BIPOC Mental Health Scholarship Fund addresses provider shortage

June 6, 2023

By La Crosse Community Foundation

Matching funds can boost support

Three community organizations today announced the BIPOC Mental Health Scholarship Fund to encourage people of color to pursue graduate degrees in mental health counseling.

Established through leadership at Peace of Mind Counseling in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the scholarship fund will be administered by the La Crosse Community Foundation. B.L.A.C.K. will solicit and select scholarship recipients.

An anonymous foundation donor has pledged to match up to $15,000 in donations to grow the fund to bring additional and more diverse mental health counselors to the community.

According to the Kaiser Foundation, Wisconsin needs more than double the number of mental health professionals to meet population needs. Additionally, the American Psychological Association reports that about one in ten psychologists are BIPOC, while four in ten Americans are BIPOC.

New scholarship fund seeks to increase BIPOC mental health providers

“Equity in mental health care begins with diversity among counselors,” said Chris Kuhl, a licensed professional counselor at Peace of Mind Counseling. “We’ve found that for some of our clients, their racial and ethnic identity is core to their experiences, struggles, and outlooks. Therapists who can understand that are in a far better position to provide culturally-appropriate treatment.”

Kuhl said that’s why Peace of Mind turned to and started the fund at the La Crosse Community Foundation, adding it was the perfect place to manage the funds given it will be endowed to last in perpetuity.

“The foundation is already set up to administer and run endowed scholarship funds, so it was a natural fit,” he said. “Plus, they’re as committed as we are to diversity, equity and inclusion in the community.”

Chief Executive Officer Jamie Schloegel of the La Crosse Community Foundation agreed they’re fitting partners, saying representation and understanding are critical to building a more inclusive community.

Collaborating to build a more inclusive community

“This is another investment in the future health and well-being of our community,” she said. “By encouraging more BIPOC individuals to enter this field, we can improve understanding and treatment of mental health conditions in diverse populations. And the effort will have a multiplying effect because then we’ll also have more professionals who can educate and advocate within their communities, spreading awareness about mental health issues and promoting the importance of seeking help when needed.”

As White people, Kuhl and Schloegel weren’t qualified to make scholarship decisions, so they turned to Shaundel Spivey at B.L.A.C.K., a La Crosse-based nonprofit organization that, among other efforts, advocates for people of color.

The cultural sensitivity and awareness element has been a missing piece of the mental health puzzle for local BIPOC populations, according to Spivey, executive director of B.L.A.C.K.

“The lack of diversity among mental health counselors discourages many people of color from seeking help,” said Spivey, pointing to research from several sources, including “The Counseling Psychologist” and the American Psychological Association.

“Knowing you can work with someone who looks like you and has similar shared experiences dramatically increases the likelihood you’ll seek (and receive effective) help when you’re struggling. It especially helps when you’re working to overcome racial trauma, cope with everyday microaggressions, and navigate the unique challenges of belonging to an underrepresented population.”

Support the BIPOC mental health scholarship fund

To help achieve the $15,000 matching funds, interested people can donate online or mail a check to the BIPOC Mental Health Scholarship Fund at La Crosse Community Foundation at 601 7th St N., Suite 203, La Crosse, WI 54601. The fund will begin making an annual $5,000 scholarship award once it has a balance of at least $100,000.