The Marshall Fire that broke out in Boulder County, Colorado in December 2021 destroyed hundreds of homes, leaving many families and individuals traumatized. The disaster also triggered an outpouring of generosity from the community and philanthropic organizations. The Community Foundation Boulder County, which has been raising funds for local disaster philanthropy, raised over $43 million since the fire, likely setting a record for local disaster philanthropy in the county.
Much of the philanthropic money has gone into rebuilding the homes that were destroyed by the flames. However, a portion of the money has also been dedicated to helping survivors recover mentally from the trauma of the fire amid compounding crises. The fire came at a time when the community was already in crisis and traumatized from a number of different events, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the King Soopers shooting that had shaken people’s sense of safety across the county.
Tatiana Hernandez, the CEO of the Community Foundation Boulder County, stated in an interview that the organization disbursed $250,000 to Jewish Family Service of Colorado, a nonprofit human services organization, in February 2022 to provide free counseling to the thousands of people whose lives were upended by the Marshall Fire. In total, the foundation has given $500,000 to JFS.
However, even with the benefits that the funding has brought, the many months since the fire have revealed the significant mental health needs of the community and the resource limitations in addressing them. Many therapists did not sign up for the JFS portal, citing already-long waiting lists as demand for their services exploded in recent years due to the pandemic and the adolescent mental health “national emergency,” among other factors.
The JFS portal, which was first set up to help meet pandemic demand and expanded after the fire, had 258 providers in its system as of December 2022. Providers voluntarily signed up for the portal and had to agree to take on at least two Marshall fire clients. More than 850 people are currently registered clients in the system. To be eligible for services, the person’s home or business had to have been damaged or destroyed by the fire, or they were evacuated. First responders are also eligible. Not all providers in the portal and registered clients have given or received therapy sessions. According to JFS, about 680 people are actively receiving therapy.
For some who are not seeing a therapist, it’s not because they don’t want to, but because the program is bumping against a problem that is nationwide: the number of people in need of mental health services has risen while providers remain in short supply. In Boulder, the problem is even more significant.
“Unfortunately in Boulder County, there aren’t enough clinicians who are on insurance panels,” said Jennifer Banyan, vice president of programs at the Community Foundation. “And that’s a structural issue and a systems issue.”
The demand for mental health resources spiked after the one-year anniversary of the fire. The anniversary spurred a surge of people looking for mental health resources, stretching the capacity of the program. Boulder therapist Deb Berghuis shared that she received a whole new batch of clients that had not come forward to ask for services during the whole first year. “Every single client that I’ve picked up in the last couple of months has been triggered by just the enormity of what actually happened. And they just dealt with it the whole time. But then this anniversary was just huge for them.”
Berghuis has taken on seven Marshall Fire clients through the JFS portal. However, finding a therapist is more complicated than just picking a name. Kendra Schreck’s family was displaced from their smoke-damaged home for four months. She reached out to JFS and got a copy of the provider list. It took a few tries, but she finally found someone who helped her to get the necessary funding to start her own business. With this newfound financial support, she began working tirelessly to make her business a success. She spent countless hours researching her industry, networking with potential clients, and fine-tuning her marketing strategy. Despite the many challenges she faced, she remained committed to her dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur.
As her business grew, she began to face new obstacles. One of the biggest challenges she faced was managing her time effectively. She realized that she needed to be more strategic in how she allocated her time, so she started creating detailed schedules and prioritizing her tasks. This helped her to stay focused and ensure that she was using her time as efficiently as possible.
Over time, her business continued to grow, and she became recognized as a leader in her industry. She was invited to speak at conferences and events, and her business was featured in major publications. Despite her success, she remained humble and focused on her goals, always striving to improve and grow her business.
Looking back, she realized that her journey to entrepreneurship was not easy, but it was worth it. Through hard work, perseverance, and a strong sense of purpose, she was able to turn her dream into a reality. She was grateful for the support she received along the way, and she hoped to inspire others to pursue their own entrepreneurial dreams.
Another major challenge she faced was maintaining a healthy work-life balance. As a dedicated entrepreneur, she often found herself working long hours, sacrificing time with family and friends. However, she recognized that this was not sustainable in the long run, and that she needed to prioritize self-care and time for relaxation. She started setting aside time each day for exercise, meditation, and other activities that helped her to recharge and stay balanced.