Aspen Valley Foundation cuts off Hope Center early

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

A statement from the Aspen Valley Foundation last week paints a positive picture of the end of the “incubation period” for the Aspen Hope Center, which the foundation created more than three years ago.

But officials at the center say their pending independence, which officially begins Nov. 1, is not as rosy as the foundation’s statement suggests. They are grateful for the start-up assistance and financial support the foundation provided — $1.4 million since June 2010 — but they didn’t expect the break to occur until the end of the year.

In short, the center, which provides mental-health referral services, crisis intervention and around-the-clock suicide prevention, is in dire need of money as it struggles to remain open over the next few months while seeking new funding sources.

“We have sense of urgency now,” said Sandy Iglehart, a member of the center’s board. “We’re being spun off sooner rather than later. We thought we had until at least Jan. 1.”

The foundation’s support accounted for about 80 percent of the center’s budget, according to Michelle Muething, Aspen Hope Center program director. The center, which employs six full-time workers, operates on a budget of roughly $500,000 annually, she said.

“We are not ungrateful or unappreciative of all of the foundation’s support,” Iglehart said. “Now, we really need the community’s support in order to continue our programs while we take on a huge fundraising effort.”

Iglehart and Muething said they don’t know why the foundation decided to cut the cord sooner than expected.

Kris Marsh, president and CEO of the foundation, could not be reached for comment Monday. The foundation’s administrative offices were closed for the Columbus Day holiday.

In the foundation’s statement, Marsh said the foundation provided money over more than three years “to give the Aspen Hope Center a strong start.”

“We always planned to facilitate their independence by the end of this year, and we are certainly ahead of schedule,” she said in a prepared statement. “We are tremendously proud of the accomplishments of the Hope Center in saving lives in our community. We are certain that they will continue and flourish in the future as a sustainable mental-health program.”

When asked how long the center will be able to survive beyond Oct. 31, both Iglehart and Muething said in unison, “Not long.”

“This is kind of a shock to us,” Iglehart said. “The Aspen Hope Center itself is not in crisis; it’s providing an amazing service. We are in crisis in terms of funding.”

The center, which achieved nonprofit status earlier this year, has served more than 1,800 individuals throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, the foundation’s statement said. Three-fourths of those clients were “crisis-related in nature,” the foundation said. In addition, the center has trained more than 2,500 valley residents in suicide prevention.

The creation of the center resulted from a study the foundation commissioned in 2009 that assessed mental-health needs in the Aspen area.

To reach the Hope Center’s administrators, call 970-925-5858.