Ignacio nonprofit changes name, refocuses mission

Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 11:10 AM
Cassius Lewis, 5, jumps off the playground equipment at Southern Ute Head Start. A new proposed preschool may open in January in the former Pine River Community Learning Center building on Candelaria Drive.

Southern Ute Community Action Programs is changing its name and making plans to rebuild in the wake of a decision by the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council to withdraw funding to the organization by Dec. 31.

SUCAP changed its name to Southern Colorado Community Action Agency (SoCoCAA) recently and plans to offer some limited services, such as preschool and substance-abuse services, that were threatened after the tribe's announcement in August.

The nonprofit expects to open a smaller preschool shortly after the first of the year and in the future offer limited substance-abuse services, such as drug testing and classes for those with DUIs, said Executive Director Eileen Wasserbach.

"We are losing some services that are really vital. So, putting them back together - I'm not going to say it's going to be easy - but it's definitely a real outstanding need, particularly child care and substance-abuse services," she said.

New buses are transporting passengers from Durango to Grand Junction on the state-funded regional bus line. Southern Colorado Community Action Agency is contracted with the state to provide the regional service.

The Tribal Council decided to end funding to the nonprofit's six social programs because federal grants for Native Americans "were often not being used for that purpose," according to a news release from the tribe.

The tribe declined to comment on whether it intends to start offering services to replace the ones it is no longer funding through the agency.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe established SUCAP in 1966 to administer a federal grant to the tribe that would serve all ethnicities in the Ignacio community. The nonprofit estimates it serves about 3,000 people a year, Wasserbach said.

The nonprofit's budget could drop from about $6.8 million in 2018 to about $2.6 million in 2019, which is the organization's most conservatively low estimate, Wasserbach said.

SoCoCAA expects to reduce its staff from about 140 positions to about 45 as a result of the budget cuts, she said. Many of those positions will be in the Head Start program.

The nonprofit operates Southern Ute Head Start, Ignacio Senior Center, a regional job training program, RoadRunner Transportation, Peaceful Spirit Substance Abuse Treatment and programs for middle and high school students. Many of the programs will see cuts, but the nonprofit is working to find other funding sources, Wasserbach said.

Students in the Southern Ute Head Start program in Ignacio play a game. Head Start will be closing because the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council has decided to end funding for the program. A new preschool may open in January, but it will serve far fewer students.

The layoffs, cuts to services and other changes may leave some employees and clients at a loss, said Kasey Correia, a former SUCAP and town of Ignacio board member.

The cuts will be particularly hard for young families working low-wage jobs who will no longer have child care through Head Start, she said.

"They are pretty discouraged, and they are trying to find their way," she said.

While programs will be missed, she has hope the community's needs will be met.

"We always find our feet in this community. I don't know what that looks like, but it will come," she said.

The nonprofit must find new facilities because the tribe does not plan to renew leases with the organization at the end of the year, Wasserbach said.

The organization's administrative and preschool programs may move into the former Pine River Community Learning Center on Candelaria Drive, she said.

The Ignacio School District, which owns the building, will vote on the proposal to house the preschool and the nonprofit's administrative offices next week, Superintendent Rocco Fuschetto said.

All the nonprofit's programs will see different levels of change.

PreschoolSoCoCAA could provide full-time preschool for 16 children and half-day preschool for 10 children through the Colorado Preschool Program - a free service for families who qualify, Wasserbach said. The funding to teach those students would come through the Ignacio School District, and the district's board must approve the nonprofit's proposal to provide the instruction, Fuschetto said.

Lainey Espinosa, a teacher at Southern Ute Head Start, plays with Darren Brunson, 4, during class. The Head Start program is among those divisions of the Southern Colorado Community Action Agency that will see layoffs.

The new preschool may take an additional 25 students, but their families would have to pay for their care, Wasserbach said. The facility also does not expect to be able to provide care for infants or toddlers, she said.

Southern Ute Head Start has more than 100 children enrolled, and many of those families will need to seek alternative services.

Peaceful Spirit Substance Abuse Treatment The program is no longer accepting new clients and will scale back in the next two months; by the end of the year, it will be closed. In 2016, the center served 321 clients, according to the nonprofit's most recent report.

The SoCoCAA board has directed Wasserbach to restart some basic services, such as court-ordered drug and alcohol testing and classes and therapy for those who have received a DUI. It's unknown how long it might take to start the replacement services or where they would operate, she said.

"We will be working with local courts and other providers to see what we can put together," Wasserbach said.

In the interim, some residents will need to drive to Durango for services.

Road Runner TransportationThe Dial-A-Ride service, which provides more and 15,000 trips annually for those who live in Ignacio, is expected to be reduced from 73 hours a week to 10 hours a week.

The buses are expected to be a available two hours a day Monday through Friday. The change in hours will start Oct. 1, Wasserbach said.

However, the nonprofit expects to ask local governments, such as the towns of Ignacio, Bayfield and Durango and La Plata County, to help preserve the commuter bus service that runs between the smaller towns and Durango, said Peter Tregillus, programs developer for the nonprofit.

"The goal is to maintain the system," he said.

Road Runner provides five trips a day between Ignacio and Durango and three a day between Bayfield and Durango. The goal is to preserve three trips per day on each route, he said.

Last year, the Road Runner provided more than 30,000 trips, he said.

Glayds Todeschi, a teacher at Southern Ute Head Start, holds Sofia Porambo, 8 months old, as Elijah Sturdivant, 13 months old, sleeps in the infant care room. The proposed Southern Colorado Community Action Agency preschool will not be able to offer infant and toddler care.

Road Runner also provides eight round-trips Monday through Friday between Mercy Regional Medical Center and the Durango Transit Center. Tregillus said he would like to preserve as many trips as possible to Mercy.

The state-funded, regional bus service between Durango and Grand Junction, called Bustang will expand on Saturday, offering seven-day-a-week service on new buses, he said. Since March 2017, the service has been operating Wednesday through Sunday. The regional service provided about 6,600 trips in 2017, he said.

Youth servicesAn after-school program for middle school students called Curiosity that provides opportunities for kids to cook, produce plays and make crafts, among other enhanced learning programs may end after this fall, Wasserbach said. The program served 90 children in 2016.

Other youth programs may be preserved, including Club Venture, an adventure program with Saturday activities; KICK, a youth fitness program; and Connect, focused on service learning for high school students. These programs served 107 teens in 2016.

The Training Advantage The employment- and job-training programs the nonprofit provides will lose a small amount funding that was specific to Native Americans, Wasserbach said. But the nonprofit expects to continue serving Native Americans through its other programs, she said. The program served 1,730 people across the region in 2016.

Ignacio Senior CenterIgnacio Senior Center Director Debra Herrera said she is working on preserving all the services her division provides. The senior center will not have to move because it is owned by the Southern Ute Indian Housing Authority.

"I feel like we work with a very important group, and I would just hate for them to go without," she said. In 2017, the center served 305 clients, she said.

The center provides Meals on Wheels five days a week and meals at the center three days a week, she said. The program serves many clients who can no longer cook for themselves, she said.

The center also provides exercise classes, arts and crafts, transportation to medical appointments, assistance applying for Medicaid, Medicare and income assistance, she said.

"We do everything we can to keep them in their homes," she said.