Khesed Wellness is a Denver-based nonprofit that provides free and low-cost mental health services to people who have historically faced barriers to accessing them. Khesed advances equity in mental health through its programs that bring therapy to often-marginalized communities and by creating a healthy, therapist-centered work environment. Khesed currently provides services in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and Texas.
NFF’s Director of Business Development Lee Farmer (they/them) recently sat down with Khesed Wellness’ founder Lundy (they/them) to chat about the organization’s founding story, why Khesed’s work is so important right now, and how a zero-interest working capital loan from NFF is helping Khesed achieve its mission and expand its impact.
Lee: In a sentence or two, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your organization?
Lundy: Sure. My name is Lundy. My pronouns are they/them, and I am the founder and CEO of Khesed Wellness. I am also a licensed therapist - that is my background in coming to this work. And Khesed provides affordable and free therapy to the underinsured.
Lee: What inspired you to found this nonprofit? Is there a story behind the name?
Lundy: I started Khesed because I've needed Khesed in my life many times. Khesed is a Hebrew word which means “loving kindness”, especially for the marginalized. It's a philosophy that [says that] when we center the margins, we all have the chance to thrive.
The spirit of our name and the idea of our founding story is through personal experiences that I've had as a non-binary person reaching out for support. When my family rejected me, I struggled to find a therapist who mirrored my experience. Fast forward to working in the industry as a therapist, I see how rampant burnout is, and how many roadblocks and access barriers clients go through.
When I was driving home one day from a mental health job that I was getting burned out from, I saw a church, and I saw it was empty. And I had this thought about how overhead costs are one of the greatest barriers for therapists to see clients at affordable rates. Religious institutions want to help communities, and oftentimes they have unused space during the week. So what if they donated space to have free and affordable therapy?
That was the first edition. I would say today is, like, the 13th edition – and ongoing – of how we look at access barriers and creatively eliminate those roadblocks for clients and therapists alike.
Lee: Khesed’s mission is to make mental health care affordable for people who are uninsured and underinsured. You particularly prioritize making this care accessible for queer and trans people. Can you tell us more about the people you choose to serve?
Lundy: Research shows that about half of the US identify as underinsured: either they don't believe their insurance will cover care, they can't afford whatever coverage they do have, or they don't have coverage. In the US, the population [of underinsured people] is actually larger than the population of Australia. The underinsured are actually most of us when it comes to mental health coverage.
When friends ask you, “Hey, have you thought about going to a therapist?” What's the most common response? “I can’t afford that!” So, we're changing that.
Lee: There is currently an unprecedented wave of legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community, especially those of trans people. How has this climate impacted your work? And in a time like this, why is the work of an organization like Khesed so important?
Lundy: This is close to my heart, and it has had an incredible impact. I personally have been publicly bullied in restrooms more than I ever have been this year. There are states that I wouldn't feel comfortable personally going to without additional Khesed people present. I grew up in a town just outside Dallas, and I will no longer drive from Austin to Dallas, because if I had a flat tire, I don't trust what would happen to me.
At the same time, I see more people rallying and showing up and stepping up than I ever have before. I sent a two-paragraph email to 15 restaurant owners in Denver about putting pride coasters that promote our queer and trans pro bono program. We immediately got responses for over 4,000 coasters. The ways that community leaders want to stand in solidarity have coincided with the polarizing nature of our country.
Khesed exists in states that are known for more harsh and violent legislation towards the queer and particularly transgender community. We are seeing increased needs within those communities. I’m grateful that Khesed has the opportunity to be relevant in all spaces, and as a national organization, we have the opportunity to double down our efforts of loving kindness for those on the margins.
Lee: What are the ways that Khesed invites diverse therapists to work there, and feel good and safe about working there?
Lundy: In Western mental health care, over three quarters of the workforce identify as Euro-American. It's essential to acknowledge the systemic oppression that exists within Western health care and mental health care. We see this in many aspects of care, whether it's how people are believed or how people are diagnosed. Access barriers are also a significant dynamic.
The median income for a post-master's licensed therapist is $53,000. Therapists also wait, on average, around six months to get reimbursed by many insurance providers. And I don't know about you, but there's not really any job where you can just wait six months to get paid.
A way to bridge oppressive dynamics is to center the margins, both under representation on the therapist side and underserved communities on the client side. The more that we can create organizational environments where diverse therapists want to lead and work, then I trust that we can start to re-imagine and also deconstruct oppressive, systemic barriers.
Lee: Khesed recently received a $180,000 loan from NFF through our zero-interest Metro Denver Nonprofit Loan Fund. What will this access to financing help Khesed accomplish?
Lundy: The center of all that we do is mental health equity, which directly translates to expanding underrepresented therapists in the workforce. This funding is allowing us to continue our efforts [to invest in] diversity in our hiring and provide free therapy for Black and Indigenous people of color within the communities that we serve.
Typically, when we launch a new pro bono program, we get about 15 new outreaches within two to four weeks. For our BIPOC pro bono program, we got 40 outreaches within 48 hours!
The creation of our BIPOC pro bono program has already started three different grant applications we now qualify for to expand that funding. So the loan is also helping support Khesed's systemic expansion, development, and growth.
Lee: What are your dreams for the future of your organization? Could be the next year, the next five years, the next 25 years.
Lundy: In the next year. I imagine we will be in 15 states. In the next five years, we will be in all 50 states. And in the next 20 years, every single resident of the US will have access to a therapist that they can afford.
However, I would actually want to give nonprofit leaders some relief from whatever idea we have of what growth means. While I give you these ambitious goals, I also have told our team every year that we will grow in cadence with our relationships and resources. We're not in a race to be as big as possible, as quick as possible.
Growth of culture will always transcend growth of company. As long as we engage a strong internal culture, we'll grow.
Lee: Any last thoughts?
Lundy: I think that there is an incredible amount of hope. People are coming awake to their desire for mental health care more than they ever have been.
Curious about how NFF financing unlocks opportunities for nonprofits like Khesed Wellness? Visit NFF’s financing page to learn more how loans can amplify the impact of mission-driven work.