Disaster Recovery: UCCS awarded $400k to expand mental health and trauma training program

Posted at 4:09 PM, Mar 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 23:56:51-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — News 5 is tracking how money from the American Recovery Plan Act is being spent locally to help our community rebound.

The UCCS Lyda Hill Institute for Human Resilience was recently awarded nearly $400,000 from El Paso County leaders.

Charles Benight, Ph.D.
Charles Benight, Ph.D.

"I've done a lot of disaster research over many years and one of the things that I realized immediately was that the pandemic was going to effect everyone," Charles Benight, the executive director of the Institute for Human Resilience said.

Benight developed a program called "GRIT"—it stands for the Greater Resilience Information Toolkit.

It's a 5-hour online training program that teaches people how to help others in our community cope during disasters such as wildfires, mass shootings or most recently---the impacts felt by COVID-19.

GRIT website
GRIT web page

"That (the pandemic) has created a lot of pressure on mental health for a lot of different people," Benight said. "We're seeing it (pressure) with public health organizations all over the country that are being challenged by the stress and burnout people are experiencing. As a result of that, the need now is not to necessarily figure out how to get back to normal where we were before, but how do we move forward."

The course is free and helps arm everyday people with knowledge from trained professionals on how to talk to friends and loved ones who may have witnessed or been part of a traumatic event.

Nicole Weis
Nicole Weis, Director of Community Training and Empowerment

"We have such a variety of people who have taken this training," Nicole Weis, Director of Community Training and Empowerment said. "We have CEO'S, firefighters, healthcare workers, nurses, and teachers."

Weis says the nearly $400k the department received for this program will go to help market it publicly so that people know there's always help available for anyone experiencing trauma or a mental health crisis.

She says she's also working on launching an app where people can get resources from the comfort of their smartphones.

UCCS Building
Lyda Hill Insitute for Human Resilience

"Before I became a director here at the institute, I worked in 1-on-1 crisis situations," she said. "I worked with individuals who are dealing with something that just happened and they are finding their way through the mud. It can be overwhelming to just look just look at (for example) United Way 2-1-1 (or other resources) and say 'Where do I even start? Who do I go to? How do I get there?'"

She says the GRIT program is meant to be a one-stop-shop for people---no endless searching for help.

Benight points out that now more than ever before, there's a mental health crisis and more people are needing resources. The GRIT program is just another tool in the toolbox.

The grant money will focus on the program's expansion, marketing strategy, and app development.

Although there are costs with the program, the training is provided and available at no cost to anyone who wants it. It is not exclusive to UCCS students.

To learn more about GRIT, click here.

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