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Gaby San Paolo, executive director and president of the board of the new MSC Counseling Center, has recently opened its doors for counseling at Mountain Springs Church.

Identifying mental health care as a pressing community need in May 2021, Mountain Springs Church members got busy raising money to build a counseling center on the property, where Black Forest and Falcon border northeastern Colorado Springs.

“We realized there was an uptick in mental health needs since COVID, and we were getting a lot of requests for assistance,” said Gaby San Paolo, executive director and president of the board of the new MSC Counseling Center, 7375 Adventure Way.

The church didn’t have counselors and was referring people to centers in the city, San Paolo said. “But they were full; there aren’t enough counselors.”

In a surge of spirit-filled energy, church leaders collected $430,000 in donations last September and, on top of that, secured a $400,000 grant from federal pandemic-recovery funds.

Donations funded remodeling the property’s old barn, which had a dirt floor and 3,000 square feet of open space that was used for storage.

The new MSC Counseling Center will hold a public grand opening from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday.

Five licensed counselors are in private practice in the freestanding building, with individual offices. Each has a specialty, such as marriage and family, adolescents, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, overall trauma and addiction.

Counselors moved in Monday and immediately began seeing patients.

“Our intent is to transform lives,” said San Paolo, who also is executive director of operations at the church. “It’s been our vision to be here for the community and serve our neighbors.”

Six interns will arrive in a few weeks and will work under the supervision of two counselors.

The church’s longstanding food pantry occupies part of the building, and an aquaponics greenhouse the church operates is nearby.

The three entities form the Family Restoration Center, with the counseling center and food pantry being separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.

The nondenominational church opened in 1995 and moved to its current location less than a decade later. Pre-pandemic, congregants topped 2,000, San Paolo said. The church is back to 1,800 to 1,900 members in the fast-growing sector of El Paso County, she said, where many younger families and military households are moving into the area.

The church has made a name for itself as “not just insular but ministering very broadly,” said Jan Rosko, one of the five counselors at the new center.

“I attend this church, and it really is about serving the community through the food pantry, the greenhouse, repairing people’s homes and now the counseling,” she said. “This church is just really involved.”

Rosko had been in a group practice in town but said she wanted to tie her work to the new center, because she wants to be able to make mental health care available to everyone.

MSC counselors accept people with insurance, people with no insurance and people who can partially pay for services based on income, San Paolo said.

Instead of paying rent, utilities and maintenance, counselors provide sessions to clients and receive payment through client fees and grant money to cover those who cannot pay, San Paolo said.

The COVID-recovery grant is paying for staff and operations, she said, and the center is not an income-generating entity for the church.

“We want to keep it separate, because we’re open to the entire community,” San Paolo said.

Clients are being matched with counselors based on their areas of need and have an option to make an appointment with an intern for $10.

The model of a church starting a community counseling center is not unheard of, Rosko said. She did her internship at Pikes Peak Christian Church in the Security area, which offers individual and family counseling from five interns overseen by a licensed counselor and one counselor candidate.

The Sanctuary Church on Colorado Springs’ west side specializes in providing counseling and therapy for people who have any kind of addiction.

Also, the multimedia organization Focus on the Family refers a network of Christian counselors in Colorado Springs to its followers.

“There are just so many hurting people, and it’s like a desert for counselors up here,” Rosko said of the Falcon, Peyton and Black Forest neighborhoods.

“I’ve done a lot with trauma and relationship difficulties, and those issues seem never-ending.”

Contact the writer: debbie.kelley@gazette.com

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