Born in Saigon before U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Kidnapped in Los Angeles at age 4. Exposed to the crippling poverty of India. Educated in Geneva in a school for French students whose language she didn’t speak. And later, a wife, mother and storytelling juggernaut who forged a multimedia career on the Treasure Coast.
Now, Lisa Rymer faces her newest challenge.
“This is a great way for me to find a way to tell the story of mental health that is relevant and compelling and not a Debbie Downer,” says Rymer, now director of development for New Horizons of the Treasure Coast, which includes eight facilities in Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties that treat 11,000 mental health patients annually.
The Rymers moved from Michigan to Vero Beach (where Lisa Rymer’s grandfather had been the first police chief) to raise their family. She and her husband, Jeff Rymer, had worked in the auto industry before experiencing its “rise and fall” in Detroit. (Today, Jeff Rymer teaches math and coaches baseball at Fort Pierce Central, where their son Max, 18, is in his senior year, while their other son, Devon, 20, majors in psychology at Florida State University.)
Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Rymer pitched an idea for a guest column to the Press Journal. A spotlight on everyday heroes, the column proved popular, opening up an on-air opportunity for Comcast Newsmakers. When the discovery of a heart condition slowed down her rapid ascension in TV news, she earned an MBA in non-profit marketing and later became editor of TC Palm’s special publication, Luminaries.
Growing up, Rymer’s mother was a psychiatric social worker. Her father is a political scientist who chaired the Department of Population Studies at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. Work took him to Saigon, where the Viet Cong marched down Rymer’s street when she was a baby.
“A little boy peeked out the door, and they threw a hand grenade in his house,” she recounts.
While stateside briefly, Rymer was kidnapped at age 4 in a Los Angeles grocery store. Miraculously, she was returned hours later unharmed.
“I was really blessed,” she says. “To be kidnapped by a perfect stranger and be taken in a car, the chances of returning almost unscathed are almost unheard of.”
After living in India, she later attended school on the French side of the International School of Geneva, learning the language as she gained popularity through her success as a runner on the track team.
Rymer’s diverse upbringing helped prepare her for the New Horizons position, while personal loss revealed the depths of suffering associated with some mental illnesses.
“I’ve had two cousins, my closest relatives to my age, commit suicide,” she says. “So it’s very close to me.”
Suicide, Rymer says, is the second leading cause of death in Florida for ages 10 to 24. Nationwide, 43,000 Americans commit suicide annually. That’s a death toll equivalent to a major plane crash every day.
“One in five Americans (children and adults) deal with some kind of mental illness and drug addiction,” Rymer says. “We’re not really talking about it because of shame, guilt and embarrassment.”
Still, stories of recovery and renewal animate the experiences of many individuals helped by New Horizons, which offers walk-in and medium-term residential care for people rebuilding their lives after abuse, addiction and severe trauma.
“We provide training to get them self-sufficient and mainstream them back into being productive members of society,” she says. “There’s some really feel-good stories.”
Through Rymer, New Horizons has the perfect person to help tell those stories.