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New Mental Well-Being Initiative Seeks Community’ Help
Tuesday, January 16, 2024


Wood River Valley residents are being asked to help shape the future of mental well-being in Blaine County by taking part in one of six Community Engagement Sessions.

Members of the new Mental Well-Being Initiative want residents to help fine-tune strategies that those in the Mental Well-Being Initiative have been working on for the past six months.

Six Community Engagement Sessions will be held:

January 18 · YMCA · 6-7:30 pm · English w/Spanish interpretation plus free child care and dinner

January 24 · The Community Library · noon-1:30 pm · English only

January 25 · Hailey Town Center West · 6-7:30 pm · English only plus free child care and dinner

February 1 · St. Charles Church · 6:30-8 pm· Spanish only plus free child care and dinner

February 7 · The Community Campus · 1-2:30 pm · English only

February 15 · The Hunger Coalition · 6-7:30 pm · Spanish only

The Mental Well-Being Initiative had its genesis in a conversation St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation and  St. Luke’s Health System had with 50-plus stakeholders to map out the valley’s well-being ecosystem from prevention and intervention to treatment and recovery.

They paid particular attention to identifying gaps that needed to be filled and strengths that could be amplified with help from data, said Project Manager Jennas Vagias.

Stakeholders said mental health and well-being is impacted by such factors as lack of affordable housing, disparities of wealth, food insecurity, inadequate childcare and full-day preschool options, lack of opportunities for young people to build meaningful social connections outside of school and lack of mental health care providers, including Spanish-speaking providers.

Tyler Norris, who was invited by St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation to chair the initiative, grew up in the Wood River Valley. Now 64, he was in the first graduation class of what is now Sun Valley Community School in 1977.

There, he acknowledges, he got involved in substance misuse along with a few other students and was happily given a second chance to do something meaningful with his life. He went on from Community School to get a bachelor’s degree in World Political Economy from Colorado College and a Master of Divinity degree from Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. He also graduated from Harvard Business School’s Executive Program.

He helped to start Step Denver, a nonprofit serving men fighting addiction. He worked with John Denver’s Windstar Foundation, creating a global environmental network that educated the Japanese about the impact of cutting down hardwood trees and more.

And he served as vice president for Total Health at Kaiser Permanente and as chief executive of the Well Being Trust, an impact philanthropy bent on advancing the mental, social and spiritual health of the nation. In that capacity he has shaped health and development initiatives focused on mental health, addiction, social and racial justice the environment, food security and housing in 500 communities in the U.S. and around the world.

Along the way, he helped establish the national park system in Tajikistan and helped open the Abraham Path, comprised of more than 2,000 miles of scenic trails in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel and the Sinai, to offer positive intercultural encounters and economic benefits to communities along the way.

“I’ve spent my life focusing on physical health and well-being and ongoing challenges around mental health issues, including death by suicide and anxiety and depression,” he said. “There is so much good work happening by wonderful people in this community but, still, there is so much suffering and difficult outcomes.”

Those involved with the Mental Well-Being Initiative sat down this fall with stakeholders from all parts and perspectives of the community as they pondered such questions as “How do we make the investment in this community that can move the needle, save lives?”

“Now we’re coming to a place where we ask the community to look at what we’ve come up with and tell us; Did we get it right? That’s what the meetings in January and February are,” Norris said.

Those who have taken part so far say that there are a lot of positives in the community, including a good healthcare system and organizations like the Flourish Foundation that cultivate mindful awareness and emotional coping skills, including teaching kids how to self-regulate themselves when they’re feeling anxious or depressed.

“But there’s a sense they’re not connected,” said Norris. “We need more of an ecosystem, not just a bunch of programs and projects.”

Among the needs being discussed are:

A welcoming place for teenagers to hang out, probably in Hailey

A crisis stabilization place where a person who’s struggling can go, rather than the emergency room or jail. This would be a 23.5-hour center where a person can relax, have a cup of tea and a sandwich and perhaps receive some therapy, Norris said.

Increasing the number of mental health providers serving the valley.

Offering more affordable and more bilingual mental health counseling, and

More childcare and day care options.

The Foundation believes some of these options may require some money and it believes it can identify some people capable of putting money into the effort, said Norris.

“These broader conversations with the community will focus on identifying tangible ideas our community can advance on a short-, medium-, and long-term timeline with actions capable of delivering improved mental well-being in our valley,” added Vagias.


Daniel Abrahamson (Roots Community Health Center), Amanda Deaver (Upstream Strategic Communications), Megan Edwards (St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation), Sally Gillespie (Spur Foundation), Jeanne Liston (formerly at the Hunger Coalition), Tyler Norris (CEO Alliance for Mental Health), Erin Pfaeffle (St. Luke’s Health System), Deb Robertson (St. Luke’s Wood River), Sarah Seppa (St. Luke’s Center for Community Health), Megan Tanous (St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation) and Jenna Vagias (Project Coordinator).

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