SUBLETTE COUNTY – Scenic mountain vistas, endless outdoor recreation and small-town hospitality define life in Sublette County.
“Rural areas are lovely, they have all these things that we want,” said Melinda Bobo, rector at St. Andrew’s in the Pines Episcopal Church.
The area’s natural beauty and friendliness belie the stubborn fact that small communities are tough places to live and often struggle with mental health and suicide.
“Rural areas are highly stressful because you are isolated,” Bobo said. “It’s hard to get to places if you need help. The hospital is 80 miles away one way and 100 miles away the other way. If you need something, you can’t necessarily run down to the store and buy it. There’s always this awareness that if something happens here, it’s not a quick fix. It’s not an easy fix.”
Bobo is intimately involved in mental health and suicide prevention. In addition to her role as a spiritual leader, Bobo serves as chairwoman for the Sublette Prevention Coalition and works with numerous agencies across the county to improve mental health resources.
The pandemic wreaked havoc on mental health. An opportunity arose, however, for diverse organizations in Sublette County to partner for a solution.
St. Andrew’s and St. Hubert’s Episcopal churches, with help from the Foundation for the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming, teamed up with the Boulder Roll Poker Run group, the Women’s Advocacy Group and private donors to establish a public mental health fund.
The funds are available to anyone in Sublette County, even visitors or short-term residents experiencing a mental health crisis, said Bobo. The fund is separate from other COVID-19 relief programs and people do not need to prove that their mental health struggles are related to the pandemic, Bobo said.
“We didn’t want people to have to try and figure out, ‘Is what’s going on to me because of COVID? Is it exacerbated by COVID?’” Bobo added. “That really doesn’t matter, because you’re feeling what you’re feeling and you’re going through what you’re going through and we need to deal with it and we need to help you with it.”
The process to receive financial help is easy. There are no applications and the administration of funds is anonymous, said Bobo. People seeking help need only contact a mental health provider at an agency or a private counselor. The client and their counselor discuss financial need and the counselor or agency reaches out to the mental health fund.
“We really feel like mental health is a difficult enough topic for people just by itself,” said Bobo. “We don’t want any obstacles.”
Getting the ball rolling
In April 2020, as COVID-19 overran the planet, the Foundation for the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming stepped in to offer relief.
The Foundation offered each Episcopal congregation a $10,000 grant to “spend in their communities however they wanted,” said Bobo.
Realizing that the pandemic was going to be a long-term crisis, the Foundation released a second round of grants in July 2020.
The Foundation’s funds may appear small when compared to the billions in federal and state COVID-19 relief dollars, but the grants allowed individual congregations to immediately respond to specific local needs in a constantly shifting situation, Bobo said.
“The congregations on the ground are the closest to the community – they know what the issues are. They are best able to say, ‘Here is where a $1,000, $10,000, $50,000 could make a significant change in the community.”
St. Andrew’s used its grant money to support community agencies and help individuals with diverse needs, from childcare and rental assistance to helping with medical bills and vehicle expenses, Bobo said.
In October, St. Andrew’s and St. Hubert’s received a $50,000 Collaborative Foundation Grant to alleviate COVID-19’s impacts.
The congregations set aside part of the second grant for mental health and expanded the fund with the Collaborative Foundation Grant, Bobo said.
A growing need in local schools initiated the momentum to maintain a separate mental health fund for people of all ages.
“The school districts came to the Prevention Coalition and said, ‘We’ve got kids that won’t accept referrals for counseling because they feel like their parents have enough to worry about and they don’t want to add any financial burden to the stress they have already,” said Bobo.
Bobo said the church did not think twice about reaching out.
“It’s this opportunity that we have, as the local extension of the Diocese of Wyoming, to be able to have that impact on people’s lives that we as Christians are called to have. Period. That’s our job.”
And keep on rolling
More than 100 people showed on an early Saturday morning in June to participate in the fifth annual Boulder Roll Poker Run. Motorcycles and classic cars lined the highway, conjuring up fun, freedom and adventure.
The event organizers had a very serious mission, though. The Boulder Roll Poker Run group’s primary focus is suicide prevention and awareness, said the organizers. The spokespeople requested to remain anonymous.
The Poker Run is one of the group’s largest fundraisers, and the 2021 event broke all records with approximately $13,000 raised to support suicide prevention programs.
For three years, donations went to the National Suicide Lifeline, said an organizer. Last year, the group decided to keep the funds local.
“What we realized is that everyone within our circle as been touched or severely, immediately affected by suicide,” they said.
The Boulder Roll is about building a community of care and ending the stigma that often surrounds conversations about mental health and suicide.
“We all ride for somebody,” one spokesperson said. “A lot of us ride for more than one person – some of us know several people that have passed away from suicide. So we ride in memory of them and we ride for their families and to give anybody that we can the hope that there is somebody that cares.”
The organization learned about the Episcopal Church’s mental health fund and jumped at the chance to contribute to a “brilliant cause.”
The Boulder Roll Poker Run group continues to grow its presence in the community. The group handed out pamphlets on the mental health fund during the Rendezvous Parade and hold a community potluck organized in December.
“As a community, we’re the first line of defense. We see those signs (of suicide). Our community is getting trained in QPR. If we can redirect someone towards mental health when we realize their exit moments, then we have saved a life.”
The group is ready to roll and raise more for the mental health fund during the 2022 Boulder Roll.
“We’re going to triple our amount next year,” said an organizer.
Making an impact
The mental health fund is already helping people in Sublette County receive the resources they need. Dayle Read-Hudson, a private counselor in Sublette County, told the Roundup that several clients have made use of the opportunity to seek help from the fund.
“It’s a beautiful thing just to see the relief on people’s faces when they find out there is funding available for them,” Read-Hudson said. “They’ve been so grateful. They have the sense that somebody out there cares.”
People in Sublette County no longer have to decide between paying for groceries and receiving mental health care.
“It just opens doors,” said Read-Hudson. “The fund eliminates financial barriers and alleviates some of the worry.”
Bobo, Read-Hudson and the Boulder Roll folks encouraged anyone in need to reach out and seek help right away.