COLORADO SPRINGS – An organization that helps survivors of mass tragedy in Colorado is looking for help itself this holiday season.
The Colorado Healing Fund uses the donations it receives to go to those who are affected and need more assistance after the immediate aftermath of the event.
“They’re going through such horror that it’s hard for them to completely understand the amount of financial cost that comes along with these tragedies and not just the immediate, but the ongoing,” said Mari Dennis, the Victim Advocacy Unit Coordinator for the Colorado Springs Police Department. “So, when victim advocates are able to secure funds for them, it just provides so much relief, and I think it does add to their healing.”
CHF works with victim advocates like Dennis to find families who need help and find ways to support them.
Dennis worked with the family who lost loved ones in the mass shooting that took place on Mother’s Day in Colorado Springs earlier in 2021. Six members of the family were murdered, with costs to cover funerals and other things surpassing what the city’s money allocated for victims could provide.
“It was extremely daunting for the family,” Dennis said. “Children were orphaned, family members had to step in and provide guardianship and care for children while they, themselves lost their children or lost their family members. The grief was insurmountable.”
In addition to tens of thousands of dollars in funeral costs, money was provided to help with the added responsibility of caring for the children.
The Colorado Healing Fund runs entirely off of donations to fund these programs, having been formed in 2018 as a reputable place for people to donate to help families and survivors of mass tragedies.
In the wake of the Mother’s Day shooting, national news coverage was less than other tragedies, such as the mass shooting in Boulder that killed ten, causing the need for further donations.
“I worry about that a little bit, because the grief of that family here in Colorado Springs is really no different than the grief in Boulder…it’s a tragedy that’s unexpected. It’s a nightmare situation that no family ever expects to happen to them,” said H. Michael Edwards, a retired major general from the National Guard. “So, someone needs to be there to help them with the healing process.”
Edwards also acted as a former Adjunct General in Colorado who now serves on the board of trustees for the Colorado Healing Fund. He was tapped early on in the creation of the fund by then-Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.
CHF decides where and how to help families, based on what victim advocates recommend.
“[The fund] makes sure that those family nightmares are taken care of, helped, to help and heal,” Edwards said.
On CHF’s advisory board includes one mother who lost her daughter in another tragedy in Colorado.
Ellen Stoddard-Keyes lost her daughter Emily when a gunman took seven students hostage at Platte Canyon High School in 2006. She created the I Love You Guys Foundation, named for the last text she received from Emily.
“We chose to learn instead of to be angry and to leave that anger aside, we opened so many doors to relationships and understanding and education in this realm,” Stoddard-Keyes said.
The I Love You Guys foundation helps create response and reunification protocols which are practiced in tens of thousands of schools across the nation. She is also on the advisory board for CHF.
In her work, Stoddard-Keyes has worked and met other victims of tragedy and continues to be a part of the Platte Canyon High’s community rebuilding efforts.
She says that some survivors and families will feel the need for support and reach out immediately, while others may not feel the full extent of their grief for some time, long after donations and resources have run dry.
“This can happen weeks or months or years after an incident, when people might not initially understand the trauma they experienced,” Stoddard-Keyes said.
She highlighted a major benefit of CHF–that the organization lets families, survivors, or victim advocates reach out to them for help, rather than choosing who gets resources. She says this is something that is common practice for other crisis-related services.
Although the fund only began in 2018, it has helped Kendrick Castillo’s family in the aftermath of the STEM school shooting in Highlands Ranch in 2019, victims of the Boulder shooting that took place in 2021 and as well as the family in Colorado Springs.
“When you have a Colorado Healing Fund, the whole state is the community,” Dennis said. “It’s not up to these local communities to figure it out on their own. It brings the state together, and it helps everyone rally around these families and these victims.”
The Colorado Healing Fund is run completely off of donations, such as through fundraisers through Colorado Gives Day.