Lifelong Barrington resident Betsy Wintringer has found one silver lining of the ongoing and ever-evolving pandemic.
“It shined the light on the fact that it’s okay to not be okay,” explains Wintringer, who currently serves as the Executive Director of Barrington Youth & Family Services (BYFS). “A large portion of our mission has always been to reduce the stigma associated with (mental health) and remove any barriers to asking and seeking help. And over the last two years, people found themselves in a heightened state of crisis and in need of help. And luckily, we have been there for them.”
It is this very truth that will be celebrated on June 25, as BYFS enjoys its annual gala, which this year will recognize its 50th year of helping build a healthier community by providing counseling and preventative programming to children, teens, couples, and families that focuses on supporting the social, psychological, and emotional well-being of all they serve.
“The importance of this particular gala cannot be understated,” says Chris Pepper, co-chair of the BYFS Auxiliary board and one of the original creators of the annual gala routinely held at Barrington Hills Country Club. “We’re really pushing ourselves to try to raise $300,000 this year.”
After holding a virtual event over the past two years, the annual gala is back in person, but will be held outdoors to give ample space for attendees to spread out and enjoy a night under the stars. And while the event itself has evolved over the years, so has the needs of the community in which BYFS serves.
“Funds raised at this year’s event will help to support the increase in clients we’ve seen over the past two years,” remarks Pepper, a longtime fixture in Barrington’s philanthropic community. “It will also allow us to offset the cost of counseling services for anyone in need, regardless of their ability to pay.”
Once known as Barrington Youth Services, BYFS was originally created in 1972 to fulfill a need identified by community leaders to counsel young people with the many stresses of the time, which included everything from bullying to self-harm to suicide. Today, while these stresses certainly continue, they are now also joined by the somewhat overwhelming stresses of a still evolving pandemic.
“Our mission and goals have never changed over these 50 years,” explains Wintringer, who took on the role of BYFS Executive Director back in 2018. “We’re a community agency created to serve the community, funded and supported by the community so that we can reinvest in the community. The only thing that has changed a bit is how we’ve delivered the services and to whom we’ve delivered the services.”
Indeed, the need for mental health services has put an enormous strain on BYFS as of late, with the nonprofit social service agency finding that there are just not enough therapists to take on the massive load of need. There is also a cost barrier for many to receive the mental health services needed, a burden that is certainly lessened via the work of BYFS.
“Insurance unfortunately is just such a wild card when it comes to behavioral health,” remarks Wintringer. “People can have great insurance coverage for medical, but it doesn’t always translate to behavioral health. So, for us to be able to not only support these families on the treatment journey, but also be able to remove that barrier, is a great help for so many.”
BYFS has long enjoyed a strong relationship with the Barrington 220 School District, working alongside them to identify those in need of their wide variety of services.
“We can be there at the school, so they don’t have to worry about transportation,” Wintringer says. “We also have kids that just walk over after school and we’re able to send them back with a pass to get back on a bus, so it takes a little less toll on the whole family.”
And it is the hope of BYFS that the coping mechanisms taught today will prepare children better for all their tomorrows.
“These kids are going to be more in tune with how they feel on a daily basis,” concludes Wintringer, who recently received a thank you note from a student who benefitted from the services of BYFS nearly forty years ago. “Those are things that are positives in our book.”
And it is these positives that will be celebrated come June, when community members come together to not only celebrate all that BYFS is, but all that they once were back in the seventies at their initial inception.
“Everyone is really excited about the 70’s theme for this year’s gala,” chuckles Pepper. “I wish I would have saved some of my clothes from college…especially the bell-bottoms.”
Tickets for the June 25 BYFS gala will be available online in early April. For event details, sponsorship opportunities, or information on auction items contact Crystal Pepper ([email protected]) or visit barringtonbyfs.org.