Anchorpoint fundraiser featured Pittsburgh personalities to help families meet pandemic counseling costs. It was a big success.

Photo: An array of Pittsburgh personalities participating in the Anchorpoint Virtual Giving Event include (clockwise, from top left) Shari Richards, Greg Joseph, Jim Krenn, Chris Fafalios, Shelley Duffy and Paul Alexander, Christopher Wu.

Dante Massey’s idea was simple. The director of communications and marketing for Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry, Massey thought a small-scale online event similar to the stay-at-home programming staged by Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel might raise a couple of hundred dollars for the agency’s Emergency Client Aid Fund.

Massey was off by more than $20,000.

“Where it went from (the original idea) completely blew my mind,” says Massey. The Anchored in Hope Virtual Giving Event quickly grew with interest and support from Pittsburgh personalities, culminating in its May 7 production. The effort raised more than $22,000 as of May 12.

“The generosity of the Pittsburgh community coming together behind this event was awe-inspiring,” Massey says. “We can provide our services to those who so desperately need them because of the people who gave generously. While the event itself took a lot of work to create, they deserve the praise for its success.”

Anchorpoint’s Emergency Client Aid Fund is a newly launched resource to meet increased needs for affordable mental health services due to the pandemic. For example, a single mom with three kids is saddled with a $13,100 health insurance deductible for her family. Another family needs counseling for their son but already owes $720 for previous visits.

These kinds of financial hardships are preventing families from reaching out for help with anxiety, depression and other struggles. Funds raised from the Anchored in Hope Virtual Giving Event will be used to defray costs for counseling and support services.

Mark Heinbockel, development director for Anchorpoint, expects donations to continue. But the $22,110 raised so far, he says, is “enough to support more than 420 counseling sessions, which will serve approximately 60 families and individuals in need.”

Participating in Anchorpoint’s fundraiser, clockwise from top left, are Carrie Collins, Larry Richert, Joel Lindsey, Clint Hurdle, Mark Dayton and Doug Oster.

The online event, a virtual telethon of sorts, featured messages and performances from Pittsburgh personalities including Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, comedian Jim Krenn, The Clarks’ bassist and singer Greg Joseph; singer and musician Shari Richards; Christopher Wu of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; former Pirates manager Clint Hurdle; KDKA-TV news anchor Mark Dayton; and Chris Fafalios of the band Punchline.

If you missed the live event, you can watch the recorded performances and messages on YouTube.

A nonprofit mental wellness and education center founded in 1966, Anchorpoint is based in Ross Twp. and serves the northern communities of Greater Pittsburgh.

Funds will help uninsured, underinsured and under-resourced families who struggle with depression, grief and other mental health conditions.

“Oftentimes cost is a major barrier to mental health services,” Heinbockel says. “So, once people overcome that initial stigma to mental health services and say, `OK, I’ll give this a try,’ then they face yet another barrier: ‘You haven’t met your deductible, so you have to pay $100 per session and, by the way, those sessions are weekly.’ So, every week you have to pay $100. That’s just not possible for a lot of families.”

While the Emergency Fund helps those who can’t afford Anchorpoint’s services, Heinbockel says most clients try to pay at least part of the fees.

Anchorpoint’s annual budget takes into account that one-third of its clients will be unable to pay. But since the coronavirus outbreak, 60 percent of clients have asked for financial assistance.

“It’s a huge uptick and well beyond what we have budgeted,” Heinbockel says. “The problems they’re mentioning are what you would expect at this time. There’s a lot of anxiety, depression. For the first time, probably, we had somebody say, `I just feel isolated.’ People talk about loneliness sometimes, but that feeling of isolation goes beyond that. It’s brought about some new mental health issues, and it’s also worsening symptoms for clients who have already been coming to us.”

In three decades as a counselor and family therapist, Rev. Dr. Ron Barnes, executive director of Anchorpoint, has never experienced such significant and widespread needs.

“This pandemic has brought universal stress, uncertainty and worries to our community members and families,” he says. “Everybody, from young children to older adults, has had their lives upended and changed. Our goal at Anchorpoint is to help everyone navigate this pandemic, process and grieve its effects, and emerge stronger and healthier on the other end.”

The Emergency Client Aid Fund, he says, “is one way we can help our neighbors cope and recover in the difficult days, weeks and months ahead.”

For Greg Joseph of The Clarks, participating in the event was an easy decision. He recognizes that the collective mental health of communities is stressed and that counseling can be a remedy for those who feel they have no answers.

“We are all searching for answers to our path forward,” Joseph says. “Sometimes we need help figuring it out. That’s where a great counseling organization comes into play. Mental health counseling can open up so many new paths of thinking when sometimes we feel there is only one road to travel.”

Interested in helping out? Donate here.

This story is part of the Kidsburgh Mental Health Series funded by a grant from the Staunton Farm Foundation. The Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of people who live with mental illness and/or substance use disorders. The Foundation’s vision is to invest in a future where behavioral health is understood, supported, and accepted.

Other stories in the series include the Kidsburgh Mental Health Survey report, insight as to how parents can deal with coronavirus anxiety, advice on remaining resilient during times that try your family’s mental health, and a fascinating look at the teenage brain.