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The COVID-19 pandemic changed daily life in a million little ways. It altered the way we ate and exercised, the way we schooled our children and the way we vacationed, the way we thought about our health and our time. 

Photo courtesy of Cap 10K

It put everything into sharp relief; problems that had always been there seemed even more important. Taking care of one’s mental health became more crucial than ever. But mental health care is often only available to those who can afford it.  

Fortunately, the Mike & Sherry Project (MSP), established in 2019 by Suerte owner Sam Hellman-Mass and named after Austin fine-dining mainstays Mike Shefman and Sherry Greenberg, was there to help. 

The Mission

MSP’s mission is to provide accessible mental health care to folks working in the Austin restaurant, bar and hospitality business. The Project is also the beneficiary of the 45th Statesman Capitol 10,000, which takes place on Sunday, April 10, 2022.  Former Cap10K beneficiaries include Austin Parks Foundation, The Trail Foundation, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAMM) and many others.

Working in a partnership with the nonprofit psychotherapy organization Capital Area Counseling, which offers income-based counseling on a sliding scale, the Mike & Sherry Project has established a flat fee per appointment for employees of member restaurants. Then the pandemic hit in 2020; as dining rooms closed in Austin and restaurant staff were laid off or furloughed, the need for such services became more acute.

Hellman-Mass had known Shefman and Greenberg for roughly a decade when he came up with the idea for such a fund for restaurant and hospitality workers. The two diners had become friends with Hellman-Mass when he was a sous chef at Barley Swine in 2013. 

“It became our home and the kids working there, our family,” Shefman and Greenberg said in a testimonial. “We watched [Sam] in the kitchen, learning and growing and endearing himself to us along the way.” When Hellman-Mass started Suerte in 2017, Shefmand and Greenberg followed along as devout customers. 

The Need to Grow

A few years later, a conversation between Hellman-Mass and Shefman about mental health and wellness got them thinking about the need for such care among those in the hospitality industry.   

As the project grew, Hellman-Mass assembled an advisory team that included Jerry Webberman of Jackson Walker LLP, Valerie Granoff, Matt Luckie, Sarah Macintosh, Kathleen Lucente of Red Fan Communications and Jaime Telfeyan and Doc Davis of Capital Area Counseling.

More restaurants began participating; in 2020, the organization was able to announce that 18 restaurants were participating—that number is now up past 40. By 2021, participating workers have made more than 2,100 appointments.

As it’s looking more and more as if 2022 isn’t going to be terribly different, the need for an organization such as the Mike & Sherry Project is ongoing—they help friends you haven’t yet met.

For more information, please visit cap10k.com/msp-food-for-thought/



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