Cover photo for Rhoda Zusman's Obituary
Rhoda Zusman Profile Photo

Rhoda Zusman

January 16, 1933 — December 10, 2020

Rhoda Zusman

ZUSMAN, Rhoda, age 87, of Tampa died Thursday, December 10, 2020 at her home. Mrs. Zusman was born in New York. With her MSW degree she was a vocational rehabilitation counselor and the founder of Project Return, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those with mental illness. She was preceded in death by her beloved husband of 54 years, Jack Zusman. Survivors include her daughters, Phyllis Zusman, of Connecticut, Anita Zusman of Texas, Ellen Zusman and Deborah Wolfson both of Tampa and four cherished grandchildren. The family will hold a private graveside service on Friday, December 11. A memorial service will be held on Sunday, December 13, at 2:30 PM, on Zoom. As Rhoda would suggest, (in lieu of flowers) donations in her memory may be sent to Project Return, which she founded in 1971 and always held a very special place in her heart:

Memorial Service:
Sunday, December 13, at 2:30 PM ET, 1:30 pm CT, 11:30 PT

Click here to join on Zoom.
Meeting ID: 948 0947 3913
Passcode: 970329

The family would like to express their sincerest gratitude to Jaqueline Cook for the loving care she provided for Rhoda over the last several years.

Rhoda Zusman, Founder of Project Return

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.”
-Marshall Ferdinand Foch

Project Return was founded by Rhoda Zusman in Buffalo, New York in 1971. At that time, Rhoda was a student at the University of Buffalo. The concept of her Masters thesis was to address the needs of persons with severe and persistent mental illness who were being discharged from Buffalo State Hospital into the community. From her thesis, Project Return became a reality.

She began by establishing small clubs so that people with mental illnesses could learn skills to reintegrate into society after many years of hospitalization. In 1979, a sister program was established in Los Angeles, California under the Los Angeles County Mental Health Association.

In 1983, the Florida legislature provided funding to establish a Project Return program in the Tampa Bay community and, in 1985, the program was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. The goal of the Tampa-based organization was to develop a community support system for people with severe and persistent mental illnesses so that they could achieve and maintain their independence and successfully live within the greater community.

Through her tenacity and dedication, Rhoda Zusman, fulfilled her vision. The agency provides education, supportive housing, vocational training, employment and personal enrichment opportunities, and individualized support services so that people with mental illnesses can live productive and fulfilling lives in our community.

Rhoda Zusman has never taken no for an answer. She collaborated with community businesses, churches, and schools to ensure that these critical services exist. Project Return has become a safety net in the community where philosophy outweighs bureaucracy.

Rhoda Zusman has personally advocated for people with mental illnesses facing incarceration and other bureaucratic hurdles of the mental health system. She has said yes where others have said no. She has advocated where others have done nothing.

For more than twenty years, Project Return has offered a community-based solution that has effectively met the needs of the Tampa Bay community by providing supportive services for people with mental illness in a caring and respectful environment. These services are provided at a fraction of what it would cost our community to hospitalize these individuals.

Our staff members, who are strategically and carefully hired for their education, experience, compassion, insight, and skills with people are an integral part of the agency’s success. It is through the combination of our experience, exceptional staffing, and philosophical emphasis on the ability of the individual that people with mental illnesses can live productive and fulfilling lives in our community. Our success and experience is reflected everyday in the members we see who have made Friendship Palms their home, some since the inception of the Supportive Housing Program, and others who have normalized their lives with the assistance and support of Project Return’s services.

This could have not been accomplished without the vision, determination, and perseverance of the founder, visionary, and heart of Project Return, Rhoda Zusman. Rhoda Zusman has been a teacher, advocate, consultant, and hero for people with mental illnesses in every community she has touched from New York, Los Angeles, to Florida, and even to Belgium.

David Livingstone said “If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.”

Rhoda Zusman was the woman who “came where there was no road at all.” A woman who dedicated her life to helping people with mental illnesses reintegrate into the community.

As Rhoda would suggest, (in lieu of flowers) donations in her memory may be sent to Project Return, which she founded in 1971 and always held a very special place in her heart:


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