New group tackles mental health in Vail hospitality industry

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CHOW, or Culinary Hospitality Outreach and Wellness, hosted its first Vail area meeting for members of the hospitality industry to connect, share experiences and discuss mental health and wellness in the industry.Dominique Taylor, Courtesy Photo/Vail Daily archive

Members of the hospitality workforce have long faced challenges with mental health. According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, service workers from hotels, food and beverage are at a greater risk for depression, sleep problems, stress and addiction.

CHOW, which stands for Culinary Hospitality Outreach and Wellness, started in Colorado in 2018 to combat the mental health challenges that hospitality workers face. In the years since, the group has aimed to build community as well as provide mental health and wellness skills and resources for those in the industry.

CHOW hosted its first Vail-based meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 25, which was available in person at the Vail Public Library and virtually via Zoom.

Kayla Weber, who owns Revolution Power Yoga in Avon and also leads Eagle Valley Behavioral Health peer support groups specializing in mindfulness and grief support is helping get the group established in the valley. Weber first connected with CHOW during one of the free Vail Mental Wellness series talks at Root and Flower.

“I really loved their mission and saw a need in our community,” Weber said.

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Weber saw this need from her own experiences seeing and being a part of the “unhealthy work environments that hospitality can breed.”

“We are told over and over to abandon ourselves and our needs for that of the customer. I understand the need for this in business, but I also understand that people need a place to go to feel seen, heard, valued, and validated in their experiences,” Weber said. “I love this community and the people in it, so I wanted to help start this style of support locally.”

In order to lead the meeting, Weber completed a training session with CHOW.

At the first meeting on Wednesday, Weber said she planned to do a “temperature take” to gauge the group’s needs, followed by an ice breaker and a guided discussion to allow people to “share how they’re doing, maybe anything that’s on their chest, ask the group for ideas on how to handle a particular situation and anything else they’d like to discuss.”

For now, this group will meet once a month, but Weber’s goal is to provide consistent support to this portion of the local workforce.

“Support doesn’t have to be big and scary and expensive. It doesn’t have to be therapy (although that’s an amazing addition if you can swing it). My hope is that we can come together, create a safe space for the hospitality community to come together and talk about the things we often bottle up inside,” Weber said.

And as the group gets established, she hopes it will forge healthy connections between individuals. The goal would be that these connections encourage individuals to get together in healthy environments and encourage self-care activities among the group.

In addition to Vail, CHOW hosts these meetings in Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Steamboat Springs. Eagle County community members are also able to join any of these meetings virtually.

“We do this because we want to destigmatize mental health conversations. And what we’ve learned about these spaces is that currently, hospitality professionals outnumber clinical mental health professionals 29 times over,” said Jasmine Parks-Papadopoulos, a life coach who serves as CHOW’s head of community. “So, even if every single therapist who is licensed to operate and work were to completely fill up their dockets with just people that work in the food, beverage and hospitality industry, there still wouldn’t be enough to go around for all of us.”

However, CHOW’s work extends beyond hosting these discussion groups across the state. The organization also offers a mental health training course to offer insight, resources and skills around issues impacting workplace wellness in the industry.  It also has a partnership with Khesed Wellness to provide 16 pro-bono outpatient mental health and wellness sessions to hospitality industry workers.

Outside of training and meetings, the organization has also created a free workplace wellness toolkit with wellness practices and actionable items designed for business owners in this industry as well as a purchasable workbook for individuals to guide their own wellness journey. 

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