CONNECT Summit County brings support network to those in need
Each May, mental wellness nonprofits across the country bring attention to mental health issues and work to reduce stigma. In Summit County, an organization has made similar strides in letting the community know they are supported.
Since its inception in 2016, CONNECT Summit County’s mission has been to increase awareness and reduce barriers related to behavioral health services in the Park City area and create a network of support across the county. When the coronavirus pandemic began, the organization, and others like it, quickly realized there was a growing need for resources in the community. Over the past two years, as mental health has eroded, CONNECT Summit County has attempted to bring people together in a time of distance.
Now, for the first time since 2020, nearly all of the organization’s Mental Health Awareness Month events are happening in person. For Julya Sembrat, Executive Director of CONNECT Summit County, it’s exciting to get back to business as usual.
“With the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in people reaching out, which shows there’s a reduction in stigma,” Sembrat said. “Summit County has broken taboos, but there are still feelings of shame. It takes time, so communication is important.
Last year, CONNECT Summit County made it a priority not to exclude those seeking services based on cost, language or culture.
To kick off Mental Health Awareness Month, the organization and Park City Film have teamed up for a screening of “Marvelous and the Black Hole,” a coming-of-age story that tackles heartbreak and the moments difficult. The organizations then collaborated on a screening of “For Love”, a documentary about the impact of colonization on the Indigenous population in Canada. The film addresses the child welfare system in the country as well as the loss of cultural identity and includes themes of resilience and resurgence.
Summit County teens also had the chance to share their insights on mental health, addiction, and how adults can better support young people in their lives during a youth panel hosted by CONNECT Summit County. .
On Saturday, the organization will hold its biggest event, which is a mental wellness celebration, at noon at Park City Community Church. Marketed as a mental health festival, Sembrat dit Connect, Dance, Play is the result of a collaboration with several community organizations.
Attendees are encouraged to connect with their creative minds, take free arts and crafts classes, or watch Viva el Folklore Internacional, a Spanish dance group. People can also practice mindfulness by walking through a maze or healing through animal connection by spending time with puppies. Clients can also take a meditation or Qigong lesson to learn new coping skills that promote mental well-being.
The event will also include games like Connect 4, Cornhole, and Giant Jenga, as well as food vendors and information about community resources and upcoming classes. At the end of the day, participants are invited to an open mic session to share their experiences or offer support to others.
Sembrat said the event, like most of the organization’s activities, helps connect Summit County and reminds residents they are not alone. COVID-19 brought about a transition period for most families as they grappled with job insecurity, housing issues and other uncertainties. Combined with the existential issues of climate change and the ongoing drought, Sembrat said many have seen mental health issues start to arise.
“The world has certainly changed. It’s been difficult to maintain a sense of community,” she said. “People look to themselves and to others. It’s not just young people who need support, it’s also older people.
As people struggle to cope, Sembrat said CONNECT Summit County has noticed gaps in available solutions. For example, the area’s lack of providers means an individual waits up to three months to be seen.
She said her organization stepped in and started developing more programs, like support groups, to bring people together. One of the goals of CONNECT Summit County this month is to help people solve their problems and teach them how to cope until they can talk to a mental health expert.
“How are they doing until this meeting?” asked Sembrat.
CONNECT Summit County also works to reduce barriers associated with mental health services. No one should have to worry about paying for therapy, Sembrat said, so the organization rolled out a financial aid program with support from donors and community members to help cover the cost of care. People living or working in Summit County are welcome to apply and can receive up to 12 sessions per year with a therapist of their choice.
Sembrat said so far five people have applied for the financial aid package, but she expects that number to increase in the future. Since the organization started collecting data, around 2020, 770 calls have been made to the Peer Navigation Line – which is not a crisis hotline but a tool that connects callers to support and help. information – and 509 resources were provided.
To reach more of the community, CONNECT Summit County also revamped its mental health resource guide with new, updated information in English and Spanish and distributed the brochures throughout the county.
Sembrat said the effort is part of the organization’s goal to become more unified with area vendors and nonprofits rather than competing with them. The increased collaboration will help CONNECT Summit County further push its strategic goals and plans to engage more with the community and improve attitudes toward mental health and wellness, Sembrat said.
She also highlighted the work of the Mental Wellness Alliance, which became a renewed priority for several partners last May as the organizations better define how they will work together in the future. Led by the Park City Community Foundation, the alliance covers a multitude of mental health issues, including substance use, treatment and prevention for children and adults.
Mental health and addiction go hand in hand, Sembrat said, and drug use has increased in Wasatch Back. That’s why CONNECT Summit County plans to develop new sober events and programs this year.
“We want to reduce the stigma and let the community know they are supported,” she said.
Although May is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month, the organization’s efforts do not stop at the beginning of June. Later this summer, the nonprofit is hosting an event with Summit Community Gardens to encourage residents to get outside and enjoy nature.
The event, scheduled for August, is a precursor to Suicide Prevention Month in September. Sembrat said there are plans to hold several events on the topic in the fall, including one that focuses specifically on youth sports and athlete mental health.
In November, CONNECT Summit County will gear up for Live PC Give PC, one of the community’s biggest charity events. Awareness efforts will continue through the pre-holiday winter season, which Sembrat says is when many people need support.
One of the biggest challenges in connecting to people in need is the time it takes to build relationships and education about available resources. But once someone is ready to open up, Sembrat said he’ll see how receptive the community can be.
“I wish more people knew that it’s okay to be unwell. I hope they know they have an organization here to represent them that they can contact,” Sembrat said. We’re here to provide you with a starting point… CONNECT is the starting point, we’ll help support you, and we’ll help get you where you need to be.”
English speakers can connect with a peer browser by calling or texting 435-776-4357. A Spanish-speaking peer navigator is available at 435-655-1230. For more information, visit connectsummitcounty.org.