Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
February 1, 2022
Chris Weiss | Second Wind Fund
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Chris Weiss and I’m the executive director of the Second Wind Fund. We are a 501(c)3 Colorado-based nonprofit that provides expedited access to potentially life-saving therapy for youth who are at risk for suicide.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I’ve been on a philanthropic journey since right after college. In 2008, I joined the United States Peace Corps, serving for two years in Belize in the youth development field. I knew if I could do something similar in the United States, I’d be a very happy person for the rest of my life. I got a job with Urban Peak, an organization in downtown Denver that provides a variety of services to youth experiencing homelessness. I eventually became the development manager which launched my fundraising career. After a few years, I took a left turn and became a mortgage broker. That was a reminder that my calling really is in the nonprofit space. I was looking for jobs and came upon Second Wind Fund. Just reading about the mission, I could tell the organization was awesome and is doing much-needed work. I became the development director in April 2016. After a shift in leadership, I became the interim executive director in September 2019, then the executive director in November 2019.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I’ve been very fortunate to have been given a lot in my life. There was a day when I got out of college and recognized I’d been given way too much. That started my philanthropic journey, beginning with the Peace Corps and then eventually working in the nonprofit space. There’s a lot for me to give and the nonprofit space is the best place for me to do that. The Peace Corps was an eye-opening experience and so was working at Urban Peak with youth experiencing homelessness. I’ve never dealt with any of that. I’ve never experienced homelessness, I’ve never had a mental health crisis. I’m just so fortunate. That’s what fuels my fire and continues to be the motivation for me. What I’m doing is so fulfilling, I haven’t felt like I’ve worked a day here at Second Wind Fund. It’s just a passion that all goes back to gratitude. I’m grateful for what I’ve been given and the talents that I’ve developed to be able to move this organization and the mission forward and save more Colorado youth from suicide. It is much needed. This isn’t a crisis that started due to COVID. It’s just been amplified.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Second Wind Fund has one of the best missions in the state of Colorado if you ask me. We take referrals from school districts all across the state for youth who are at risk of suicide and do not have access to mental health services. They may be lacking insurance coverage, or it could be a situation where their parents are just tapped out and cannot pay for additional therapy. That’s where we come in and offer up to 12 sessions of potentially life-saving therapy from a roster of more than 250 therapists across the state. If you’re working with a community mental health center, for example, you may be waiting two months for your first session of therapy. Waiting two months is not helpful for a youth in crisis and at risk of suicide. Our privatized network of therapists know they need to clear their schedule and get this youth on the books as soon as they get a referral from Second Wind Fund. That’s what makes us and our programs so beneficial to a number of communities across the state. We’re seen in the community as the last step before the emergency room. The impact we are making on a daily basis is potentially saving a young Colorado life from suicide, which is huge and super impactful when it comes to changing the world. That’s what motivates me to come to work every day.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I’m inspired by the youth out there who are in need of our services. There’s a kid out there right now who’s never heard of us. Maybe the school counselors have never heard of us, but after doing some research they may make a referral to us. Believe it or not, I’m also inspired by the broken mental healthcare system and knowing that it’s so difficult for families and youth to navigate the system. Second Wind Fund makes it as easy as possible to connect with a therapist in a particular community, and that’s inspiring. The program is much needed right now. Second Wind Fund shouldn’t exist, but unfortunately, youth continue to fall through the cracks of the traditional system on a daily basis. We’re really there to prevent that as much as possible.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
My vision is to make sure that we are known across the state. We’re currently in 30 counties and I think there will be a day when we are known in all 64 counties. We’re moving forward with a plan to place regional Second Wind Fund employees throughout the state. We’re in the process of hiring more representatives, so my vision is in play and we’re moving forward with it. What makes fundraising so exciting for me is knowing that the money is going towards making sure that our program is known across the state.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
I can tell you how awesome our program is, and the life-saving work that we’re doing, but unfortunately, there are still stigmas around mental health. There are still hesitations around going to therapy. When I talk about providing those 12 sessions of therapy, not every youth or family is willing to go into that therapist’s office even if it means it could potentially save their life. I think a huge societal challenge that we’re facing is a continued stigma around seeking mental health services. Colorado is a diverse state with pockets of communities that can be judgmental about mental health treatment. As a society, we need to take mental health very seriously. We need to continue to make investments and break down barriers in terms of youth accessing therapy. It’s an uphill climb.
We were facing a mental health crisis well before COVID. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Colorado youth. But one of the benefits of the pandemic is the spotlight that has been placed on mental health. We’ve got 15 to 20 years’ worth of data that shows therapy works in terms of reducing suicidal ideations. Therapists in our network administer suicidal ideation questionnaires over their 12 sessions. The data shows that suicidal ideations reduce over the course of treatment. That’s an encouraging sign and demonstrates the impact therapy can have.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
Second Wind Fund is doing some awesome work on a daily basis throughout Colorado. We encourage people to talk about us. Talk about us to your neighbors, in your community groups, and at your school. You never know the impact that could have. You never know what sharing one of our social media posts or even just liking our page will do for you or a family that’s in need.
I want people to know we’re doing the best that we can and we need more support so that we can move forward with our vision of having regional employees across the state. This isn’t a one- to two-year project, we want to make it sustainable. We want to make sure that we’re present for a number of years until we’re not needed anymore. I just want people to know that we’re out here working hard every day.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
“Ideas are shit. Execution is the game.” I think that is totally applicable when it comes to small- and medium-sized nonprofits. The focus really needs to be on execution. How do we execute our plan? How do we execute our mission on a daily basis? At the end of the day, it’s not really the ideas or planning that matter. It’s how well do we execute what we’re here to do.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Talk about us. Explore our website. Do your research. If you’re looking to make an impact, particularly when it comes to youth mental health or youth suicide prevention, Second Wind Fund is a great avenue for that. We’re not the only solution when it comes to youth suicide prevention, it’s a community effort. But when you look at who’s making a difference when it comes to youth suicide prevention in the state of Colorado, Second Wind Fund is at the top of that list, so please continue to talk about us.
At Orapin, we believe those who are working for the greater good should be known, supported, and celebrated. We give do-good organizations the resources and support they need to increase awareness and grow their audience so they can maximize their impact. If would like to be featured in INSPIRED IMPACT™, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.