Health Department hires coordinator for youth mental health and substance abuse

Staffer will organize prevention and education programs

Mary Christa Smith has been hired as the Summit County Health Department's Communities That Care and youth programs coordinator.
(Tanzi Propst/Park Record)

Mary Christa Smith says she has been inspired by Summit County’s endeavor to address mental health and substance abuse in the community and is especially excited to join the effort as the new coordinator for youth mental health and substance abuse prevention programs.

The Summit County Health Department hired Smith as the Communities That Care/Youth Programs coordinator through a grant from Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz and his wife, Elana Amsterdam. She started on Tuesday, Aug. 2.

The Health Department, along with various agencies, elected leaders and school district officials, is beginning to implement a plan to help close the gaps in the community’s mental health and substance abuse services.

“The Community’s That Care program is part of the mental wellness alliance and this particular initiative focuses on youth. It’s actually a system that is designed to bring all these stakeholders and partners to the table to create a comprehensive program,” Smith said. “I continue to be inspired by the power to harness the various stakeholders in the community to move toward the common goal.”

Communities That Care is an evidence-based program, Smith said, with various phases. She added, “Right now we are gathering and assessing data across all three school districts to see what the trends and needs are.”

“We will work with the various school districts and Valley Behavioral Health to help them define programs and create a comprehensive strategy and plan,” Smith said. “If we can see that there are certain risk factors that are high, we can implement privative programs and reevaluate and assess them as we go along.”

Aaron Newman, Summit County’s mental health and substance abuse programs director, stated in a press release that expanding programs and services for youth is a “central focus of the Summit County Mental Health and Substance Abuse Strategic Plan.”

Ollie Wilder, Park City Community Foundation Community Impact director, said the Communities That Care framework will benefit the county’s efforts.

“Mary Christa has a proven track record of establishing and growing coalitions and we are looking forward to increasing our mental health and substance abuse prevention efforts among the youth with her expertise,” Wilder said in a release.

Smith previously worked as the project manager for Summit Community Power Works coordinating a community-wide initiative to win Georgetown University’s national energy-saving competition. It was a two-year contract position. Since leaving the organization, Smith has worked with an event fundraising company promoting leadership development across the country.

From 1998 to 2001 she taught race, class and gender and ancient world history at the Oakley School.

“It was a tough audience, but I have such a love and passion for adolescents. It’s amazing,” Smith said. “I also just really love engagement with the local community and I’m excited to be able to serve in that capacity. I also think there is a recognition in the community that we have mental health and substance abuse issues within our population of young people and there is a sense of urgency in the community to address what we are seeing.

“We hope that will become the model for the rest of the country in what is possible in addressing these challenges in a cohesive and integrated way,” Smith said.

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