Not Just a Pair of Cowboy Boots: Jae Foundation Brings Mental Health Awareness

Not Just a Pair of Cowboy Boots: Jae Foundation Brings Mental Health Awareness

Jae Foundation aims to spark conversations about mental health through "boot-checks". SweetwaterNOW photos by Steph Peterson

SWEETWATER COUNTY — When was the last time you checked in with a loved one on how they are feeling? The Jae Foundation aims to encourage checking in with someone, one pair of cowboy boots at a time.

According to the Jae Foundation website, “the foundation was created with the idea that if Jae’s friend Jason had just slowed down and bought his buddy Jae a pair of Cowboy Boots (something Jae loved dearly) and had a real conversation about how he was doing, things could have been different.”

Growing up in Pinedale, Jae had a love for the outdoors and, of course, cowboy boots. In 2016, Jae took his own life. This shocked everyone who knew him, and his loved ones decided that something good would come from this tragedy. That’s how Jae Foundation came to be.

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Jae Foundation serves to provide “Boot-Check Moments” in which they buy a pair of Jae boots, as the foundation calls them, for a group of people. Then when those people wear their boots, it serves as a reminder to check in with someone and have conversations about mental health.

“The goal is for the individual to have a Boot-Check Moment with someone. To check in on someone they feel needs to hear from them. Also we hope that they serve as that physical reminder of how much they are loved, valued and meant to be here,” Julie Mackey, Wyoming Outreach for Jae Foundation said.

Sweetwater County School District No. 2 Superintendent Craig Barringer, Jae Foundation’s Julie Mackey and SCSD No. 2 Assistant Superintendent Jason Fuss pose in their Jae boots. SweetwaterNOW photo by Steph Peterson

Wyoming Statistics

The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2021 shows that Wyoming had the highest suicide rate in the United States, with 32.3 suicides per 100,000 people. The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) reported that on average one person dies by suicide every two days in Wyoming as of 2019.

Furthermore, suicide was the sixth leading cause of death in Wyoming in 2016 for all ages, and the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 44.

Jae Foundation recently hosted an event at Boot Barn in Rock Springs where a small group of community members and leaders received boots and learned about the foundation. Nearly every participant had a story about how suicide has impacted their lives.

“It’s not common for a group to be that closely connected with their own stories, but it’s also not uncommon,” Mackey said. “Wyoming has had the highest rate of suicide for many years.”

Mackey added that Wyoming is a hard state to live in during the winter months, and with the state being rural, people can find themselves isolated.

Boot-Checks for Green River Senior Class

Jae Foundation is looking at introducing their program to high school seniors in Green River, as well as other high schools around the state. This would be made possible through donations and sponsors.

The cost to provide boots for an entire senior class would vary on class size, however, Mackey said on average it’s roughly $200 per pair of boots.

“For a class of 200 it would be $40,000. The goal is to have this continue year after year as well,” she said.

Providing boots for a senior class would encourage the students to check in with each other and open the door to talk about their mental health.

“It always comes back to the dollars behind the boots but we have a great team leading the charge in Green River and they are passionate about making this happen,” Mackey said.

Sweetwater County School District No. 2 Superintendent Craig Barringer spoke highly of the program, supporting its mission.

“Hearing the why of the Jae Foundation is very impactful. I have no doubt their goal of providing cowboy boots to high school seniors will help in these young men and women feel there are so many people that care about them, even in their worst moments,” Barringer said.

More Information and How to Get Involved

For those who are interested in contributing to the Jae Foundation can visit its website to find ways to get involved. While monetary donations are always accepted, there are also opportunities to get involved as a volunteer.

“Donations are always accepted but we love having volunteers and those that have a heart for the work as well,” Mackey said. “There is an experience that comes with every pair of Jae boots. The goal is to help those who have been affected by suicide, but also bring awareness to mental health and suicide prevention. We have a long journey ahead.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideation, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline operates 24/7. The number to call is 1-800-273-8255. More resources can be found below.

Suicide Hotline Numbers
  • 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
  • 1-800-985-5990 (or text TalkWithUs to 66756)
  • Vets4Warriors: 1-855-838-8255
  • In Crisis/ Text 741741
  • Southwest Counseling Services offers a Crisis Hotline after office hours at (307) 352-6677