New executive director hopes to help CONNECT health services in Summit County
Basin resident hired to helm local nonprofit organization
As a full-time working mom, Shauna Wiest rarely found a spare moment to become involved with her community.
Wiest, who has lived in Pinebrook since 1999 and works in the legal industry, has juggled her professional and parental responsibilities for nearly 25 years.
But, when she noticed an extended family member was struggling with a mental health issue, she decided to help them navigate what she described as an “overwhelming system.”
“I was overwhelmed with the lack of resources that were available in Utah,” Wiest said. “It was so difficult to navigate the system and to try and get someone to call you back. We finally took them out of state for an evaluation in California. It was very expensive.”
Last April, Wiest stumbled across a pamphlet for Mental Health Awareness month, a series of lectures, film screenings and group meetings organized by the local nonprofit CONNECT. The organization was formed by a group of residents who were concerned with the mental health services available in the community.
“It was really serendipitous,” Wiest said. “I never go to things like that, but when I saw they were featuring psychiatrists from the University of Utah I thought these people are for real. This is an organization I am interested in.”
Wiest began attending meetings, participating in events and expressing a sincere interest in pushing the agenda for increased awareness about mental health issues. She said she was impressed by the participation at the events, which highlighted the gaps in the resources available in the county.” She added, “A lot of people had the same issues and the same questions.”
Earlier this month, Wiest was hired as the executive director for CONNECT, to serve along with fellow board members and co-founders Ed and Lynne Rutan, Jim Whitney, Lana Youngberg, Chelsea Benetz-Robinson, Dyan F. Pignatelli, Ray Freer, Rev. Charles Robinson and Laura Waugaman. According to Ed Rutan, the organization’s active volunteer membership has nearly doubled and more than 300 subscribe to an email list.
“I’m very passionate about this subject matter, particularly with respect to children,” Wiest said. “CONNECT is the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and it is a gift for me to have mentors like Ed and Lynne Rutan that I could emulate. I feel so fortunate to have met them and I trust where we are taking CONNECT in the community.”
As executive director, Wiest will be primarily responsible for developing public awareness programs, connecting community partners and assisting with fundraising.
“We really rely on the community partners and I cannot tell you how wonderful they have been,” Wiest said. “It’s almost like we have a blank canvas. We are very optimistic because the county and the city have been so motivated to create a change.”
CONNECT members are currently helping the Summit County Health Department sift through the results of the Mental Health Awareness Assessment to start implementing strategic directives. CONNECT is also organizing a Mental Health Summit in April.
“We would like to see more service providers in the county and it will take time, but we are currently looking at other models across the United States to see what we can bring here,” Wiest said. “I would like to see increased provider capacity and a coordinated system so when an individual goes to their primary care doctor and he does a mental health assessment, if something doesn’t look right the patient is referred quickly, not six months from now.”
Wiest said she is “extremely encouraged” that a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse system can be created. She acknowledged the services currently available in the county, but said “there are not enough.”
“I think we have the evidence to show that a new system and facility are needed,” Wiest said. “I think we can do better than this. We live in this wealthy community of Summit County where we have $1 million homes, but, yet, we can’t provide appropriate crisis intervention care for those suffering mental health and substance abuse? These are the types of issues that keep me up at night.
“Not only do we want to increase capacity, but we want to have access to those services,” she said.
Ed Rutan, one of the co-founders and board president for CONNECT, said board members fully endorsed the hiring of Wiest. He said they easily recognized she was the best person for the job, adding “she just has an enormous amount of energy and dedication.”
“We had seen the work she has done with us as a volunteer and there wasn’t a slight bit of hesitation that she would be doing a great job. She has only been on board for 28 days and she is doing great,” Rutan said.
Rutan said Wiest’s hiring provides the organization with more stability. However, he said CONNECT will still heavily rely on volunteers.
“I think having Shauna on as an executive director on a paid basis really gives us piece of mind,” Rutan said. “We now have someone who is there to assure that things are going to get done and continue to move forward.”
For more information about CONNECT, go to their website at http://connectsummitcounty.org/. The site includes information about area service providers, ways to get involved and a calendar of events.
A former Summit County victim advocate who was facing a felony count of misusing public money pleaded guilty Tuesday to a lesser charge in a deal with prosecutors.