Summit County mental health nonprofits receive huge boost from Vail Resorts CEO donation

Summit County mental health non-profits were awarded $620,000 in grants from the Katz Amsterdam foundation.

Christmas came early to several Summit County mental health nonprofits, as earlier this week Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz and his wife Elana Amsterdam donated $620,000 in grants to four local nonprofits for the purpose of bolstering Summit’s mental health programs.

In total, the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust awarded 30 grants totaling $2 million for mental health programs in nearly every resort community where Vail Resorts operates. And despite limited resource pools to draw from, Summit’s nonprofits collaborated with each other instead of competing to jointly pursue the grants with a common goal of helping the most people possible.

“It is our hope that these grants will help improve access to much-needed services around mental health and substance abuse and reduce the stigma and misunderstanding around these issues to encourage more people to get the help they need,” Katz said in a press release.

The grants come at a time when mental health issues, especially suicide, continue to haunt the Rockies and the rest of America. Suicides reached an all-time high in Colorado and nationwide last year, drawing more calls for normalizing dialogue on mental health and improving provider access. Communities are also seeking to create tighter, more easily navigable behavioral health networks to form a safety net for the most vulnerable and least visible members of society.

To that end, the Katz Amsterdam foundation targeted organizations that showed themselves most capable of reaching those people in resort communities. In Summit, $250,000 was awarded to the suicide prevention campaign Building Hope, $170,000 to the Summit Community Care Clinic to improve its school-based clinic program, $100,000 to the Family and Intercultural Resource Center for its ALMAS bilingual peer support network, and $100,000 to Mind Springs Health to set up a Mental Health First Aid training program.

Tamara Drangstveit, executive director of FIRC, said that bilingual therapy services are one of the biggest needs in Summit, where an underrepresented Latino population often hits communication barriers in seeking services. Drangstveit said programs like ALMAS have been successful in other communities.

“I am deeply grateful on behalf of our clients and organization for their remarkable investment,” Drangstveit said of the grant, adding that the unique funding structure — financing different cogs of the mental health system individually for a collective benefit — was groundbreaking.

“By funding each one of the entities responsible for a certain part of the system, it will really help us down the road,” Drangstveit said. “It’s not just generous, but also really smart as a strategy.”

The Summit Community Care Clinic will use the $170,000 it received to fund a dialectical behavioral therapy program in Summit’s schools.

The clinic’s chief behavioral health officer, Cassie Coumeau, said that dialectical behavioral therapy is a cognitive behavioral approach that has been highly effective in treating children who are at high risk for self-harming behaviors, emotional disregulation and suicidal ideation. The money will also be used to fund a scholarship program that would help uninsured students participate in the program.

“To be able to implement this level of care in a school, especially in a rural community, is pretty extraordinary,” Coumeau said. “We know our health centers will be able to start reaching unreachable students and families; just giving them that access is the best case scenario for people in need.”

Coumeau also lauded the way the grant was structured.

“I think their approach to funding in terms of wanting to have a united effort but funding separate projects, that synergetic effect of their funding is pretty special,” Coumeau said.

The Summit Foundation, which got Building Hope started, helped coordinate the groups and lay out their needs as they pursued the grant. The foundation’s executive director, Jeanne Bistranin, praised the way the different Summit organizations came together to collaborate on the grants.

“Historically, the people of Summit County have really been willing to work together,” Bistranin said. “They know that if they can set aside their own needs and their own interests for the greater good of the community, that it really benefits all of us.”

Mind Springs Health will use the $100,000 it received to kick-start a Mental Health First Aid training program, where individuals can learn how to recognize symptoms and signals of the most prevalent and significant mental health problems — depression, anxiety, substance abuse and psychosis — and learn how to intervene to get people experiencing a crisis the help they need.

Tom Gangel, training and outreach operations manager for Mind Springs, said that it is critical to have more people with that first line of training to be out in the community with those skills, as recognizing the signs of behavioral health problems is key to intervening and preventing a full-blown crisis. Just getting people through the door to seek treatment is often the toughest part, but once in the system the odds of successful recovery increase dramatically.

“The grant will give us the ability to bring people in to train others on Mental Health First Aid, and the people they train can pass on those skills to others,” Gangel said. “Having those people in the community will really help us reach the people who haven’t sought care in the past.”

Building Hope, the nonprofit which is working to shore up the county’s behavioral health provider network and improve provider access and increase general awareness of behavioral health, will receive the largest grant of $250,000.

Program manager Betsy Casey said that the money will go toward critical needs in the county including aggressively developing and maintaining the county’s behavioral health workforce, a county-wide stigma reduction campaign, and expanding a scholarship program for those who need help affording therapy.

“It’s difficult to express the magnitude of gratitude we feel at Building Hope,” Casey said. “For me personally, it was tears of joy after getting the phone call about the funding. This grant will make a tangible and direct difference in the lives of Summit County residents.”

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