Betsy Casey, Building Hope founder and program manager, leaving for position at Katz Amsterdam Foundation
Betsy Casey, one of Summit County’s beloved locals and the heart and soul of the county’s premiere mental health non-profit Building Hope, is moving on to bigger, brighter pastures. Casey will be leaving her role as the program manager of Building Hope next month and taking on a position at the Katz Amsterdam Foundation, a philanthropic foundation focused on mental health founded by Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz and his wife, Elana Amsterdam.
Casey, a lifelong Summit local who helped found Building Hope in the wake of personal tragedy back in 2016, announced her departure in an email to community partners Tuesday, Dec. 17.
“This was a very difficult decision for me to make,” Casey wrote. “I am obviously extremely emotionally and professionally invested in Building Hope, I love my colleagues and have absolutely loved the work I have gotten to do, but I have the opportunity to have an impact at a national level through the incredible work of (Katz Amsterdam Foundation).”
In an interview on Friday, Casey said that she will be taking on the position of Network Director at the foundation. The role will involve managing the foundation’s mental and behavioral health network in mountain communities with Vail Resorts across North America, connecting and sharing learning on mental health solutions across communities, gathering data for a shared measurement framework, providing technical assistance and making meaningful data-driven decisions.
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“It’s really an opportunity to connect on a national level, so we are sharing resources and creating strategies that are sustainable, connecting each other to resources and tactics,” Casey said.
Casey said that her experience with Building Hope amply informs her new role, as it involved connecting community partners all across Summit — government, non-profits, schools, businesses, the healthcare community, and many others — who she credited as the biggest reason Building Hope grew out from an idea to a thriving program that is saving lives.
Casey said that her move from Building Hope was extremely emotional and bittersweet, given how she had given her life for the past years to found and grow the non-profit which was born out of the most painful experience of her life.
In January, 2016, Betsy’s mother, Patti Casey, ended her own life. The tragedy was a wrenching blow that broke the community’s heart in Summit, where Patti’s devotion to her family and community had earned her the moniker of “St. Patti.” Patti’s struggles with depression and alcoholism were a deeply hidden family secret, and members of the community was dumbfounded and in shock that such a bright, loved person could commit suicide.But it did not take long for the Casey family to turn their grief to positive action. Having learned of statistics showing how Summit County had a suicide rate three times the national average, Casey said that it was at the funeral service where she and her family resolved to try to do something, anything, to push back the tides of the crisis.
“My part of this journey began at my mom’s service, where I talked to my family and decided that we should start a fund in my mom’s name,” Casey said. “We wanted to do something, and we we wanted it to involve suicide prevention, substance abuse treatment and mental health awareness.”
And so Building Hope was born that same year, 2016. It started out as a community pilot program funded by the Summit Foundation and facilitated through the non-profit Family & Intercultural Resource Center. After years of building on successes, failures and tragedies since, Building Hope is now its own non-profit with its own staff and rigorous program schedule, as well as endless attempts to reach out to the community and find those of us who are hurting and give them comfort and hope.
Leaving what she helped build is as bittersweet as it gets, but Casey acknowledged that putting her heart, soul, mind and body into Building Hope for years had taken a toll on her own mental and physical health. Casey, who now resides in Denver, was commuting to Summit at least three days a week. Friends and neighbors welcomed her into their homes whenever she needed to stay here, sharing home and hearth and asking nothing in return.
“I didn’t realize how much of a toll that had taken on me, constantly commuting in cold weather, bad weather,” Casey said. “Logistically and physically it was straining, driving, not having your own space, being away from home three days a week and living out of a bag and car. After three and a half years of doing that, I felt really tired and knew it wasn’t sustainable, that I couldn’t keep doing this.”
Still, the work she did sustained her spirit and is giving promise that Summit County may finally have a system in place to help the most vulnerable and isolated among us. Casey said she leaves Building Hope knowing it is in the best possible place it could be, praising its “wonderful” Executive Director Jennifer McAtamney and the rest of the staff who will continue the mission Casey began during her darkest days.
Just like the wake of the winter solstice, Casey sees only brighter days ahead for Building Hope, and she said it was because of how Building Hope goes about doing business — not reaching for metrics and numbers, but people’s hearts and minds.
“One of the things I’ve been thinking about is the culture and values I’ve tried to imbue Building Hope with, which is about care and concern and not just doing things as a business,” Casey said. “I always tell our team, ‘Get s— done, but do it with heart.’ Get stuff done but do it in a way that we’re going the extra mile, where we’re not just checking all the boxes and looking at program statistics. With successful partnerships, we did it in a way that really cared about people. And that’s kind of magical.”
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