New nonprofit hosts paddle event in Frisco for first responders
if you go
Kristin McLain’s Get Out Girl Paddle Jam
When: July 17, 2016 starting at 8 a.m.
Where: Frisco Marina
Registration: $70 at www.kmgogpaddlejam.org.
For law enforcement, this code signals you’ve arrived on scene. For Kristin McLain, a former StarFlight nurse, it was her badge number. A Colorado native, she was remembered as an active community member who loved to spend time out on the water.
“She was a huge wakesurfer,” said Kevin Kelble, Dillon Marina operations manager and a former flight nurse. “Kristin’s goal was to empower women to step outside their box and do something different.”
Every year, McLain would participate in the Flatwater Foundation’s Get Out Girl Paddle Jam, to help provide mental-health support to families coping with a cancer diagnosis. Now, the event is named after her.
On April 27, 2015, during a rescue mission in Austin, she fell to her death after her harness came detached. Since the accident, a group of close friends worked to create a foundation in her memory, similar to the Flatwater Foundation, to link first responders with mental health services. Foundation 1023 was founded in February of this year and will host its first fundraising event on Lake Dillon in July.
“We’re hitting the mark with cancer folks, but we’re missing the mark with first responders,” said Melody Mesmer, prehospital field coordinator for Centura Health. “We’ve just had this set of events that really hit first responders hard last year.”
In Summit County alone, the community was devastated by the loss of decorated veteran pilot Patrick Mahany in a Flight For Life helicopter crash last July, as well as the loss of Red, White and Blue firefighter Todd “TJ” Johnson to cancer.
To help support those affected by these events, Mesmer and Kelble are organizing an all-female paddle event on July 17 — the proceeds of which will be split evenly between Foundation 1023 and the Flatwater Foundation.
Families may request service from the Flatwater Foundation through their website or by phone calls, which are filtered through a set of pre-screened providers. Meanwhile, Foundation 1023 is putting together a pool of licensed counselors in the Interstate-70 corridor specializing in trauma and PTSD.
“It’s important that we find counselors familiar with the industry,” Mesmer said.
She added the Flatwater Foundation has donated its software to keep all requests for service confidential. To receive assistance through Foundation 1023, the system is similar — a first responder or their family only need file a request and verify their first responder status. They will be connected with a prescreened counselor who will bill the Foundation at the agreed upon rate.
“As we grow our financial support base, we will offer funding to first response agencies to start or enhance a peer support group,” Mesmer added.
Despite having just launched the foundation, Kelble said they had already received three requests for services.
“We are just up and running,” he said.
HELPING THOSE WHO SERVE
The need for mental-health services across the state is evident and is just as critical for first responders, who often witness traumatic events.
“It’s kind of an environment where you can go a long time without any kind of issue and all of a sudden you have one call that really affects you,” Kelble said. “It’s a field that can burn you out quickly because of what you see and what you have to do.”
Working through trying situations, combined with long work hours and time away from home can put a strain on families. While Summit County may see fewer incidents than large metropolitan areas, traumatic events still occur.
“Up here, we see our share of that,” Kelble said. “We see a lot of medical calls related to our environment.”
Mind Springs Health regional director Tom Gangel said the nonprofit has worked over the last few years to ensure all of its offices are trauma-informed. The Department of Human Services also launched an initiative to become more trauma informed.
“Over the last three to four years, (medical) offices have become much more aware of trauma and trauma issues,” he said.
He defines trauma as any adverse event that happens at any time in a person’s life, affecting their emotional and cognitive stability. PTSD, by that mark, is the most severe form of trauma that has gotten to the point of disrupting a person’s life.
“We’ve done lots of debriefing sessions with first responders and sheriff’s deputies with the hope of easing some of those trauma effects,” he said. “One of the best ways to deal with trauma is to be with other folks who have witnessed the same event. You don’t have to talk about it … it’s just seeing the other person and knowing they’re OK.”
While there is some debate about the best way to deal with trauma, Gangel said taking a vacation or setting aside times when a first responder is assigned to duties without exposure to traumatic events can help them bounce back, both physically and mentally.
Of course, many still do not seek help, whether for insufficient insurance coverage or fear of losing one’s position in the force.
“We work our tail off to try to help people who need it,” he said. “As much as we fight it off, there’s still this stigma for any kind of mental health care.”
GETTING ON THE WATER
The “Kristin McLain Get Out Girl Paddle Jam” will launch at the Frisco Marina the morning of July 17, with registration starting at 7:15 a.m. and paddle instructions starting at 8 a.m. The cost to register is $70, the equivalent of an hour of counseling services. So far, just over 50 women have signed up.
McLain said the women will have three-and-a-half hours to paddle around Sentinel Island and back on a standup paddleboard, kayak or canoe. For first-time paddlers, there will be a support boat tailing the group. Lunch, an auction and a Flight For Life flyover will follow. To register, go to http://www.kmgogpaddlejam.org.
“If our services stop one provider from committing suicide, losing their job or turning to addiction, it’s a success,” Mesmer said.
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