Anniversary Dinner/Dance and, the past couple of years, the annual Serenity Club Golf Tournament, the “Ham on Wry” has become one of the major fundraisers held by The Serenity Club each year. Each October since 2009, the Serenity Club has held the Serenity By the Sea conference drawing several hundred attendees each year; first at the Marco Island Hilton Resort and Spa and then at the Naples Grande. In April 2012 the club also hosted the first Spring Fling as a Big Book Weekend at the Waldorf Astoria Naples (formerly the Naples Grande).
Many of the early club members have moved away including Kim A., Kevin C., Lynn G., George M., Jeff O., Tony P., Denise R., and Roy T. However, most of them remain active in AA in their new communities. Other members, including Becky L, David S., Eddie D., Irene C., and Neil E., have since passed away; but they are all still remembered with great reverence and affection. In addition, and at the risk of omitting someone, other Serenity Club members have had a major impact on the success of the club. Some of those members include: Belinda F., Bob D., Carol C., Charlie E., Chris C., Clarence W., Dr. John S., Frank C., James K., Jesse G., Jim M., Joyce G., Karen W., Noah B., Ramon H., Russell T., Sean & Sharon D., “Schooly,” and Vanessa T. The author sincerely apologizes, in advance, to anyone who has been inadvertently omitted. One of the newer members, Susan B., moved to Benton, Kentucky and started a Living Sober Group there using the booklet and format similar to the one used by the Living Sober Group at The Serenity Club of Naples. In a strange twist of fate, Jeff O., former Serenity Club Vice President and member of the Living Sober Group, who also lived nearby, became the new group’s first chairperson.
As the population continues to grow in the greater Naples area, there is an expanding need for the services provided by the groups meeting at The Serenity Club. Within the first ten years, the address of The Serenity Club changed with the renaming (and renumbering) of the street from County Road 951 to Collier Boulevard and the Area Code, which had just been created from the old 813 Area Code, changed again from 941 to 239. Meanwhile, the population in and around Golden Gate and the Golden Gate Estates area has continued to grow.
In spite of all of the changes and challenges presented to the members during the first sixteen years of The Serenity Club’s existence, one idea remains paramount and that is the sincere desire of the founders that The Serenity Club shall always remain a safe haven of hope for the sick and suffering alcoholic and his or her family. In such an atmosphere, the groups meeting at The Serenity Club will always have excellent opportunities to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
In Love and Service,