Bowling fundraiser to benefit Steamboat nonprofit, honor late mental health champion this weekend

Spencer Powell
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide is hosting a fundraiser for its youth anti-bullying program at Snow Bowl Steamboat on Friday, March 10.
Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide/Courtesy photo

Snow Bowl Steamboat is in for a lively evening. From 5:30-10:30 p.m. Friday, March 10, Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide hosts “Bowling Against Bullies” — its first fundraiser benefitting its youth anti-bullying program, “It Takes Courage.”

In what the organizers hope will become an annual tradition, the event will feature 24 teams of six, many of which will wear costumes and represent local businesses, nonprofits or organizations.

The fundraiser will honor Gina Toothaker, the former program director at Mind Springs Health who joined “It Takes Courage” back in 2013 shortly after it was founded. Toothaker worked as the program’s designated mental health professional and brought her years of professional experience into the young program during the group’s presentations at the Steamboat Springs Middle School.

“She was empathetic, she was compassionate, she was genuine,” said Mindy Marriott, the executive director of REPS. “She always reminded the students that people aren’t born mean, and she’d always ask the students why people bully.”

Tickets to participate in “Bowling Against Bullies” are sold out, but spectator tickets are still available for $25. The event will include complimentary food, wine and beer, and spectators will be able to watch specialty games such as “blind bowl” and “dinosaur bowl.” There will be an introduction around 5:15 p.m. and prizes will be distributed at 10 p.m.

Marriott said Toothaker liked to share a quote from Michelle Obama who said “a bully is just a scared person inside a scary person.”

The program coordinator for “It Takes Courage,” Heather Savalox, founded the program back in 2012 and considered Toothaker a good friend. She said replacing Toothaker’s vivacious spirit isn’t really possible.

“That was a big gap and so it’s taken some time,” Savalox said. “We do have some new resources available through Mind Springs, but that is still part of this whole redevelopment. Because you can’t just take one person and say, ‘all right, well, Gina did this, and now person X is going to do this, too.’”

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Savalox said she hopes the money from the fundraiser will help her program become more widely accessible, either by recruiting staff or growing the program’s multimedia and communication capabilities.

“It Takes Courage,” is a community outreach program that leads middle school youth in discussions about the impacts of bullying, depression and anxiety and how those factors all relate to suicide.

Marco Cuevas, Steamboat Springs Middle School Health and Personal Finance Teacher, has worked with REPS in his classroom for the past seven years. He believes the scope of his duties as an instructor includes helping kids maintain their emotional, physical and intellectual wellness, and believes anti-bullying instruction pertains to all three of those categories of wellness.

“Being able to communicate clearly, being able to protect themselves, being able to navigate situations, I think is really important,” Cuevas said. “When you’re able to do that, then you’re able to maybe build on that strength and be stronger for the next time or for someone else. I just think it helps build strong people.”

Cuevas gave recognition to another resource for local youth — local diner Johnny B. Good’s and their owners Kathy and Mike Diemer. The Diemers also speak to the students in Cuevas’ class.

Cuevas said the Diemers offer their diner as a safe space for kids who need it, or perhaps just need someone to talk with.

“Mike and Kathy are always very generous to say ‘I’ll buy you a shake or I’ll buy you some fries.’” Cuevas said. “If you feel unsafe, if you’re unsure, if you’re having a hard time and you need a place to go, that’s a safe place.”

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