Creating a safe space for local high schoolers

A gift that has allowed Virtual Health programs to use their full budget on crucial mental health care

Todd Custer, CEO

Even before the pandemic began, mental health struggles created numerous challenges for youth in West Michigan. As we enter our third year of the pandemic, and schools resume traditional schedules, the need for mental health services has evidently grown. Students in our communities experience numerous behavioral health struggles—such as bullying, relationship issues with parents/friends, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, grades, peer pressure and social media pressures—with sometimes limited treatment options. Long wait times for outpatient counseling services, combined with common transportation difficulties—especially in rural areas— often prevent youth from receiving the care that they need for such concerns as anxiety, depression, ADHD, abuse, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

The solution was to bring care to where youth spend many of their weekday hours— in school. Spectrum Health School Telemedicine Clinics are positioned inside local high schools to give students an opportunity to be seen by a licensed master social worker (LMSW) for therapy and counseling services without leaving the school. Telemedicine clinics offer on-site behavioral assessment and therapy in a secure and private room via videoconference.

Todd Custer, president and CEO of Custer Inc., understands the value of offering a safe space for people to discuss deep concerns with a caring advocate. His awareness was acutely heightened about four years ago when his sister-in-law, Ellen—wife of his oldest brother, Scott—took her own life. As Todd wrestled with his own grief and cared for Scott and his kids during this painful time, he grew more passionate about reaching people—especially youth like his own four kids—with resources and an outlet to have difficult conversations about hard topics.

Safe Space - Rockford High School

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That’s why Todd quickly generously agreed to partner with Spectrum Health Foundation to furnish our school telemedicine clinics. “When we first met with Todd,” says Katie Thorsen, manager, Spectrum Health Virtual Health, “we had recently outfitted our first two clinics at a cost of almost $15,000, which was a huge part of our operating budget. When Todd learned about the program, he immediately offered to furnish all our remaining clinics, ten so far, with brand-new, high-quality furnishings to create a warm and inviting environment for high school kids to meet virtually with their counselors. Under Todd’s leadership, Custer has relieved an immense burden.”

“ Their gift has allowed us to use program funds to subsidize crucial mental health care for uninsured or underinsured kids. I am so grateful for their generosity.”

Todd Custer is grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of high school kids in West Michigan. “When my dad, Dave, started Custer in the late 1970s,” says Todd, “his mission was always to give back to the community any way he could. He passed that passion down to the next generation, and—along with my brothers, Scott and Mark—we want to continue doing what we can to have a positive impact in people’s lives.”

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