Saving young lives in Jeffco and beyond

Nonprofit tackles state’s leading cause of death for youth, providing mental health services to those in need.

Bob Wooley
bwooley@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 12/8/21

During the 2001-02 school year, four students at Green Mountain High School took their own lives within a nine-month timespan. 

A sense of loss reverberated through the community, leaving an indelible mark and inspiring three members of a nearby church to find a way to help.

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Saving young lives in Jeffco and beyond

Nonprofit tackles state’s leading cause of death for youth, providing mental health services to those in need.

Posted

During the 2001-02 school year, four students at Green Mountain High School took their own lives within a nine-month timespan. 

A sense of loss reverberated through the community, leaving an indelible mark and inspiring three members of a nearby church to find a way to help.

Marjorie Laird, Jeff Lamontagne, Scott Fletcher and the rest of Green Mountain Presbyterian Church organized a community walk/run, raising a small amount of money to aid Green Mountain students in need of counseling

But the modest fundraising event, attended by 66 people in 2002, wasn’t the end of the story. It led to the creation of the Second Wind Fund Program, a nonprofit that’s been raising money to pay for counseling sessions for youth at risk for suicide. 

Shortly after its inception, other Jeffco schools became aware of the program, and by 2009, it received a grant to expand services across the state.

Chris Weiss, executive director of the Second Wind Fund, said that although the group operates across the state, Jeffco is near and dear to the heart of the organization.

“It’s where we started and where we continue to provide a high number of services,” he said. “Our program and mission are very simple. We provide expedited access to potentially life-saving therapy to youth 19-and-under who are at risk for suicide.”

Weiss said the majority of the time, the youth or family in need are facing some type of barrier, either financial or social, and all it takes is an online form to be filled out by a qualified referral source — a school counselor or mental health professional — and within the hour, a referral specialist will get back to them with an approval for a referral for the youth to see a therapist in their community, for up to 12 sessions, at no cost. Sometimes the therapist will even travel to the school for the session to reduce travel burdens on families with limited resources. 

“The reason we’re able to do what we do is because of the (more than) 200 therapists on our roster who are willing to see the youth in a relatively quick period of time,” Weiss said. “When they (the therapists) know the referral is from Second Wind Fund, they make the time to put them on their calendar because they know their services are needed, and doing it quickly is crucial.”

Weiss said Second Wind Fund also provides navigational assistance to families who can afford their own treatment plan, providing a roadmap of how to better understand their insurance or other resources they can tap into in their community. Those resources, he said, can include a community mental health center or an authorized list of referrals on their insurance website, to name just a few.

As a nonprofit with very little reliance on state, federal or local funding, and a diversified revenue stream with a heavy emphasis on private fundraising, Weiss says Second Wind Fund hopes to be around a very long time. 

Even the pandemic didn’t create a noticeable decline in donations. Weiss says he’s grateful funding has stayed strong. He thinks it’s because people understand how important mental health is.

“I’m sure a couple of years from now we’ll look back on this and say how important this time was, particularly when it comes to starting and having conversations around mental health,” he said. “Our budget has actually grown quite a bit which allows us to offer more potentially life-saving services — better services — to a lot of youth who are in desperate need.”

Weiss said Second Wind Fund currently operates in 30 counties across the state and is now in the process of moving forward with a plan that will utilize regional employees on the western slope, providing services to Grand Junction, Mesa and LaPlata Counties. 

He said being on the ground and becoming part of the community will allow Second Wind Fund to help everywhere there’s need.

Unfortunately, right now, demand for services is growing and qualified therapists are harder to come by. To add context to the numbers, in 2003, the Second Wind Fund received its first referral (to pay for therapy sessions). In 2018-19, the group had a record-setting year, receiving 762 referrals, providing access to more than 3,000 therapy sessions for at-risk youth in Colorado.

To that end, Weiss says his organization is always willing to talk with qualified therapists with expertise working with youth or those at risk for suicide, it they’d like to get involved with the program.

Diversity and inclusion are areas Second Wind Fund cares deeply about, Weiss said. 

Over 30% of Second Wind Fund’s clients are from Hispanic backgrounds, so there are some therapists on the roster who are bilingual, Weiss said. He added that there also is money in the budget that pays for translation services when needed, as well as having MOU's (Memorandum of Understanding) with community mental health centers in order to tap into adjacent staff to make sure that if a youth needs to work with a therapist who speaks Spanish, it can be set up.

“We know that therapy works. If you can get a youth or a child into therapy, we know that suicidal ideations generally reduce over the course of treatment,” Weiss said. “We have close to 20 years of data that backs that up.”

To learn more about Second Wind Fund, visit thesecondwindfund.org.

Jeffco, suicide prevention, Green Mountain High School, Second Wind Fund, Green Mountain PResbyterian

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