Roaring Fork Valley Youth Facing Compounding Mental Health Problems, YouthZone Says

Written by Lucy Peterson, published in the Aspen Times on January 24, 2024

Read the Article on the Post Independent website HERE.


YouthZone staff members accept a generous donation from Alpine Bank employees. YouthZone/Courtesy photo

Kids and families in the Roaring Fork Valley are increasingly dealing with multiple issues, including substance abuse and mental health decline, YouthZone Deputy Development Director Ali Naaseh-Shahry said.

The non-profit, which aims to help minimize juvenile behavior in kids ages 12-18 from Aspen to Parachute, is not seeing individual problems rise, but rather existing problems, compounding with others, he told the Snowmass Village Town Council in a Jan. 16 meeting.

“We’re finding that comorbidity is rising,” he said. “We used to get clients that would come to us, and they were relatively low-risk; they would maybe have one problem going on that they were dealing with, substance abuse, or they were dealing with trouble in school, or they were dealing with interfamilial disputes.”

This increase requires more support for students and, ultimately, more trained staff members.

“We don’t see numbers (of cases) going up, but we do see kids coming to us with higher and higher risk.” Naaseh-Shahry said. “While the numbers are stable, the levels of support that they require is growing, and that requires a staff that is trained and willing to take on those challenges, which is challenging.”

Students who are referred to YouthZone’s services are only required to pay $150 for a two-hour assessment. But the non-profit provides thousands of dollars worth of services to families, he said.

Last year, the Snowmass Town Council approved $5,000 to give to YouthZone’s services, and the non-profit applies for funding from several municipalities in the valley each year. In 2022, it raised $1.85 million from hundreds of donors in the valley, according to its 2022 annual report.

YouthZone worked with 397 people in its 2022-2023 fiscal year. It worked with six clients in Snowmass – all of whom completed the program and did not re-offend. Although it is seeing an increase of problems people are facing, 91% of students YouthZone works with do not re-offend, Naaseh-Shahry said.

YouthZone has been working to decrease the barrier of entry to its services by adding satellite offices in Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Rifle, and Parachute. The non-profit is based in Glenwood Springs.

The closest offices to Snowmass are at the Pitkin County Courthouse in Aspen and the Hope Center in Basalt.

YouthZone focuses primarily on serving kids, but it launched a parent support program in 2023 to provide parent consultations, parent education, and family mediation.

“A lot of times, if kids have substance abuse problems, their parents do, as well; so to be able to provide (parents) the resources they need to be successful also ends up helping the kids out,” Naaseh-Shahry said.

The non-profit is constantly looking for fundraising opportunities to improve its services but also retain staff. The cost of living, housing challenges, and access to childcare all require “significant attention in all fundraising efforts” in order to attract and retain staff, he said.