A few hundred people with mental health struggles could be helped with the $40,238 raised for the new Foster Cares Fund.

Leaders of Gray Matters Collective and Foster’s Voice presented a check in that amount Tuesday, Jan. 10, to Matthew Martenson, licensed mental health counselor and owner of Davenport-based QC Counselor.

The first Starry Night Gala was attended by 400 people on Nov. 19, 2022.

The funds were raised in the first-annual Starry Night Gala, held this past November at Golden Leaf Banquet Center in Davenport. The second one is already scheduled for the much larger Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf for Nov. 4, 2023.

The new fund will support free mental health counseling for those in financial hardship.

“People come to us all the time, looking for help,” Kevin Atwood, who heads Foster’s Voice Suicide Awareness with his wife Jaime, said Tuesday. Of the Foster Cares Fund, he said: “We’re gonna grow it. We want to build it up so it’s always there.”

“The team is excited,” Martenson said of QC Counselor, which is at 2028 E. 38th St., Davenport, and adding staff because of the demand for counseling services. “Every practice is swamped.”

“I want to spread the word to as many people as possible. I don’t want cost to be a barrier,” he said. “We want to make this as easily accessible as possible.”

Presenting a check for the new Foster Cares Fund at the office of QC Counselor Jan. 10 were Matt Martenson, left, Haley DeGreve, Jaime and Kevin Atwood (photo by Jonathan Turner0.

“We’re trying to use these funds as widely as possible and help as many people as possible so accordingly we don’t want funds, or services, to be hard to access,” Martenson said, noting clients don’t have to mention Gray Matters or Foster’s Voice to get free therapy.

The initial approval will be for six free sessions with the possibility of extension, as needed. People can inquire and set up appointments through the QC Counselor website or by calling the office at 563-424-2016.

“QC Counselor is honored and excited to use the Foster Cares Fund to provide free counseling to individuals that need quality mental health services in the community,” Martenson said. “The Quad Cities is full of quality mental health providers, and we’re committed to doing our part to ensure that those that need counseling are able to access counseling with caring, qualified professionals.”

Foster Atwood was a 19-year-old United Township graduate who died by suicide in July 2017. In 2020, there were 45,979 U.S. suicide deaths, compared to 47,511 in 2019, according to the CDC.

Foster’s Voice was formed after the July 2017 suicide of Foster Atwood, a 19-year-old United Township graduate. Its services include a monthly support group open to anyone who struggles with any mental health illness or who has suffered a suicide loss.

“Kevin and Jaime are amazing people who were dealt the trauma of losing a child to suicide but incredibly turned that pain into the works of hope and resiliency for countless individuals in the community, school by school and meeting by meeting,” Martenson said.

“Kevin and Jaime are incredibly hard-working and their genuineness shines through in their efforts and by the huge team of volunteers that stand by and support the mission,” he said.

Kevin Atwood and Haley DeGreve, leaders of Foster’s Voice and Gray Matters collective, respectively.

They partner with Haley DeGreve, a 2020 Augustana graduate who founded and leads Gray Matters, which focuses on suicide prevention, and has several chapters in local colleges and high schools.

“I was introduced to Haley through Foster’s Voice events and she’s been a strong, vocal advocate for mental health resources and peer support,” Martenson said. “Her efforts building leaders on school campuses to facilitate Gray Matters groups have been amazing and every time I hear her reports, they’ve grown more and more.”

Changing one life at a time

“These two groups are working diligently to change lives and connect individuals that might otherwise fall through the cracks, or die by suicide, to hope and help,” Martenson said. “I’m grateful to know these people and grateful that these people are working so tirelessly for the safety and health of our community friends and neighbors.

Matt Martenson, owner of Davenport-based QC Counselor.

“We as counselors do as much as we can in an office setting, but a lot happens for individuals between sessions and I’m so grateful that organizations like these exist to provide beacons of hope to individuals that feel truly lost and low,” he said.

Kevin Atwood said last week that many families are just overwhelmed from dealing with work and family commitments.

“There are people that are out there that are just kinda disabled by their mental health. You have a father maybe who’s working 60 hours a week to support his family. You got a mom who’s at home with three kids,” he said. “And she’s really struggling. She’s not able to get the support from the father that she needs, not that he’s not supporting her. He’s just working

“He’s the lone breadwinner, and he’s working paycheck to paycheck to raise three kids and keep things moving the way that they need to move and the money isn’t there,” Atwood said. “We’ve heard so many times and from younger people as well who haven’t started their career yet or don’t have insurance.”

DeGreve, center, with Kevin and Jaime Atwood.

“And we’ve heard it from our support group that we’re holding in our home once a month,” he said of the need for free counseling.

“The one thing about Gray Matters and Foster’s Voice, that’s why we work so well together is we just wanna help people, period,” Atwood said. “It’s not whether Haley gets credit or whether I get credit or Jaime gets credit. It’s just about what can we do to help.”

The goal for 2023 is to raise much more than $40,000 to add to the fund, since they have more time and larger venue (the first Starry Night Gala was planned in about 10 weeks, he said.

Several of the young people who attended the first Starry Night Gala this past November.

How the fund is used will be up to QC Counselor.

“We’ll leave that to their discretion,” Atwood said. “What we will do is we will refer people through both organizations.

“It’s open to anybody in our community that wants to use it. We don’t even have to know who the person is,” he said. “They don’t they don’t have to be affiliated with Foster’s Voice or the Gray Matters. It does not matter to us. This is for people who simply need to need to care, you can’t afford it. And we’ll leave those decisions because we’re not gonna get involved into their financials or their income as far as our organization goes.”

Atwood said he’s actually encountered opposition to these charitable efforts.

“No family should have to have to go through what we did and continue to go through,” he said. “That’s all that’s all we want. We just wanna help people. I never thought that I would get as much backlash as I get for trying to help people. But it’s crazy how that’s out there.”

The groups also are presenting a new “Everglow” dance marathon event Saturday, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Rock Island Holiday Inn, 226 17th St. You can visit the QC Counselor website HERE or call the office at 563-424-2016.