Column: Big Heart Big Hands helping mountain rescue organizations before, after missions |

Column: Big Heart Big Hands helping mountain rescue organizations before, after missions

Big Heart Big Hands was founded in 2015 and raises money for mountain rescue organizations as well as supporting the awareness and implementation of mountain safety education.
JohnRyan Lockman | Special to the Daily |

Winter Safety 101

Big Heart Big Hands has partnered with Desert Mountain Medicine to present a free full-day Winter Safety 101 workshop at the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy in Minturn on Saturday, March 3.

The course will be packed with information, providing an overview of the numerous topics that comprise winter mountain safety.

Registration is limited to 25 participants. Find the online link to register at

Additionally, Big Heart Big Hands is working with Jessica Heaney, licensed clinical social worker, to provide counseling support for those impacted by mountain incidents. Heaney works to help individuals and families heal and get back to their love for the outdoors.

When I first met my now husband while solo backpacking in the wilderness, I forgot to pack pants. I was stuck in the shorts I hiked in while cuddling into my sleeping bag to keep warm as the sun dropped in the horizon.

Being unprepared and forgetting something possibly crucial is unfortunately a standard move for me. I’ve forgotten my rain jacket, rope for a bear bag, warm layers and I’ve even under packed on food. I’ve been lucky. But that’s not something I’m proud of.

Yin to my yang, my husband is always over prepared. He’s the go-to guy if you need another layer to keep warm, or if you forgot gloves, he’ll have a few extra on hand. Blood sugar dropping? He’s sure to have snacks stocked away (including for our dogs, too). It’s impressive — especially for forgetful me. He’s also a mountain rescue volunteer, so he understands first-hand how important being prepared is.

When my husband first crossed my path on that day I forgot my pants, he had actually just finished a rescue mission. This was the first of many stories I would hear him tell of the situations lost and well intentioned people find themselves in. I often relate to these stories and I quickly learned how we’re all just one decision or mistake away from needing the help of the Vail Mountain Rescue Team.

The Need to Help

I began to wonder about what happens after the rescue. What’s it like for the rescuers and first responders? What happens to the individuals and their families following a rescue mission? Are they supported in processing and healing from the possible trauma they just went through?

So, when I heard about Big Heart Big Hands, I was compelled to get involved. It felt like a natural fit and an answer to the intention I had set to give back to our community. Big Heart Big Hands raises money for mountain rescue organizations, supports the awareness and implementation of mountain safety education and assists with funding for those who have been rescued and their families.

When Bobby L’heureux, Big Heart Big Hands founder, and I sat down to coffee at Hovey & Harrison in Edwards, I shared my simple idea to provide counseling support to those impacted by wilderness rescue. We both saw the need to help those struggling with trauma, anxiety and grief following a backcountry adventure gone wrong. We developed a partnership and established an easy form to complete for those needing support following a rescue mission here in the Vail Valley.

Prevention through Education

Bobby shared that he too has been directly impacted by wilderness rescue.

“Big Heart Big Hands was founded after the loss of a friend in the wilderness,” he said. “We want to help avoid more accidents and rescues through education. We also understand the aftermath of wilderness rescues and that is why adding trauma help was so important.”

Barriers to mental health are complex and often deter those who need it most. From the vulnerability to ask for help to the financial strain it can create, it is estimated individuals consider counseling at least eight times before ever reaching out.

Together, myself and Big Heart Big Hands hope to reduce barriers to accessing mental health here in the Vail Valley and for those specifically impacted by wilderness rescue.

Visit to learn more about this valuable offering, donate to the cause and to connect with this great organization.

Jessica Heaney is a licensed clinical social worker in the Vail Valley. For more information, visit or email

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