STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Owing to the success of local programming, the Routt County Department of Human Services received a $100,000 state grant to continue and expand its initiatives.
In December, the county was one of only 10 counties in the state to earn a $100,000 grant from Colorado’s 2Generation Opportunities pilot program. That funding ended in July.
Last week, the state announced Routt County was one among just four counties to receive continued funding — an additional $100,000 — that will go into effect in October and remain accessible through the next fiscal year.
First Impressions, Routt to Work and the Fatherhood Program of Routt County, all of which are funded through grants and government funding, are the three key beneficiaries of both grants.
Stephanie Martin, coordinator of First Impressions in Routt County, said the funding has allowed those programs to provide more comprehensive support to families. The continued funds will bolster existing resources, such as providing employment help to incarcerated fathers, as well as support new initiatives, such as a mobile preschool program.
According to Chelsey Hall with the Colorado Department of Human Services, Routt County was among the four counties to receive continued funding because of its success in implementing the state’s two-generation approach to serving families. The holistic approach aims to provide programs and services to the entire family, rather than target only children or their guardians.
“Fragmented approaches to serving families that separately address the needs of children and their caregivers can leave either the child or the caregiver behind, reducing the likelihood of success for all members of the family,” the state department said on its website.
Together, First Impressions, Routt to Work and the Fatherhood Program of Routt County have satisfied the state’s two-generation policy, according to Hall. Below is an overview of those programs and how they have benefited from the state’s grant funding.
Early childhood services
As Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton told representatives from the Colorado Department of Human Services in a presentation Friday, the area lacks adequate child care services for young children. She has felt firsthand the negative effects of this shortage.
“I have a 3 1/2-year-old, and we didn’t have reliable child care for six months after he was born,” she said. “That is very typical within our community.”
Melton and others at First Impressions have developed an early childhood plan, which identified several challenges for families in accessing child care in the community. In addition to a general lack of services, particularly for infants from birth to age 2, many families struggle to afford what child care options do exist.
As Melton added, many families do not have a traditional work schedule or work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. They consequently face difficulties in accessing preschool services.
The next step, according to Melton, is to strategically implement the early childhood plan, which includes expanding the availability of child care services and providing scholarships to train more early child care providers. A portion of the state’s grants will support those efforts.
In the future, Melton discussed the possibility of a mobile preschool service in the area, modeled after an existing program in Summit County. There, “Gus the Bus,” a renovated school bus, travels to neighborhoods and offers classes to families.
In Steamboat Springs, Melton hopes this addresses a concern she has heard from many immigrant parents who, in light of the current political climate, have a general distrust of the public school system.
“They don’t want to send their kids somewhere with people they don’t know,” Melton said.
By keeping classes closer to their homes, the program aims to increase local participation in preschool, which has been shown to improve academic performance in subsequent grades.
Routt to Work
To Beth Lavely, coordinator of the Routt to Work program, the biggest benefit of the initial and continued funding has been the ability to sustain existing initiatives.
“The fact of the matter is we need extended funding to provide enough services to residents here,” she said.
In general, Routt to Work aims to equip families with the knowledge and resources to become financially stable, which can be difficult in a resort community like Steamboat. According to the program’s website, 20% of Routt County families live below the poverty line.
According to Lavely, the state grant funding allowed Routt to Work to expand to South Routt for the first time. Eight adults and five children participated in an eight-week class that taught them how to set and accomplish goals in areas like employment and finance.
It also has provided scholarships to people who enroll in computer literacy courses at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs. The purpose of these classes is to train students in basic computer skills that can make them eligible for higher-paying jobs.
People can sign up for four computer literacy classes scheduled for Aug. 20 and 27, as well as Sept. 17 and 24. Those seeking one of the scholarships for these classes can either request reimbursement after registering for the course or by contacting Routt to Work before registering.
In the fall, Routt to Work also will offer its first-ever course specifically targeting Latin families, according to Lavely, though details are still to come.
Since the start of the year, the Fatherhood Program has used the state’s grant funding to reach 44 parents, according to coordinator Tom Valand.
The money has gone toward three main initiatives within the program, Valand said. These include: nurturing fathers classes, which encourage dads to take a more active role in parenting; early childhood education, which teaches parents how to properly care for infants; and support for incarcerated dads.
According to Valand, the grant money has allowed him to collaborate with other programs, such as Routt to Work, to not only teach fathers parenting skills but connect them with employment opportunities to support their families. This has been especially helpful for the three incarcerated men currently enrolled in the Fatherhood Program.
“When they are in jail, oftentimes, they are excited to spend their time doing something positive,” he said.
Overall, as Lavely said, the fact that the state allocated funds to Routt County for a second year gives her and other coordinators confidence that they are making a positive impact on the community.