This History was compiled in February 2014 with input from Greg Hietpas, Jay Schrader, Roland Martens, and Mary Lutzo. It is meant to be a "living document", i.e. we welcome input and additions and hope it will be added-to in the future as an on-going history of this honorable organization that has strengthened LMHCs in the Tampa Bay area

When did the idea for SMHCA first come up and whose idea was it? 

What was the reason at the time to form the Association? In the early 1990's the FMHCA Board held a weekend planning to discuss the needs of LMHCs in Florida and to develop a list of short and long-term goals for the association. The board felt that it wanted to reach out in a more significant way to the majority of LMHCs across the state. It made sense to have a number of smaller chapters that could provide training locally and lobby local legislators.

Who were the most instrumental players in getting the association formed?

Sally Mallery, Greg Hietpas, Carole Sharman, Mary Pratt, Lore Eargle

When and where did the first official meeting take place and who was there?

Although developing local chapters was a new goal for FMHCA there was no plan on how to proceed to establish them. I decided to form a small group inviting four other people to help with the organizational phase. Three of the names come to me, Lore Eargle, Steve Morrison, Susan Young. We decided that each of us would make a list of LMHCs who might be interested in a local chapter and invite them to a focus group. The five of us met around my dining room table in Tarpon Springs a number of times. We developed a mission statement, came up with the name Suncoast Mental Health Counselors Association and developed a plan for the focus group. We would have four interest groups training, legislation, public awareness and research. I would chair the meeting and each of the other four would lead one of the breakout interest groups to develop a set of goals. The greatest interest was in training and second was legislative issues as LMHCs wanted to be included in the Baker Act and becoming providers for Medicare.

I made arrangements with a residential psychiatry center to have space available for the focus group meeting. As it turned out we were given a space the size of an expanded corridor, not ideal, however it served it's purpose. Around 25 people came to this meeting.

The first training meeting was located in North Tampa. I had sent a mailing to all LMHCs in the greater Tampa Bay area which included Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Sumter and Citrus counties. About 12 people came. The attendance was small in the beginning as we changed locations a number of times until we found a meeting room in Clearwater that was easily accessible to Pinellas and Hillsborough. This remained our home for several years. Slowly with a stable site the attendance began to increase, as SMHCA's reputation for quality trainings became known in the clinical community.

How has SMHCA been involved with FMHCA over the years? 

SMHCA has actively supported FMHCA over the years providing a number of leaders who started out at the local level with SMHCA and then gave their time to serve the state association. SMHCA provided financial support, especially when FMHCA needed financial backing to hire a lobbyist to work solely on Baker Act inclusion, which was successful for LMHCs. For many years, FMHCA was inactive, but a small group of members from various parts of Florida gathered together in 2009 to rebuild the State Association. SMHCA helped, again, with financial support to keep the FMHCA lobbyists working for LMHCs in Tallahassee.

SMHCA leaders helped in the re-formation of the current FMHCA. The past three presidents are former SMHCA Presidents and under their leadership FMHCA has grown and become a solid organization. Stephen Giunta was a prime mover in re-forming FMHCA in 2009 and was the 2011-12 FMHCA President. Mary Lutzo served as FMHCA Secretary and Treasurer 2010 to 1213. Elvis Lester was 2012-13 FMHCA President and Carlos Zalaquett is the current 2013-14 FMHCA President. Kathie Erwin, a SMHCA member, has served as FMHCA Secretary since 2012. In 2011 FMHCA held its first state conference in almost 10 years. Conferences held in 2012 and 2013 were even more successful and have helped establish FMHCA as a strong voice for mental health and LMHCs in the state.

What would you identify as the greatest accomplishments of SMHCA over time? 

In the years since SMHCA started it has accomplished each of its original goals with flying colors with the exception of inclusion in Medicare which can only be accomplished at the Federal level (AMCHA) with state support. SMHCA has offered LMHCs the opportunity for professional development during monthly trainings that are open to LCSWs, LMFTs, interns and students. It enabled LMHCs a networking opportunity before the trainings at the Colleague Connection luncheons which evolved to become the pre-training Colleague Collaboration where members network and bring difficult cases to get input from other colleagues on case management. The Spring Symposium, held annually for interns and students, has given new professionals first hand information to make their journey towards licensure easier. Since its inception SMHCA realized that members needed to be informed of trainings, legislative matters and professional issues relevant to practice and SMHCA provided the quarterly Newsletters to keep members updated. SMHCA developed the first Clinical Directory listing SMHCA members and their practice profiles to assist people in finding counselors. In recent years SMHCA developed its own Website, which is a major resource for information along with the use of Constant Contact, an email system that can provide instant communication from the Board to the members. Twice, in 2013 and 2014, SMHCA has won The Chapter of the Year award at the FMHCA conference. Rather than having a single great accomplishment it is the "gestalt" of SMHCA that makes it great.

Officers for the Early Years Continue to Serve

Some current SMHCA members have consistently served for many years and their untiring efforts on behalf of mental health counselors deserve to be applauded. Sally Mallery was the first president and served on and off the SMHCA board for the past twenty years. Sally also went on to serve on the Florida Dept. of Health 491 Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling. Greg Heitpas and Carole Sharman were on the board and served as presidents in the formative years. Greg has served as a consultant to insurance companies through the years and helped compile this history. Carole served as SMHCA President three times and continued to be on the board developing monthly trainings as Chair of the Program Development Committee and still serves on the Committee. Mary Pratt was also active in the early years until she moved. Mary Lutzo joined as a student in 1995 and served in many positions with SMHCA and on the FMHCA board before becoming SMHCA President in 2012. Jay Schrader joined in 1997 and has served as Treasurer, Member-at-Large and is now the official Parliamentarian. Roland Martens was active in counseling associations for years before joining SMHCA in 1998 and has served in various capacities, including Member-at-Large, his current position.

Stephen Giunta was recently elected AMHCA President-elect and will be the 2014-15 national AMHCA President.

On closing I know that the strength and longevity of SMHCA is the result of dedicated leaders. It has had the advantage of long-term board members who make the chapter stronger with their knowledge of the history of the association and their experience on the board along with an influx of new leaders who bring new ideas, new energy, and enthusiasm to the board.

    Past Leadership


    1991-93 - Sally Mallery

    1993-94 - Greg Hietpas

    1994-95 - George Koulianos

    1995-96 - Carole Sharman

    1996-97 - Carole Sharman

    1997-98 -- Mary Pratt

    1998-99 - Kimberle Stabile

    1999-00 - Elena Parsons Wilson


    Past Leadership


    2000-01 - Donna Arshadi

    2001-02 - Karol McGinn

    2002-03 - Carole Sharman

    2003-04 - Greg Hietpas

    2004-05 - Jim Texeira

    2005-06 - Al Lyons

    2006-07 - Pamela Paul

    2007-08 - Vicki Narduzzi

    2008-09 - Stephen Giunta


    Past Leadership


    2010-11 - Carlos Zalaquett

    2011-12 - Elvis Lester

    2012-13 - Mary Lutzo

    2013-14 - Misty Fenton

    2014-15 - Dr. Aaron Norton          

    2015-16 - Ana Aluisy

    2016-17 - Amy Datla            

    2017-18 - Gina Midyett

    2018-19 - Dr. Deirdra Sanders-Burnett  

    2019-19 - Shannon Camp

    2019-21 - Janice LaTorre

    2021-23 - Dr. Martin Wesley


    SunCoast Mental Health Counselors Association

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    P.O. Box 2853 Pinellas Park, FL 33780

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