By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

BIG SKY – In a health survey conducted this year, Big Sky residents indicated that having a community counseling program is a top health priority.

Women In Action, a Big Sky nonprofit focused on access to affordable health, family and educational services, has provided this health service in Big Sky for the past four years, most recently in partnership with the Human Development Clinic at Montana State University.

The first community counselor to come to WIA from MSU was Big Sky resident Stasia Owens, who has since completed her graduate program and taken a job with Gallatin Mental Health.

WIA’s new community counselor Megan Obert took the reins in June. Originally from a small town in Montana, Obert has worked in crisis management through the Hope House in Bozeman. She was drawn to Big Sky because she wanted to work in rural mental health.

“She really stood out as a candidate with a strong skill set to work in an isolated community like Big Sky,” said WIA Executive Director Lisa Beczkiewicz. “It’s good to have a professional that’s both a self starter and is self motivated.”

The Community Counseling program provides affordable mental healthcare for individuals, couples and families for a range of issues including depression, substance abuse, stress, grief, interpersonal relationship, life transitions and family issues. The services are accessible to everyone in the community.

“If you have a mental health need, it can be addressed in Big Sky and you don’t have to drive to Bozeman,” Beczkiewicz said. The program served 25 people in the past year.

“It’s small, but it’s impactful,” Beczkiewicz said, quoting Big Sky Resort Tax board member Les Loble. The tax board this year agreed to fund 100 percent of WIA’s $18,500 request.

Mental health illness has a stigma, particularly in a small rural community like Big Sky, Beczkiewicz said. “Confidentiality is very important to our program, and it’s done very well.”

In other news, WIA again awarded scholarships to more than 40 Big Sky youth to attend summer camps. Kids ages 3 – 17 will attend a range of camps—everything from ballet class, horseback riding, to early childhood education programs and sports camps. The program last year gave 83 total scholarships.

Building on WIA’s connection to Ophir School, WIA and THRIVE are partnering to launch a new Parent Liaison program this fall. For the past two years WIA has helped fund Ophir’s school counseling program, but now the school is hiring a full time guidance counselor.

“Having another skilled, positive adult to help with the success of students and families is a valuable asset to have in our school,” Beczkiewicz said. The new position will bring a social worker into the school to provide support for parents and teachers, parent education classes, and bring community resources to the school.