James Henslin, Ph.D.


James Henslin, Co-Founder of Pearl of the Sea Retreat, was born in a rented room in a little town on the bitterly cold Canadian border in Minnesota. His mother hadn’t completed high school, and his father hadn’t even made it beyond the seventh grade.

Jim has been a dedicated worker since childhood. One of his colder memories goes back to age 10 or 11, when he froze his nose while delivering newspapers in his little northern village. He was elated at age 16 when his parents packed up the car and moved to sunny Southern California. During the summer following high school graduation, while working as a laborer on construction projects, Jim took a correspondence course in Greek from the University of California at Berkeley. After graduating from college in Indiana, he was awarded scholarships at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he earned his master’s and doctorate in sociology.

After winning a competitive postdoctoral fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health, Jim spent a year studying how people adjust to the suicide of a family member. Jim then joined the faculty at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, where he is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. Jim stopped teaching, but he never retired. He continues full-time sociological research and publishing.

Jim is immensely pleased that he was able to be instrumental in founding The Pearl. It is his hope that these efforts, moving from the academic theoretical to the practical, will transform lives by nurturing and restoring hope. He wants this to be an essential part of his legacy.

Irina Beyder, PhD LMFT

The Pearl’s CEO

Irina Beyder, the CEO of the Pearl of the Sea Retreat, earned her Ph.D. in Family Studies and Public Health at the University of Maryland. For over 20 years, she has worked in behavioral health. She has both led behavioral health organizations and developed innovative health care programs. Irina has dedicated her career to ensuring that individuals in her care receive services that are of high quality, affordable, and effective. She is pleased to lead the Pearl team in fulfilling these goals.

Irina comes to The Pearl with a very interesting background. She grew up in the Ukraine and came to the United States when she was 17 years old. Education became the means by which she was able to explore her interest and develop her abilities in behavioral health. After earning degrees in psychology and marriage and family therapy, with specializations in program management, business pdministration, and policy development, her professional journey has taken her from directing start-ups to leading a $300 million dollar government program.

Irina says, “I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy a healthy life and when they need it to receive quality health care services. I am excited that my journey in pursuing this belief has taken me to The Pearl Retreat. I am looking forward to leading The Pearl’s team of dedicated professionals so we can provide our guests a healing experience that sets them on the path to a new life. This is my passion.”

Anita Henslin


Anita Henslin, The Pearl’s Co-Founder, has an amazing international background. She was born in Riga, the capital city of Latvia, while it was under Soviet control. There she learned Russian and became part of the resistance that led to Latvia becoming a free nation.

After Latvia broke its Soviet oppression, Anita, who had studied classical piano at the Darzina Muzikas Skola in Riga, studied international relations, political science, and leadership not just in Latvia but also in Austria, France, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. Among her many accomplishments is working with the Latvian Parliament as it was being developed, running as a candidate for the Latvian Parliament, serving as the Director of Foreign Relations of a major Latvian organization, for which she flew to many countries and met with world leaders. She also directed the renovations and furnishings of The Pearl, transforming this magnificent Mediterranean style mansion from an abandoned structure into a 4 star professionally rated hotel and bed and breakfast. Anita then became The Pearl’s director, remaining until she and her husband decided to repurpose the property once again, transforming it into a healing retreat for people who have suffered from trauma and drug dependency.

Anita says, “I love the United States and The Pearl, and transforming our world class luxury bed and breakfast into a healing center is a dream come true. The Pearl’s tranquility—its welcoming palm trees and fountain in our courtyard, the smell of the ocean, the flying pelicans and playing dolphins, our majestic sunsets over the waters—they restore your soul and mind.”

Melanie Smith PhD, LMHC

Clinical Director

Melanie Smith, The Pearl’s Clinical Director, has over 25 years of clinical experience in mental health and substance abuse. Melanie received a BA in psychology from Indiana State University, an MA in mental health counseling, and a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy from Nova Southeastern University. She is a Qualified Supervisor in the State of Florida and enjoys providing education and supervision to her staff.

Melanie has worked in hospitals and in outpatient, residential, and detox treatment centers. She has provided direct care of clients herself, as well as supervised programs of care. Among Melanie’s areas of expertise is working with individuals and their families who have a history of substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. As addiction affects more than the individual, Melanie’s passion lies in utilizing a systematic approach with both clients and their families.

In South Florida, Melanie was a driving force in creating and leading a weekend family education program. In St. Johns County, she assisted in starting the County’s first Veterans Treatment Court and the County’s Family Intensive Treatment Team.

Melanie is excited to be part of the Pearl Experience as it involves a holistic approach to treatment while providing Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. She is pleased that she is able to bring her knowledge, experience, and passion to The Pearl’s unique treatment program.