Leadership Interview: Jennifer McAtamney, Executive Director, Building Hope

Building Hope, established in June 2016 by the Summit Foundation, became a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2019.
It’s mission: to create a more coordinated, effective, responsive mental health system that promotes emotional health, reduces stigma and improves access, care and support for everyone in Summit County. Its new executive director, Jennifer McAtamney, discusses Building Hope’s role in the community.
Ascent: Can you talk about Building Hope’s genesis and how it ties into the region’s suicide rate?
McAtamney: The community has really struggled for years with issues around mental health and substance use. It’s what we call the paradise paradox: We live in a beautiful resort area, but the wages are low and the mental health needs are high.
I would say it took a perfect storm. A number of longtime locals committed suicide in a short period of time. One of them, Patti Casey committed suicide in 2016. She had been deeply involved in the community and as a trustee of the Summit Foundation.
Her death took everyone by surprise on so many levels. Here was a family with excellent resources, a family involved in the community. And even with that, her struggles overcame her. 
I will never forget her funeral service: They put her struggles front and center. And as a result of the family’s honesty, the community really began to rally. It was pretty amazing.
Building Hope was born out of that. It’s a community-wide initiative designed to create a more coordinated, effective and responsive mental health system that promotes emotional health, reduces stigma and improves access to care and support for everyone in Summit County. 
It began with a series of stakeholder meetings. Instead of creating yet another needs assessment, they cross-walked about 15 existing ones to identify what was going on with the mental health system.
Ascent: How are you connecting with individuals and coordinating with other organizations?
McAtamney: We’ve been rolling out several initiatives; I’ll share two of them:
We created a scholarship program, so if you have a financial barrier around accessing therapy, we will give you a voucher for up to 12 sessions with a therapist in our network. And we now have a network of about 50 therapists. This way, we’re supporting private providers, and we’re also making sure that we’re lowering that barrier so people can get the help that they need.
Another project is a 24/7 co-responder program with the sheriff’s office. When a call to 911 is identified as a mental health call, a plainclothes deputy and a clinician will respond in an unmarked car. The idea is to divert individuals from either jail or the emergency room. Potentially, the team can help the person stabilize in place. Being able to do this in the least restrictive manner possible and meet people where they are will be a game changer for people who are in crisis. 
Ascent: What would you like the community to understand about Building Hope?
  1. We believe mental health needs to be front and center. A large part of our mission is to remove stigma: It’s ok not to be ok.  
  2. We’re a scrappy little nonprofit that relies on community support.
  3. We are here to do systems work, to make sure we’re growing capacity. In Summit County, we have a very strong nonprofit community, and whenever you think about starting a new one it’s bound to get people nervous because of the competitive landscape around funding. We aren’t competing for that. We do a lot of work organizing and streamlining the system, but we do not deliver direct services. As a result, we have been embraced by the community in a huge way. They trust us.