06 Jul Board Member Char Chmielewski Reflects on Vail Place
‘I Didn’t Find Vail Place – Vail Place Found Me’
Board member Char Chmielewski talks about the organization’s impact
When Char Chmielewski first became involved with Vail Place seven years ago, she anticipated coming at the experience solely from a business perspective. What she didn’t expect was how deeply her heart would be touched by the courage and resilience of Vail Place members, or the huge impact the organization would have on her personally.
“I have so much compassion for the members at Vail Place,” Char says “Although it’s heartbreaking how hard it can be for them sometimes just to live life on a daily basis, at the same time I feel so proud that they are taking their lives back, diving into the programs and just doing the work. Plus their attitudes are incredible. They are so grateful for the community they’ve found at Vail Place.”
Char is a Board Member for Vail Place and serves as Committee Chair for the Tour de Vail Roll & Stroll for Mental Health, being held on July 14 at Crystal Lake in Robbinsdale. Tour de Vail is an annual event that helps raise funds to support the Clubhouse programs of Vail Place while also increasing awareness about adults with mental illnesses.
Currently Vice President for Payer Client Service at Optum, Char first became aware of Vail Place through her boss at what was then United Behavioral Health. “My boss Katie Doll was invited to join the Vail Place board. It was a good fit personally and professionally, given UBH’s mission and the organization’s focus on mental health,” she says. “At the time, Vail Place was also looking for people to work on the Tour de Vail committee. Katie asked me to be on the committee to help with planning the event, assisting with fundraising and helping to find sponsors.”
Char’s role on the committee included using her considerable personal and professional network to solicit donations, raffle prizes and sponsors. About a year and a half ago, after Katie’s six-year term on the board ended, Char was asked to expand her involvement with Vail Place and join the board of directors.
“I was thrilled to secure the Optum sponsorship and gain such strong executive buy-in. Our executives gladly donate and we are really fortunate to have such a committed team of leaders,” she says. “[Vail Place] really aligns with Optum’s mission to help people live healthier lives. At Optum headquarters, we have a behavioral health center and those platforms are communicated internally, so there is a great fit with Vail Place’s overall mission.”
“Char brings an incredible amount of compassion and enthusiasm to her work with Vail Place,” says Vicky Couillard, Executive Director of Vail Place. “We appreciate that she uses her professional influence to help our organization, but more importantly, we value the huge amount of heart she brings to everything she does with and for Vail Place.”
On a personal level, Char’s association with Vail Place has impacted her own life tremendously. As she says, “I didn’t find Vail Place – Vail Place found me.” Not long before she began serving on the Tour de Vail committee, one of her best friends lost a brother to suicide. Char feels that incident, and the invitation to help Vail Place, were far more than just a coincidence.
“This individual had struggled with serious mental health issues for years. He was productive and had a family, but he battled demons,” Char says. “His suicide touched me as I realized how very real this problem was, in a way I never had before.” Since then, other close friends of Char’s have struggled with mental health issues including alcoholism and bipolar disorder. “I think it speaks volumes on how common mental health challenges are,” she says, also citing the recent deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade.
Char has nothing but praise for those involved with Vail Place. “It’s one of the only organizations I’ve volunteered for where you truly see the impact it’s making on lives,” she says. “You’re not just reading a newsletter, you are really seeing the transformation within people’s lives as it happens.” In addition, Char feels the experience has changed her profoundly. Vail Place “has opened my eyes and my heart,” says Char. “I have much greater compassion for people struggling with any challenge in life. It helps me to see that it’s not always that easy to fix something. Everything isn’t always black and white.”
Moving forward, Char wants to further spread the word about Vail Place and the work they do. “I’d like to have more opportunities to capitalize on the member stories and be able to get our services out to a broader portion of the community,” she says. “Everyone needs to know about Vail Place!”