Volunteer Appreciation Week: Remembering Brian S.

National Volunteer Appreciation Week, April 18-24, is a time to recognize amazing achievements through giving back. It is also a time for Pathlight HOME to celebrate the volunteers who have constantly supported the community.  

 

This year Pathlight HOME would like to recognize volunteer Brian Sas a leader with high spirits on a mission to help. He recently passed awayand we will always be grateful for his kindness and dedicated work.  

 

As a resident throughout his life, Brian was incredibly involved in building strong ties between the Salvation Army and the people of Maxwell Terrace. He enlisted the Salvation Army’s help tprovide food, clothing, volunteers, and Bibles. “I’ll see you Saturday” was Brian’s famous phrase as he walked through the halls of Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Terrace Apartments. 

 

Brian’s ministry days started in 2008, with a goal to meet human needs without discriminationSaturdays were always the day to lift up the community and show them that people care. 

 

His hard work didn’t stop there. In 2011, The Salvation Army dedicated a bus with supplies and volunteers to his Saturday morning ministry at Maxwell Terrace, adding visits to Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Garden Apartments and a nearby trailer park. 

 

That indispensable resource continues todayand we would like to thank The Salvation Army for assisting on average 130 very appreciative people each week by continuing to serve meals every Saturday. Brian’s giving spirit and compassionate love for our residents live on through the Salvation Army's ongoing gift 

 

Brian’s passionate commitment to building a sense of community and helping his neighbors inspire us every day, reminding us of the many ways that each of us can change the lives of homeless and low-income individuals. Pathlight HOME and The Salvation Army will always remember Brian’s goodwill, love, humor, and the hearts he has touched 

Celebrating Pathlight HOME’s 29th Anniversary

Still Dreaming (Virtual Event)

April 1st 2021 12-1pm

The late Reverend Fred Maxwell, Co-Founder of Pathlight HOME, always intended for Pathlight HOME to continuously grow. With every homeless housed, he sought to house more. In his words, he was "still dreaming" of ways to continue to make a difference and change lives. 

Today, Pathlight HOME dreams of expanding housing services to Orlando's homeless families. To learn more register for Still Dreaming. 

$29 for 29 Years!

To help us celebrate our upcoming anniversary, we're asking for donations of $29. All funds raised will be used in support of future housing for homeless families. This includes permit costs, furnishings and more.

Pathlight HOME Timeline 1991 - Present

Resident Update: James’s Story

Once Homeless…still Stable at HOME

We love the opportunity to provide our supporters an update on residents about whom we’ve posted via Pathlight HOME’s blog and social media. How are they doing now? Are they still progressing along the path from homelessness to a changed life? What does that look like?

 

For James, whose story we first shared in March 2020, a few months after he moved into our Restore Program at Maxell Terrace Apartments, life looks much calmer and more stable. In fact, he feels his days might seem boring to an onlooker. Yet, he’s not bored at all!

 

“Things have changed a lot for me [since he’s been in Restore],” James says. ”I’m a bit more financially stable. I don’t get into trouble. I feel cared for and I still appreciate living here. I’ve come a long way from living in a tent.” 

 

This man who “went from king of the hill to the bottom of dirt” is content now to live in his efficiency apartment, pay his rent and bills, work with his Case Manager Audrey Sandford (whom he praises to the hilt as “an awesome lady”), and chat with several friends he’s made nearby.  He is extremely proud of the rebuilt relationship with his daughter, a graduate of Johns Hopkins University who lives in Baltimore, and can’t wait to meet his new granddaughter. As he reminisces about his two and a half years of living in a tent in the woods, he doesn’t know how he ever survived, especially with his health conditions. He is still grateful for the Hope Team, a program of the Health Care Center for the Homeless, and that they guided him to Pathlight HOME’s Restore Program.

 

With referral assistance from Audrey, James was finally able to obtain his disability benefits in November 2020. Having been previously denied these benefits three times, he had pretty much given up hope of that ever happening. “Money doesn’t solve everything, but it sure does help,” he says.

 

James is now proudly paying his rent and monthly bills through a checking account, his “first one in many, many years.” He is happy to pay rent, as with all the support he receives from Audrey and the staff, “It’s a steal!” As he reached Social Security retirement age this month, he plans to apply for those monies instead of disability, in order to garner the benefits of the many years worked in his profession.

 

No matter the source of his benefits, the most important thing is that James now has the stamina and desire to do what he needs to do to live a changed life, and not just to survive. He says he feels calmer and “doesn’t need much.” If that’s not continuing on the right path, we don’t know what is!

Black History Month Spotlight – Armando Pinder

Black History Month Spotlight – Armando Pinder

Armando’s smile and laugh can be heard throughout Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Terrace complex each day as he keeps the apartments in tip-top shape for residents. One can definitely imagine him talking with Reverend Fred Maxwell, Pathlight HOME’s co-founder, to decide how they’d go above and beyond that day and the next to help the formerly homeless residents who finally had a safe place to call home.

 

This jovial, empathetic and hardworking Senior Maintenance Supervisor has been at Maxwell Terrace since 1996, “Before the first tenant,” he says proudly. Armando’s caring and respect for Rev. Maxwell and what he created to help the least among us come across loud and clear. They’re also the reasons Armando is still devoted to the property and its residents, 24 years after he first came on board. “Rev. Maxwell wanted to do something for the tenants,” says Armando. “His prayers, intent and desires were always for them. If it was someone else, I probably would have left.”

 

As Armando talks about Rev. Maxwell’s compassion and positivity, one sees in him the very same qualities. It’s no wonder, then, that he credits the Reverend with being his inspiration. “He inspired me. It’s very rare…where do you find people like that…with a strong desire to help others. It’s a beautiful thing!” We know, too, that it’s a beautiful thing to continue Rev. Maxwell’s legacy, with compassionate people on board such as Armando!

 

In terms of what has changed over his years and what hasn’t, Armando is overjoyed that - thanks to dedicated supporters - Pathlight HOME has grown in its capacity to help homeless neighbors get off the streets into permanent housing. What hasn’t changed, however, is the great NEED in Central Florida. “The need on ALL levels…not just housing,” he laments.

 

And though Rev. Maxwell is no longer with us in body to help resolve that need and to continue changing lives, Armando still feels the presence of his spirit daily to carry on what he started. In fact, Armando is as positive as ever that, “The prayers of Rev. Maxwell help us keep going!”

 

We're honoring Rev. Maxwell's memory by providing a "Clean HOME" to the formerly homeless. Join us! 

Empowering the Faith to Trust

Empowering the Faith to Trust 

Brian and Mary are homeless and live, at the moment, in a tent in some Orlando woods. They are also both mentally ill. They do the best they can in a society that often does not accept them, even before they even have the chance to talk. Mary is legally blind and Brian believes he is heir to the throne in Ireland. They are also two of the nicest people we have ever met. 

Brian and Mary also have a beautiful canine friend, Krystal. She protects the possessions that are primarily kept in a shopping cart when the rest of the family is busy or running errands. 

The couple utilizes the services of Pathways Drop-In Center off of Orange Blossom Trail near I-4. Pathways provides a safe place for those in our community who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Hot meals are served, there are laundry and shower facilities, computers for the guests for keeping in contact with other family members, looking for employment or just enjoying a surf through web to see what they can find. 

We had met Brian, Mary and Krystal over a year ago at Pathways. I wanted to photograph Krystal guarding the shopping cart, but Brian was very apprehensive about it. We did not know them well yet, but once we talked with him for awhile, things settled down and we were able to form a friendship. 

It was not until a couple of months after our meeting that we learned about Krystal’s medical issues. Brian knew there was a growth on her belly, but he was not sure what it was – all he knew was that it was very worrisome to him. We talked about the possibility of having Krystal looked at but money was the big problem. After talking with Lt. Deanne Adams of Orange County Corrections, who works extensively with Pathways, it was decided that a joint effort would be more productive. 

We made a call for help and found an organizer who said that once we were able to secure a veterinarian, she would solicit funds to help cover the charges. We ran into some problems, however, since once it became evident to Brian and Mary that a stranger may be taking Krystal, maybe even for an entire night, they backed down. They tried to convince themselves that the tumor was becoming smaller and that they were no longer concerned. 

Actually, they just loved Krystal so much they could not imagine her having surgery or being away from the family for any period of time. They were not able to comprehend that Krystal’s life was likely hanging on the hopes of this surgery. 

As time moved forward, so did the severity of Krystal’s health problem. Lt. Adams shared Krystal’s story with her family veterinarian at the Animal Medical Clinic on 1401 S. Bumby Ave. in Orlando. Lt. Adams first met with the Practice Manager at the clinic, Jamie White. Dr. Suarez owns the clinic and agreed to perform the necessary procedures at no charge to Brian or Mary. 

Dr. Cassie Quest, DVM did Krystal’s actual surgery when several cancerous tumors were removed. The clinic kept Krystal overnight and provided the family with medications, dog food, dog treats and even a new “hot pink collar.” Lt. Adams said that the clinic and all involved “treated Krystal and Brian and Mary with dignity and respect.” 

Lt. Adams, along with Correctional Officer Cindy Corrado and Lisa Piecora, collected enough money to get Brian, Mary and Krystal a motel room so they could all recover together in comfort. 

Later, Lt. Adams went to the Hallmark store at Orange and Michigan to buy a stuffed dog that resembled Krystal as gift for Dr. Suarez. While Lt. Adams was explaining the gift to Hallmark employee Nancy Tait, the compassionate Ms. Tait pulled enough money out of her purse for an additional night at the motel for the recovering family. 

We applaud the successful efforts of Dr. Suarez, Dr. Quest, Lt. Adams and all that the others that helped make this happen. We are also proud of Brian and Mary for having the courage and the faith to trust our community with their beloved Krystal. 

 

by Bruce G. Larson, Orlando Charity Examiner 

www.examiner.com/x-25075-Orlando-Charity-Examiner 
http://www.bruceglarson.com/ 
http://brucelarson.dotphoto.com/ 

http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/community_altamonte_blog/ 

Karen Bono Special to the Sentinel

Karen Bono Special to the Sentinel

I feel angry and ashamed at our lack of humanitarian consciousness, especially after meeting a mentally ill member of our community who has struggled to make a difference. 

 

This past year, I was involved in helping John Nelson Kull III raise money to refurbish a 20 drop-in center for mentally ill individuals. Nelson, who founded Pathways, suffers from schizophrenia. It was his dream to provide a place where the mentally ill who are homeless could get assistance. 

 

His mission is to provide a place during the day where they can get their most basic needs met — a shower, a meal, a place to do laundry and rest — before having to return to the streets. 

 

Before meeting Nelson, I had no idea what a drop-in center was, or even that one existed for 16 years in Orlando, even though I’ve been a lifelong resident. 

 

Nelson has become a nationally renowned speaker on behalf of mental-health issues, and he has scraped to acquire three properties that provide permanent housing for six residents. It doesn’t sound like much, but no one else has stepped up to accomplish what he has. 

 

So this begs the bigger question: Why aren’t more of us doing something to get involved and find a permanent solution? 
 
The mentally ill represent only a portion of Orlando’s total homeless population, but they number in the thousands. They are not transients, but members of our community with a disease of the brain. They are people who depend on government funding because many of them have no hope of getting better or finding a job. 

 

In light of our economic crisis, the county government has little choice but to slash funding that would benefit these individuals. Pathways has been told to expect about a 10 percent cut. With private founda tions also being hit hard, the loss to Pathways could amount to about $30,000 from its operating budget. This occurs at a time when Pathways hoped to raise funds to purchase more housing for the mentally ill. 

 

It’s disappointing to see funding cut to the folks who need it most. It’s with this in mind that we ask the public to help provide funds for permanent housing, food and basic necessities. 

 

Clothing and furniture are thoughtful gestures, but these individuals have nowhere to store these items. With Orlando’s population at more than 220,000, it seems that we could quickly remedy this problem with monetary contributions, no matter how small. 

 

Karen Bono lives in Orlando. To learn about contributing to Pathways, e-mail pathwaysproject@gmail.com. 

One big step toward a home for the homeless

One big step toward a home for the homeless 

East Orlando group wins grant for a homeless drop-in center. 

 

Nelson Kull considers a house in Holden Heights off of South Orange Blossom Trail a gem among the topless bars, check-cashing stores, cheap motels and the heavy street violence and prostitution. 

 

Pathways Drop-In Center is a safe haven for the homeless where they can get a meal, play pool, use the Internet and get much needed rest in a room filled with couches and newspaper-covered windows. 

 

Fifteen years ago Pathways served the homeless only coffee and donuts from a small rental house off of Michigan Avenue. 

 

Funding from the community allowed them to serve hot meals and eventually move to the current Holden Heights location in 1995. 

 

“I never envisioned this,” Kull said, standing in a newly renovated courtyard surrounded by flowers and paved walkways. “I was just taking it one day at a time then.” This is the same journey a faith-based group in East Orlando is about to embark upon. After two years of meetings, networking and prayers, the East Orange County Homeless Task Force secured an $800,000 federal grant to build a drop-in center for the hundreds of homeless that camp in the woods, mostly along East Colonial Drive between Alafaya Trail and Dean Road. Orange County Commissioner Mildred Fernandez, who asked for a comprehensive study on the east side’s homeless which led to the formation of the task force, said they are eyeing an abandoned restaurant on 1754 S. Econlockhatchee Trail for the center. 

 

The study, called “Living Rough”, directed by University of Central Florida Sociology Professor Jim Wright, found that one-third of East Orlando’s homeless are military veterans and about three quarters admitted to alcoholism, drug addiction mental illness or a physical disability. 

 

It also found that they survive mainly by dumpster diving, panhandling or day laboring and that their biggest fear is being hit by a car on East Colonial Drive. Meanwhile their only resources are several local faith-based organizations, the Hope Team — a two person outreach effort for the entire tri-county area — and the Health Care Center for the Homeless, whose van travels to areas densely populated by the homeless to provide medical treatment. 

 

“They need a lot more than just a place to drop in but if there is no place to drop in then there is no way to reach out to them, assess them and give them more of what they need,” Wright said. “It is a means of outreach, a means of access, a point of entry into a much larger service system.” 

 

The drop-in center will offer counseling, social services, medical treatment (through a partnership with Florida Hospital), identification services, legal, daily meals, a food pantry, a clothes closet, hygiene services, ministry opportunities, a computer laboratory and occupational assistance. In addition to finding a home for the center, the task force is also raising funds to cover the estimated $250,000 annual operational costs. They predict the center will open in about one year. 

 

“This is where the rubber meets the road, where things move from theory to reality, where vision becomes concrete,” taskforce member Chris Akers said. “This is a huge step.” Of course it won’t be the last step for the group. After the center takes off, they envision offering 24-hour, seven-days-aweek service and shelter space for temporary housing. 

 

Pathways houses eight people at a time. Don Abreu, aka “Bear”, 48, spent 13 years on the streets, his severe depression forbidding him from keeping a job. “I had enough (of the streets). 

 

It’s really hard on your body so I have a lot of health problems now,” he said from his fully furnished apartment across the street from the main Pathways building. “It made me feel so good to clean up. I am very happy here.” To qualify for Pathways housing a person must be mentally ill, attend the Pathways day program, fill out an application and stay clean of drugs and alcohol during their stay. More than a decade ago, moving a drop-in center for the homeless into Holden Heights was a breeze. 

 

“The neighborhood likes us considering this is a crack and prostitution neighborhood,” Kull said. But in 2001 when they proposed a satellite office in Pine Hills, the neighborhood revolted. “They wanted nothing to do with us. They said they didn’t want their children having to walk past a bunch of mental patients on their way to school,” Kull said. The East Orange taskforce also fears the NIMBY (not-inmy-back-yard) crowd. 

 

“I understand them but on the other hand these homeless people are already out there. We are trying to break that cycle, and I think they (the community) will favor that approach in the end,” Akers said. “Our goal is not to gather them there, nurture them and grow more homeless.” 

 

Union Park Baptist Church Pastor Coleman Pratt said many of church’s food and clothes pantry clients are visibly losing hope as the recession weighs them down. Building this center will hopefully give them a sign that they are not alone in their struggles, he said. “I hope that as they become aware of this project that they see there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. 

 

East Orlando Sun 
by Megan Stokes 

Pathways Drop-In Center for the Mentally Ill

Pathways Drop-In Center for the Mentally Ill 

Jeff is homeless and stays at a makeshift “home” in an empty field under a Verizon Wireless billboard.  His mother and brother also are temporary residents in this same field.  She sleeps in a small pup tent and Jeff and his brother either sleep on a large piece of cardboard or under tarps spread across the limbs of two trees when it rains.  This family also shares something else in common, they are all suffering from mental illness.  

 

“Without the Pathways Drop-In Center, I don’t know where I would be or what I would be doing right now, “Jeff said. “It gets me off the streets and keeps me focused on what I need to do,” he continued. 


Pathways Drop-In Center is a safe place where Jeff, his family, and others with mental illness can receive help. Located at 30th St. and S. Orange Blossom Trail, the center has helped these members of our community for the over fifteen years. 

 

The rules are strict and there are seven pages of them. But they are designed to make everything easier for everyone who comes to the center. Alcohol and non-prescribed drugs are forbidden and anyone breaking this rule faces a mandatory thirty day suspension from the center. Not everyone has access to the services. Each one applying for access must show documentation of a mental illness or undergo a psychiatric evaluation, usually performed by Lakeside Alternatives Behavioral Health Care. 

 

The center is open from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, Tuesday through Saturday. Complete, hot meals are served at any time during these hours and the center typically sees about sixty qualifying people every day. 

 

Pathways also provides showers, laundry facilities, internet access through several computers, a pool table, telephone access, a television room, a room to rest or nap, and group games and activities. The center also encourages prescribed treatment compliance. The President and CEO of the Pathways Drop-In Center, Nelson Kull, was diagnosed with schizophrenia while in his early teens. Kull is responsible for all facets of the center’s design and financial administration. He presently serves on the consumer panel of the Florida National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the board of the Mental Health Association (MHA) of Central Florida. Kull has also served on the board of the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities in Florida (2001), the Human Rights Advocacy Committee (1997-2000) and the Florida Council on Community Mental Health (1998-2000). Kull receives disability income and does not accept any salary from Pathways. 

 

“Consistency and scheduled events are important factors in the lives of the mentally ill,” Kull explained. “It helps them with daily planning and responsibility.” 

 

Our involvement with the Pathways Drop-In Center began after meeting Lt. Deanne Adams of the Orange County Correctional facility. She heard me discussing homelessness and the mentally ill with Joyce Cooling before her concert at the Mall at Millenia last month. Cooling promoted the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando (NAMIGO) Walk in Maitland the following day. Adams is also a board member of NAMI and a member of the Orange County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). 

 

CIT is a group of Law Enforcement, Mental Health and Medical professionals, and citizens dedicated to the proper treatment of individuals in crisis. The program provides law enforcement officers special training to help those in crisis and is also a jail diversionary program. After site visit to Pathways, a CIT class took up a collection and purchased a picnic table for the center. The Pathways members “love it and use it daily.” 
The Pathways center consists of the primary “community” building and three separate buildings that serve as residential housing for seven mentally ill individuals. These residents are charged $200 per month which includes all utilities. Typically, disability payments total about $650 per month. Conventional housing and other essential expenses usually exceeds this amount. 

 

The residents are free to use the remainder of the money at their discretion. One resident, Edwin, uses the extra money to help fund his college education. He hopes to soon be self-sufficient when he graduates from the interior design degree program at the International Academy of Design and Technology (IADT). Prior to joining the Pathway’s residential program, Edwin was homeless and did not have a high school diploma. As he proudly displayed his drawings and models of home interior concepts, termites fell from the wooden ceiling onto his work. Edwin brushed them off, looked up at us, and smiled, hoping we would understand. 

 

George, who lives in his own apartment, comes to the center for food, support and companionship. Pathways is a “blessing, it brings the whole world together for me,” he said. 

 

Orlando Sentinel 

Bruce Larson 

Lessons in reality, fairness…..

Lessons in reality, fairness..... 

Lesson in reality, fairness a passionate advocate for mental-health treatment, Nelson Kull uses his background as a paranoid schizophrenic to bring about change. 

 

Nelson Kull truly did not plan to harm the leader of the free world. He just got caught up in a loudmouthed political discussion many years ago when he publicly vowed to kill then-President Jimmy Carter. 

 

The next day, two Secret Service agents arrested Kull, who was 20 at the time, and spent several hours grilling him. Did he own a gun? Did he know how to use explosives? 

 

Kull was locked in a federal prison cell for three days, drinking coffee and playing chess with counterfeiters and embezzlers. He made another pledge after he was released: He would never return to prison, where many mentally ill people end up. 

 

Kull has managed to keep that vow in the years since and has emerged from his paranoid schizophrenia to become one of the state’s leading advocates for mental-health issues. 

 

Schizophrenia afflicts an estimated 2.5  million people in the United States. Kull’s story shows how new medications developed in the past 10 years can help sufferers of the disease overcome the delusions and other debilitating symptoms they endure. 

 

Today Kull, 45, runs a kind of social center for mentally ill people in Orlando. He also spends much time in Tallahassee, needling politicians on mental-health issues as he speaks for the 850,000 mentally ill in Florida. 

 

He is not looking for sympathy, and he rarely gives it out. He says he wants equity for the treatment of mental illnesses, which lack the clout or cash devoted to other medical problems. 

 

“It just doesn’t make sense for the state to ignore mental-health issues,” Kull says. “They save money in the long run if they pay attention to mental illnesses and treat them up-front before people bottom out.” 

 

Kull is widely known in the mental-health community, where colleagues say he wields influence because he knows the problems involved firsthand and also works hard to amass detailed knowledge of the issues. 

 

“He’s very witty; he’s incredibly insightful; he’s incredibly passionate about mental-health issues,” says Gary Blumenthal, executive director of the Tallahassee-based Advocacy Center, a group that helps people with physical or mental disabilities. “He carries a tremendous amount of weight because he knows what he’s talking about. I truly think he is one of the most outstanding advocates in the state of Florida.” 

 

LIFETIME OF EXPERIENCE 
 
Kull’s experience with mental illness started as a child. 

 

Born John Nelson Kull III, he grew up in a close family with his father in the Navy and mother in varying degrees of reality. When Kull was 5, his mom started apologizing one day for killing his father. Dad was away on tour somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. 

 

“So there I am, 5 years old, trying to reason with her,” Kull explains. “I keep telling her, `C’mon, Mom, Dad’s on the big ship. He’ll be back.’ But she doesn’t want to hear it.” 

 

Her bouts with schizophrenia were regular throughout Kull’s childhood and adolescence. The family lived in various locations, including Korea and Key West, before  settling in Orlando. 

 

Kull was a bright kid, skipping a grade and becoming a leader of his peers. Then he slid into solitude when his own illness emerged in his teens. It started with staying up all night, pacing, talking to himself and playing records. 

 

Schizophrenia is a complex mental illness often marked by delusions, hallucinations, disordered thinking and bizarre behavior. It can run in families, though doctors are not sure exactly what role genetics plays in getting the disease. 

 

Schizophrenics often hear voices that engage them in conversation, pelt them with discouraging messages and sometimes give commands. 

 

Always a history buff and reader, Kull’s voices included Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt and other historical heavyweights. He can’t remember what they said exactly, but he says guys like Stalin were just mean and nasty. 

 

Kull sometimes lashed out at them by throwing punches in the air. He was never violent with real people. But he lost all focus on the world and got sucked into the imaginary one inside his head. 

 

“Intellectually, I knew they weren’t there, but I couldn’t help being drawn into conversation with them,” Kull says. “I couldn’t turn them off. They would come for as long as they wanted and in as much detail as they wanted. It gets to the point where you can’t do anything else because you’re too distracted. I wasted half my life in the fantasy world.” 

 

He was put on strong medications that quieted the voices but did not silence them. 

 

Kull graduated from high school and attended a vocational school. He was in a printing class one day when he declared that he would kill Carter. Kull says he was just responding to classmates’ avowals that former presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford should be hanged. 

 

“I’m glad it happened because it made me realize that I never wanted to go back to jail,” Kull says. “Before that, I had been thinking about trying to make money with some friends who were growing marijuana in the woods, but three days in jail cured me of that idea.” 

 

Kull fumbled through the ensuing years. He lived with his parents and took cooking classes before enrolling at the University of Central Florida. He got various menial jobs, then would work for a month or less before getting fired or quitting. 

 

He could spend 10 hours a day in front of the television — mindlessly soaking up music videos and sitcoms. He teetered on the edge of the real world and his own. 

 

“The slower your descent into hell, the slower and longer it takes to get out,” Kull says. “It was a total nightmare. I knew my life was falling apart, and that I was just getting weirder and weirder all the time.” 

 

Kull’s father, John Nelson Kull II, died from lung cancer in 1984, and the son took over as main caretaker for his mother, Marguerite. Her own illness receded greatly in her later years. Kull describes her as a regular old lady by the time she, too, died of lung cancer in 1990. 

 

A NEW DIRECTION 
 

About that time, some friends persuaded Kull to attend a few state meetings on mental-health issues. He didn’t have much of an attention span in those days. He usually fell asleep at the gatherings, which often were held too early for a guy who stayed up until 4 or 5 a.m. 

 

Yet, he became intrigued by the thought of becoming an advocate and joined a small group of people who received $50,000 in state money to start the Pathways Drop-In Center in 1993. The idea was to offer mentally ill people a haven for food, freebies such as donated shoes or clothes, and a place to socialize. 

 

But even after a small-scale Pathways was started, Kull was hampered by his mental illness. He could not concentrate for long. 

 

It was around Labor Day 1994 that Kull’s doctor put him on a new medication for schizophrenia. It is called Risperdal,  an advanced antipsychotic drug that works better with fewer side effects than traditional treatments. 

 

Kull says within days of starting the drug, he felt an improvement. He found it hard to sit through a marathon weekend of videos — an annual event highlighting the best videos of the year on one of the music channels. 

 

“I used to love that stuff, I would watch that 24 hours a day for three full days,” says Kull. “But I remember that year, by the end of that weekend, I decided I was never going to spend another day like that.” 

 

More and more, he regained his ability to concentrate and started taking classes regularly at UCF. He earned a degree in liberal studies in 1996. He became engrossed by mental-health issues and read diligently, attending meetings and speaking out. 

 

Today, Kull runs Pathways as its executive director. The center has a $110,000 annual budget from state, county and private donations. 

 

He also serves on the boards for several mental-health groups, regularly speaks at public meetings on behalf of advocacy groups and churns out long, well-written e-mails that lay out the latest twists in mental-health policies. 

 

He rankles others at times with his straightforward manner, but he usually can smooth things over. 

 

“Sometimes people just don’t want to hear what he has to say, yet he’s always there, and he never gives up,” says Margo Adams, executive director of the Florida Psychiatric Society. “Somehow he can always make you smile despite the seriousness and intensity of his message.” 

 

KEEPING IT LIGHT 
 

Kull says humor is crucial. 

When in a good mood, he lets it flow freely in hearty outbursts of laughter. The noise involves his whole body. He rocks sideways with the sound, and his arms move unpredictably. He may grab a pants leg in mid-laugh or jerk a hand across his chest. 

 

It is a scar from the early psychiatric medications — an uncontrolled twitching of arms and legs. The condition is called tardive dyskinesia, and it is permanent. 

 

Kull still keeps an erratic schedule, sleeping very little and often forgetting to eat. When he does chow, a favorite dish is two eggs on toast with margarine and honey. He feeds on caffeine all day in coffee or iced tea. 

 

He lives in his parents’ former house in east Orlando, which he shares with two roommates, two dogs and a tank full of fish. 

 

When at Pathways, Kull often holes up in his office writing his “latest rant” with his hunt-and-peck typing. His dingy leather chair creaks easily. When Kull gets riled up on a subject, the chair is a symphony of squeaks. 

 

His body movements punctuate the fast-paced dialogue. He leans forward, takes off his glasses and sweeps a hand through his hair. Important points are followed by the phrase, “I’m serious.” 

 

New psychiatric drugs are among his passions. Kull gives them 90 percent of the credit for his recovery. He says that he worships the drugs, then gives the thought a good laugh. He gets quiet again. 

 

“It’s better living through chemistry, no doubt,” Kull says. “But sometimes, you do have to wonder. I mean, when I’m feeling really good, I have to think, is it Nelson or is it the drugs?” 

 

But he would never consider abandoning them. Unlike many schizophrenics who continually go on and off their medications, Kull always has remained on his prescriptions. He would be a complete mess within a day, he says, if he stopped. 

 

In the future, Kull would like to open another Pathways center across town, work on a housing project for the mentally ill and perhaps go to law school. 

 

It has been years since he heard from Stalin and the gang, though he does not want to be considered ordinary, either. There is a bumper sticker on his car: “Normal people scare me.” 

 

“I have never wanted that,” Kull says. “I’ve never had the least bit of concern about being normal. I always wanted to do my own thing, my own way. Of course it helps being crazy; people don’t expect much.” 

 

Big laugh. 

 

“But seriously, the people I know are more worried about having food and a roof over their heads. They have to worry about being safe. If you can have those things, and maybe help a few other people out, what difference does being normal make? 

 

“I’m serious.” 

 

Orlando Sentinel/Metro 
Robyn Suriano, Sentinel Staff Writer 
21 May 2001 
(Copyright 2001 by The Orlando Sentinel) 
Robyn Suriano can be reached at rsuriano@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5487.