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Published February 13, 2013, 11:05 AM

Goetz Foundation to Honor TV Anchor’s Late Brother

FARGO – Stephanie Goetz remembers her older brother Cameron as a “vibrant, giving, loving guy” with no shortage of friends.

By: Ryan Johnson, INFORUM

FARGO – Stephanie Goetz remembers her older brother Cameron as a “vibrant, giving, loving guy” with no shortage of friends.

But the local TV news anchor said behind the brave face he put on each day in Red Wing, Minn., there was another side to Cam.

“He was struggling and just fighting an internal battle that nobody knew about,” she said.

Goetz, then a 17-year-old, lost Cam to suicide in 2002 – just one day before his 20th birthday – after a battle with depression. She’s kicking off a new effort to honor Cam and help those like him by providing additional therapists in Fargo-Moorhead schools and publicizing her message that getting help for mental illness isn’t something to be embarrassed about.

“Our goal is to erase the stigma of mental illness, and that is something that we can do without dollars just by being out there and being proactive and saying that it is OK to get help,” she said. “You do not have to white-knuckle it through these very challenging times of mental struggles.”

Goetz officially launched the Stephanie Goetz Foundation on Tuesday, joined by foundation board members and officials from the Dakota Medical Foundation, with which she’s partnered to make this effort possible.

She said she decided when she was 25 that by the time she turned 30, she would find a way to make an impact in the community and share her experiences to help others.

Goetz, now 28, lost her oldest brother Brandon in a 1997 car accident. Five years later, Cam took his life, and she spent years trying to bury the loss before she began to get involved with local suicide prevention efforts.

Last fall, she began looking for a way to help and considered anonymously paying people’s bills related to mental health treatment and medications. But a meeting with Read Sulik, Sanford Health’s senior vice president of behavioral health services, showed her another option.

“He said, ‘Let’s not reinvent the wheel; let’s use a wheel that’s already working beautifully and build on that,’ ” she said.

Sulik, one of the foundation’s board members, said within three months of starting a practice in St. Cloud, Minn., there was an eight-month waiting list for kids and teens in the region to be seen by a child psychiatrist.

Something had to be done to address the urgent needs, he said, so he helped build a program still in place 10 years later that provides three triage therapists in the schools to help identify those who are struggling with mental illness.

He said Goetz’s foundation, which will establish a similar model to help meet local needs, also will help deal with another major hurdle – stigma.

“Eradicating smallpox was not done by deciding we shouldn’t have smallpox anymore; it was done by intention,” he said. “And how we overcome the stigma of mental illness is intention. How we overcome the barrier of access to care is truly with intention.”

Goetz said she plans to launch a pilot program this fall, hiring triage therapists to work in Fargo’s Lincoln Elementary School, Carl Ben Eielson Middle School and South High School. She said she’d eventually like to expand the foundation’s reach to the all schools in Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead, as well as other school districts in the region.

She said it’s not meant to replace efforts already happening in the schools, but counselors often are busy with other duties and can’t find every teen that needs help.

Foundation board member and Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Schatz said the work could be a valuable new tool for the district.

“We know that in our school system we have students who struggle day to day, and so to have some other types of services like this available to us to assist with those students is critical,” he said.

Susan Rae Helgeland, executive director of Mental Health America of North Dakota, said Goetz is using her position in the community to put “a lot of power” behind the message that there’s nothing wrong with reaching out for help.

“Prevention is always good, and sometimes what happens is we just don’t follow up because we don’t have the resources in our community,” she said. “The Stephanie Goetz Foundation will certainly enhance what we already have and hopefully provide additional resources for families.”

Goetz said the foundation’s work will rely on private donations. The Stephanie Goetz Foundation is among more than 175 local nonprofits asking for monetary donations this Thursday during Giving Hearts Day, a 24-hour fundraising event with the Dakota Medical Foundation matching online donations of $10 or more.

To find out more or to make a donation, visit www.stephaniegoetzfoundation.org.