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Local non-profit aims to assist first responders

A nonprofit called First Responder Support ticked off a handful of priorities in a news conference Friday morning. During the conference, which also fell on National First Responders Day, group members announced that mental health services for local first responders were high on the list.

First responders include firefighters, EMTs, police officers and emergency telecommunications personnel, all of whom respond to potentially traumatic events and are expected to do it repeatedly, members of the organization said.

“First Responder Support is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization,” advisory panel member Darryl Smith said, “It is absolutely and unequivocally nonpartisan.”

The group seeks to improve relations between first responders and their communities, specifically improving knowledge of what responders go through on a daily basis and how it affects their mental health.

“When the community understands the dynamics facing our first responders, they will be able to see just how valuable they are and can support them accordingly,” advisory panel member Turner Schuster said.

Johnny Wingate, president of the group, said it intentionally formed a diverse panel of people. Members of the panel range from first responders to former addicts and mental health professionals.

“Don, Matthew and myself then just kind of started reaching out very selectively to make sure that we put together a very diverse board,” Wingate said. “But stepping outside that comfort zone and saying we’re going to come from every angle with this thing, and really truly go to the table and say, ‘Hey, how do we build this?’”

One member, Amaris Worstell, described herself as a mom who was asked to join the board because she isn’t a first responder, but a community member. She said that she is a recovering alcoholic, which is relevant because responders might turn to addiction and alcoholism because of negative experiences on the job.

The organization formed in summer 2022 and has received two $10,000 donations in that time, as well as smaller donations. One came from former mayoral candidate Randy Minchew and the other from advisory panel member Jared Torbet. The group plans to review data gathered from departments in the county to better determine how exactly to help responders.More information about First Responder Support can be found at firstrespondersupport.net

Sigi Ris is a student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.