CONNECT Summit County looks for new executive director
When Shauna Wiest became involved with CONNECT Summit County in 2016, the organization was in its infancy and had just received its nonprofit status.
But, Wiest quickly gravitated to the work the organization was doing to raise awareness about mental health and substance abuse in the community, as well as the resources that were available to those suffering and their family members. She was named part-time executive director in early 2017 and hit the ground running.
“Early on we started normalizing the conversation and what that did was it really made people sit down and start listening about the importance of mental health,” she said. “It inspired people to start seeking help and we continued with programming for adults and children. We felt like we needed a central hub so people knew where to go for services.”
Wiest recently stepped down as the executive director to take on a new position with the Christian Center of Park City, but not without recognizing the organization’s growth over the last few years. CONNECT is currently searching for a new, full-time executive director. Sheri Fisher, the educational programing director, is currently acting as interim director.
Wiest said one of the biggest accomplishments came when the Summit County Council listed mental health and substance abuse as a strategic goal, alongside affordable housing and transportation. CONNECT was later instrumental in the creation of the Mental Wellness Alliance and plan to address the needs of the community.
“I believe CONNECT played a very powerful role in that,” she said.
Wiest said she, along with Ed and Lynne Rutan, founding members of CONNECT, worked “so hard” to get the organization off of the ground.
“Now we are seeing the fruits of those labors,” she said. “People are trusting CONNECT and the future is positive. It is a well-oiled machine at this point. There is not only community buy-in, but financial buy-in. We are receiving the support of major donors who realize the importance of mental health in the community.
“It was amazing and it was a great ride to be able to work with Ed (Rutan),” she added. “It is incredible that we were able to take a $5,000 a year organization to an almost $400,000 a year organization in less than three years.”
Fisher said CONNECT’s growth is not just about new funding sources, but an increase in momentum to expand programs and services. She emphasized the important roles volunteers have played in the organization’s success over the years, especially during the annual Mental Health Awareness Month.
The organization has received sizable donations within the last several months to help with the hiring of additional staff, including Fisher. Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz and his wife Elana Amsterdam, for instance, gifted CONNECT $120,000 in December as part of a matching grant for a variety of programs and the hiring of additional staff. The organization is not only looking for an executive director, but also a part-time education coordinator and communications and outreach coordinator.
Rutan attributed the organization’s growth over the last few years to a number of factors, including timing.
“Mental health was an issue that was just below the surface,” he said. “People wanted to talk about it, but they didn’t feel comfortable. But now, there has been a whole community dialogue and that has been a major accomplishment to get mental health out into the public.”
Rutan said he is optimistic about the coming year. One of the things he would like to see CONNECT take on is identifying the gaps in the mental health system within Summit County to facilitate a solution.
“That is one thing I would like to see CONNECT do, in addition to educational programming and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health,” he said.
Another priority is continuing the educational programs that CONNECT has provided over the last several years, particularly during May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, as well as working with law enforcement.
“We are ready to move to the next level and what we are doing now is making that leap,” he said.
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