Ouray resident fearlessly propels mental health forward for her county

By Renata Hill, Moodfuel

Hometown woman invents a solution to improve mental health county-wide

The residents of close-knit Ouray County in southwestern Colorado grieved deeply over a young neighbor's suicide last year, but felt stuck and frustrated, unable to make life better. Enter force of nature and Moodfuel Changemaker for March 2024 Alex Durham.

Photo of a young, blonde woman smiling and holding a hedgehog
Alex Durham and her hedgehog Amy Rose. Photo from the Voyager Youth website

Durham is the executive director of Voyager Youth, a local organization focused on guiding children and teens toward wellbeing through various confidence-building and learning activities. With her background as a positive youth development trainer and certified community mobilizer, she knew it was time to lead her neighbors toward healing, but in a new way. Her idea was innovative but risky – creating a county mental health fair from scratch.

"There's lots of trauma in our community and I think people need a better understanding of the resources we do have," Durham said. "If we can link them all together, we can prioritize mental health."

Normally, a public health agency would lend expertise, build momentum and provide funding for such an event, but when there was hesitation, Durham appealed directly to this mountain county, population 5,035. As a hometown woman, she knew almost everyone. From the county sheriff to small businesses to other nonprofits to folks on the street, Durham and her colleague, Catherine Geras, evangelized their mission, publicized it statewide and collected enough money to pay for it.

Rectangle of Colorado with Ouray County circled in red
Location of Ouray County in Colorado. Image from Google Maps

Durham said that gathering local mental health organizations together and inviting the public would persuade families and interested neighbors to participate, learn and talk. They would recover together.

Soon, the event generated its own momentum and enthusiasm. A DJ agreed to spin tunes, a potluck was planned and three Spanish-speakers volunteered to interpret. It would all take place in a familiar, safe setting at the Ouray Community Center for a manageable three hours.

A young, white woman in a yellow shirt & jeans stands with a microphone next to a screen with a slide
Alex Durham opens the fair with a presentation as community members look on. Photo courtesy of Alex Durham
A young, white man with hair in a bun & wearing headphones chats with a bearded man in a yellow shirt
DJ Pat Light takes a request from a Ouray County Mental Health Fair participant. Photo courtesy of Alex Durham

The "first" Ouray County Mental Health Fair occurred on Sat., Mar. 6 with a healthy turnout, larger than expected with 23 organizations and about 110 residents attending. Durham said she scheduled a follow-up, community "debriefing" as well.

"I think people left feeling inspired about knowing more, especially around a cause like mental health. I hope we'll have more people next time," she said.

One white woman in a pink cap gets a spoonful of food from a seated woman laughing
Heather Toth (L) and Lanae Pierce enjoy the potluck. Photo courtesy of Alex Durham

Next time can't come too soon, according to Durham. She's planning for a subsequent mental health event for which neighbors have vowed lots of additional support. Could this be the start of a replicable, community-driven mental health resource model? Durham wants to find out.

Moodfuel Resource Guide offers links to zero-to-low cost programs, groups & listeners statewide
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Supporting people in recovery from trauma and suicidal intensity is my Why. I live differently abled & am proudly part-Indigenous (Mvskoke).
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