Thanks to a new charity established by Vail Resorts' CEO, the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) will be receiving $100,000 to help its outreach services for Sea to Sky residents struggling with mental health.
"This is a substantial donation, specifically directed to outreach, we've never had this happen before," said Cheryl Skribe, executive director of WCSS. "This is groundbreaking for us as far as the focus and support around our people to help others in the community. It's exciting and exceptional. It really speaks to Vail Resorts' belief in community and wanting to impact mental health in a meaningful way."
For the first round of donations from Robert Katz and Elana Amsterdam's charitable fund established last October, a total of $650,000 was awarded to non-profit organizations focused on mental health issues in Vail Resorts' communities.
"Our local communities have felt a tremendous and very personal impact from mental health and substance abuse issues, which has been amplified by a lack of services and the stigma that unfortunately still surrounds this topic," said Katz in a release. "Elana and I want to be a part of the solution as these communities put in place meaningful programs that will have a direct impact for the people that need it most."
As Whistler's population has grown through an economic boom, so too has the need for outreach services at WCSS. In 2009, the number of one-on-one outreach meetings was 498. In 2016, there were 2,124 outreach meetings, despite staffing levels remaining the same.
"Ultimately, we just want to make sure we have as healthy a community as possible," said Skribe. "But right now, we're in a bit of a perfect storm. We are seeing a lot of challenges as a result of the challenges of our community. It's not that we're not doing a good job, we're just having a hard time keeping up."
This funding comes at a good time for WCSS' outreach staff in what should be a busy year for them. Slated to move into a more central location on Nesters Rd. this spring, Skribe anticipates they will see both an increase to their staff and hours of availability after the move.
"I think we're entering a new territory in the community of Whistler around mental health," said Skribe. "We don't know what it looks like, but we know it's starting to present to us in our community in a very diverse way. This is a really great opportunity for us to work with employers around the community to get to know more intimately what we need to provide to keep this resort first-class and to keep our community strong and healthy."
Overall, the Katz family's charitable fund has a total of US$58 million to improve life in Vail Resorts' communities. The plan is to hire an adviser over the next six months to help take a critical look at all Vail Resorts' communities and decide how the biggest impact can be made with the donations.
While their initial focus is on mental health, down the line there will be an opportunity for more organizations to apply through an open-grant program. Local donations in the Sea to Sky corridor will be managed by the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation.
"The funds will come through the Foundation, and I'm in a really fortunate position because we help so many different non-profit organizations throughout the Sea to Sky corridor," said Mei Madden, executive director of the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation.
"We have our finger on the pulse of what the greatest needs are. When they said mental health, (WCSS) was the first one that came to mind, so we were able to make that work and I'm absolutely thrilled. Cheryl and her team just do such an amazing job with this, so I know this money will be put to very good use."
The Whistler Blackcomb Foundation has provided WCSS with funding from the Katz family before. In 2016, with a focus toward programs that support "the welfare and education" of children in resort towns, they donated $150,000 over three years to help continue WCSS' Healthy Choices Program, which goes into local schools and promotes healthy lifestyle choices.