Local mental-health services to grow after donation from Vail Resorts CEO 

Katz and Amsterdam donate $175,000 to two local social-service providers

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - OUTREACH OUTLOOK A recent $100,000 grant from the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust will allow the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) to expand its outreach efforts in the community. The WCSS social-service team is pictured.
  • Photo submitted
  • OUTREACH OUTLOOK A recent $100,000 grant from the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust will allow the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) to expand its outreach efforts in the community. The WCSS social-service team is pictured.

Jackie Dickinson was overwhelmed when she first learned that the CEO of Vail Resorts and his wife would be donating $100,000 to Whistler's social-service provider.

"I was literally in tears," said Dickinson, executive director of the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS). "I'm an emotional person, but it really struck a chord with me because I know that this money is instrumental and much needed for our organization as we continue to grow and expand our services."

On Wednesday, Dec. 13, Vail Resorts announced its top executive Rob Katz and his wife, Elana Amsterdam, have donated more than US$2 million in grants to emotional wellness programs in "nearly every mountain resort community in which Vail Resorts operates," according to a release. That includes the $100,000 to the WCSS and $75,000 to the Sea to Sky Community Services Society (SSCSS).

"It is our hope that these grants will help improve access to much-needed services around mental health and substance abuse and reduce the stigma and misunderstanding around these issues to encourage more people to get the help they need," said Katz in the release.

The contribution was part of 30 grants issued by the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust to organizations in Colorado, Utah, California, New Hampshire, Vermont, as well as the Sea to Sky.

Locally, the grant to WCSS will go towards expanding outreach and behavioural services at a time that the organization is seeing demand skyrocket for its services, thanks to its new central location on Nesters Road.

"We anticipate going into this year in our new location that we would perhaps even double the amount of people (seeking outreach services), which means we're possibly on track to see 4,000 client meetings over one fiscal year," Dickinson said. "This money represents our ability to meet those needs."

WCSS had already budgeted for the addition of an outreach worker and an extra service day, Saturday. Dickinson said the organization was banking on revenues from its Re-Use-It and Re-Build-It centres to fund those initiatives, but with the grant, some of that pressure is relieved. Dickinson also noted that the funds will allow outreach workers to meet more residents "where they are at" in the community.

"We know we can connect with people in a really meaningful way and remove those barriers of a clinical setting that sometimes ... adds stigma when entering a space," she said. "We want to always be able to stick to the root of what we do, because we think it's essential to connect with people, and we think this grant investing in our program and our team will help us to meet people in those ways."

The $75,000 going to the SSCSS will support its post-partum support groups and men's counselling assistance program, allowing the group to offer those services in Whistler and Pemberton for the first time.

"When there is a private or a family donor, like in this case, that sees a need in a community and has some money that they want to invest in the community, and they partner with a tried, trusted and reputable organization like ourselves, it means the money can hit the ground running and get to those who need it most," said SSCSS executive director Jaye Summers.

Katz and Amsterdam have donated nearly $100 million in recent years to the family's charitable trust and foundation. In October, Beth Ganz was named as the foundation's executive director to help facilitate community engagement, sponsor research and collaboration, and to work with non-profit partners to improve mental-health outcomes in the resort communities where Vail Resorts operates.

"We are spending time getting to know the issues that each community faces around emotional wellness, and the non-profit organizations that are working to make an impact in this space every single day," said Ganz in the release. "I'm thrilled to join Rob and Elana in finding ways to help fill the gaps in delivering critical services and improve the outcomes across our extraordinary local communities."

The grants are in addition to the $12.9 million Vail Resorts contributed in 2018 to more than 250 community organizations.

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