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How does our garden grow?

By Kim Whisenhunt, Operations Manager

Have you heard the buzz about eating healthier, especially fresh fruit and vegetables? Sounds simple, but have you noticed the prices? There’s a high price in both time and money! Tri-Lakes Cares is keen to provide healthy food options for our clients. We are fortunate to be able to shop at Care and Share for produce to stock our Help Yourself Market shelves. However, because there are limits on how much we can obtain, the Program Managers have been seeking ways to bring in more fresh produce. Clients have been so grateful when local gardeners shared their extra harvests with us. But is there a way that TLC could be part of the answer to the need for more fresh foods?

An opportunity presented itself last summer when Next Step Ministries contacted us, asking if TLC had a project their group of students could work on. We posed the idea of constructing a garden space on the south wall of our building. So Next Step brought groups of students, along with some experienced construction supervisors, to build garden bins attached to the wall and on the ground. So the first stage of the garden project was finished!

 

Early in 2018 the garden planning started. We are so grateful for the community groups and volunteers who have come forward to support this project! Monument Community Presbyterian Church offered to help with manpower, including Sherry, a master gardener who is providing expertise and direction. Vic, a new TLC volunteer, jumped in early on to help with garden prep and maintenance. A Palmer Ridge student, Jaydes, took on starting the plants from seed as a school project. When it was time to fill the garden boxes,McCord’s Garden Center donated the products to amend the soil. Cindy, a Palmer Lake resident, donated a composter so TLC, using leftover fruit and vegetables from the pantry, can produce good, rich compost.

The final piece was completed by Isaac, an Eagle Scout, who, along with 21 other volunteers, built a gated fence to protect the garden.

Once the seedlings were planted, including herbs donated by Cindi, volunteers adopted a regular watering and tending schedule. All the efforts are producing results! We look forward to offering green peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, a variety of herbs, and more to our clients each week. We thank everyone who has helped to bring the resources together to make this garden a reality!

        

 

Getting Ahead (in a “Just Gettin’ By World”)

By Kim Whisenhunt, Operations Manager

Part 3 of a 3-part series

During our last fiscal year, Tri-Lakes Cares served 490 households. We helped 88 households with utilities and 58 households with rent or mortgage. Tri-Lakes Cares helps with emergency, relief and self-sufficiency programs. In the past, we have been heavy on the relief and emergency programs but in the last five years we have concentrated on our self-sufficiency programming. We are aware we cannot solve poverty for most but we do know it is important to offer programs to help someone who is ready to make that change and move forward.

Tri-Lakes Cares runs a self-sufficiency program called Getting Ahead (In a Just Getting’ By World) created by Philip DeVol. This 12 to 15 week program studies poverty and near poverty through the lens of economic classes to better understand how society and those economic classes work: poverty, middle class and upper class. The participants work as a group to investigate the impact that poverty and low wages have on all of us and what it takes to move from a just-getting-by world to a getting-ahead world.  The classes are not “taught” but rather run by a facilitator who helps with group discussions and investigations of the participants’ community. The attendees are considered investigators because they are investigating their community and what in their community are barriers to becoming self-sufficient.

Each chapter of the Getting Ahead workbook addresses different aspects of poverty.

Module 1 -“My Life Now”: If you are going to do something about poverty, you should know an accurate, specific and complete picture of poverty and instability in your community. The investigators create a mental model of poverty addressing what their day-to-day concerns are when living in poverty. Having to delicately balance all of these concerns on a daily basis causes one to live in the “tyranny of the moment.”

To the left is a Mental Model of Poverty. These are the concerns a person in poverty must juggle every day. Imagine the difficulty you would have when your resources do not match your needs.  People in poverty are constantly living in the “tyranny of the moment”, putting out fire after fire.

Module 2 – “Theory of Change”: When daily life is unpredictable and unstable, people can become caught in solving problems all day long. Breaking out of that trap can lead to a new future story. It is important for the investigators to know that the stages of change they will go through almost never occur in a straight line and that relapse is normal. The point is that when there is a relapse, we don’t have to start all over but can go back to the preparation or action stage. In the book DeVol states, “the difference between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’ fuels the motivation needed to actualize personal growth.

Module 3 -“The Rich/Poor Gap and Research on Causes of Poverty”: Until we explore and understand  all of the causes of poverty, we won’t be able to build communities where everyone can live well. There are many causes of poverty, a couple of examples are individual behaviors and circumstances, community conditions, and the list goes on.

Module 4 – “Hidden Rules of Economic Class”: Understanding the hidden rules of class can increase understanding, reduce judgmental attitudes, and help people come together across class lines to solve problems. You may ask, what are hidden rules? Hidden rules are the unspoken cues and habits of a group. If you know the rules you belong, if you do not, you do not. Phil DeVol essentially says, we grow up learning how to survive in our environment by watching how our parents survive the environment. We did not have to be taught the rules directly. Hidden rules come from the environment we were raised in whether it is poverty, middle class or wealth.

Module 5 – “The Importance of Language”: Language skills can help us learn, solve problems and create relationships of mutual respect. Understanding which register of language to use can be the difference in getting a job and being passed over for a position. There are many registers we use in everyday conversations. For example, when we speak to our friends, we have often use word choice that is general and not specific, a smaller vocabulary because of the comfort in the relationship. When we are at work and school, we tend to use a more formal register with complete sentences and specific word choice.

Module 6 – “Eleven Resources”: Ruby Payne defines poverty as “the extent to which an individual does without resources.” Poverty is not just about lack of money. Often people living in poverty are lacking in the important resources that can help them cross the barrier from poverty to self-sufficiency. Our community can do something about poverty by building individual, institutional and community resources. Four of the key resources the Getting Ahead class addresses are Financial, Emotional, Social Capital, and Motivation and Persistence.

Module 7 – “Self Assessment of Resources”: During this module, each investigator assesses their own resources.

Module 8 – “Community Assessment”: In this module, the investigators look at a community assessment. In Getting Ahead, there are two main story lines: the individual and the community. In the last few modules, they assess themselves and in this module, they assess the community. The group investigates the community’s ability to provide a high quality life for everyone, including people in or near poverty. They identify community assets that help the group build resources.

Module 9 – “Building Resources”: In this module, the group analyzes the difference between resources that are for “getting by” and resources that are for “getting ahead”. There are organizations in a community that provide getting-by resources such as food, clothing cash and so on; then there are resources that can help one get-ahead, one would be this Getting Ahead course. Getting Ahead investigators make their own argument for change, create a future story, and plan to build resources.

Module 10 – “Personal and Community Plan”: This module is a wrap-up of what was learned and discovered, and includes working on Personal and Community Plans. The investigators create a future story for themselves and a mental model for community prosperity.

Tri-Lakes Cares is extremely proud of the 48 clients that have graduated from this program. We have seen a reduction in needed financial services from many graduates and we have witnessed the hope that the graduates feel about their future. They can see that there is a way out and Tri-Lakes Cares in there to support them on their journey.

Therefore, when you wonder who is a Tri-Lakes Cares client, you can see a diverse group of hard working people who may have been raised in poverty; or someone in a short-term situation that has thrust them into situational poverty. From what we see on a daily basis, no one wants to live in poverty and Tri-Lakes Cares is there to offer resources and support for all in need in our community.

 

 

The changing face of poverty

By Kim Whisenhunt, Operations Manager

Part 2 of 3-part series

A car pulls into the parking lot and a well-dressed couple gets out. They are here at Tri-Lakes Cares looking for help, but they don’t look like they need it.

There are two types of poverty: generational poverty and situational poverty. Generational poverty is when a family has lived in poverty for at least two generations. Situational poverty is when a family’s income and support is decreased due to a specific life change: a job loss, divorce or death in the family.

For many years, Tri-Lakes Cares encountered mostly generational poverty; however, this changed during the 2008 housing market crash. We suddenly were seeing an increase in families swept into situational poverty. These were families who had never dealt with being on “food stamps” or Medicaid – this was a completely new world for them.

This new type of client was definitely different from the typical generational poverty client we served, with different needs and expectations. And, it involved a learning curve for our staff and volunteers too.

I can remember how many of us were used to seeing the average client come to us with an older model vehicle often in disrepair and unreliable. Suddenly, our new client was driving a newer or expensive car and many wondered why they were here, asking “Why don’t they get rid of that car and buy a used car?” or “How can they live in Jackson Creek or Woodmoor and be our client?” These were families who lived in middle class neighborhoods who had mortgages; prior to the housing market crisis they were living within their means.

So, in our middle class minds (staff and volunteers) selling a new or expensive car makes sense. You can then use those funds to help with your financial crisis. But, imagine how hard it would be to do that – the newer car is reliable, it doesn’t require any repairs, and you need it to go to job interviews, shuttle your children to school and go to appointments. Unless your vehicle is paid off, selling it is not lucrative. We all know that vehicles go down in value so if you have a car payment, you still owe on your car. And, you never get the full value of the car when you sell it. If you do sell it, now you have to find a reliable, less expensive used car – coming up with $4,000 to $5,000 to pay for it and then maybe have to make repairs on it more frequently. Suddenly, it makes sense to keep a new car, making a $300 to $400 a month car payment.

So, that young couple with the new car may not look like the typical person living in poverty that we might have in our mind but circumstances have forced them to come to Tri-Lakes Cares seeking help. First impressions are deceiving and until you know their story, you don’t know the reasons for their need.

In our next blog post, we’ll talk about “Getting Ahead” – a workshop series designed to help those who want to move out of poverty and providing them with tools and understanding to do that.

What is the face of poverty at Tri-Lakes Cares?

By Kim Whisenhunt, Operations Manager

Part 1 of 3-part series

We are beginning a short series of posts, looking at who it is we serve and trying to answer the question “Who is the typical Tri-Lakes Cares client?”  When someone says “poor” or “living in poverty”, what do you see in your mind’s eye? The unkempt person standing with a sign on the street corner? The unemployed woman hanging out at the park?

But, it may not be who you think it is or what you think poverty should look like. It is tempting to think that anyone who works should not be classified as poor, however poverty is not really about the lack of work. Rather, it is about the lack of compensation to be stable in living. Tracy McMillan said it very clearly that “the qualification for being poor is not race or education, but an insurmountable gap between income and cost of living” (What do we think poverty looks like? 2017).

Tri-Lakes Cares serves five zip codes:  80132 (Monument); 80133 (Palmer Lake); 80908 (portion of Black Forest); 80921 (northern Colorado Springs); and, 80840 (the U.S. Air Force Academy). To understand why we serve these areas and why we have pockets of poverty here, one must understand the cost related to residing in these areas. For example, according to FactFinder.gov in 80132 the average, or mean income, is $138,637. The population of Monument is close to 19,700 and 10% – or close to 2,000 individuals – live at or below the Federal Poverty Level, or FPL. The FPL is the economic indicator the U.S. government uses to determine who is eligible for federal subsidies and aid. It is important to note that the FPL is the same whether or not you live in a rural farm town or in Manhattan; it does not take into consideration the cost of living in different areas.

Monument used to be a sleepy highway town. I know this because I have been a resident for over 40 years and the changes are notable. The cost of housing has skyrocketed with rent not far behind. The average mortgage in Monument is $2,100 and the average rent is $1,500. For a better perspective, the average family of four that we may serve is earning less than $25,000 per year, which is about $2,100 per month gross income (the same amount as the average mortgage). If you then add on the cost of running a household – utilities, groceries, childcare and so on – one can see the struggle to make ends meet. Many of our families living at poverty level have been Monument residents for decades and have been our clients for several years, struggling to make ends meet in the changing economic picture of our local community.

Interestingly enough, many families in this area make much more income than those in poverty, but as you can see from above, the cost to live here can be a challenge for many. All it can take is one job loss and a family can be catapulted into a difficult financial situation.

Middle class families are sometimes be just one paycheck or job loss away. They will come to us having lost a high paying position due to layoffs and cannot find new employment immediately. They have a $2,000 mortgage, lose their job, use up all of their savings, and then suddenly they become our new client. If they sell their home, pay off outstanding bills and find a lower paying job, they still have to come up with the deposit for a rental and then pay in rent almost the same amount they paid in mortgage, no longer building up equity. Getting assistance from Tri-Lakes Cares to stay in their home is often the little nudge they need to get back on their feet. Feeding a family can also cost quite a bit and that is another way we help. Through our food pantry, the typical family saves about $200 a month in food and sundries and are able to use those savings to help pay other household bills.

In addition to families seeking help, many of our clients are senior citizens on fixed incomes living on their social security benefits. Some regular clients are veterans, also surviving on retirement and other benefits. Like our families, they have been residents of Monument for decades and struggle to live in an area with an increasing cost of living.

I hope that this will encourage you not to make a fast judgement on what someone in poverty should look like or how they should live. A Tri-Lakes Cares client could be one of your neighbors, your friends, your children’s teachers, your co-worker, or your pastor. Anyone can run into an unfortunate series of events that brings them to our door and we are help to help without judgement.

If you know of someone who is struggling (or you, yourself, need help), we encourage you to refer them to us. Tri-Lakes Cares is open Mondays and Thursdays in the afternoon from 12 to 3p.m. and again in the evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. for those that work in the daytime.

Watch for our next blog posting which will talk about the differences in generational and situational poverty and how you can’t go by first impressions.

What is Food Insecurity?

It is estimated, that in 2016, 1 in 8 Americans were food insecure, which is equal to 42 million Americans including 13 million children.

What is “food insecurity”? The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines it as a “lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, health life.” In layman’s terms – it means you don’t know where your next meal may be coming from due to financial reasons or living with a condition which doesn’t allow you to get to a store or market.

Children and senior citizens are some of the most vulnerable to food insecurity. To learn more about how seniors are impacted by food insecurity, visit The National Council for Aging Care’s article: The Facts Behind Senior Hunger.

Tri-Lakes Cares, with the help of our community partners, donors, and supporters, works to alleviate food insecurity in our community through all of our pantry programs.

Thank you to all for your support!

 

What are Social Determinants of Health and why should you care?

What are Social Determinants of Health and why should you care?

By Cindy Stickel RN, BA, CCM / Faith Community Nurse, Penrose-St. Francis-Mission Outreach

The Colorado Trust (http://www.coloradotrust.org/) defines Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) as “factors that can either positively or negatively impact the ability for all Coloradans to lead healthy, productive lives…important aspects that influence overall health.”

The World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/en/) describes SDOH as “circumstances into which people are born, live, work, and age; and the systems put in place to deal with illness…”

Simply stated, SDOH are those social factors that affect health and the ability to be healthy.

You are affected by SDOH, either in a positive or negative way. For example, studies show that health tends to follow class systems: the higher the social position, the better the health.

60% of your health is determined by your behavior, environment, and social status. That is followed by 20% genetics and 20% healthcare access.

What are some of the Social Determinants of Health that impact your overall wellbeing?

  • Your biology and genes: health challenges or advantages
  • Personal health practices and coping skills: your ability to make choices that prevent disease
  • Your income and social status: strong relationship between your health and your social standing
  • Your education and literacy: highest level of education and ability to read affects your health
  • Your gender: demands that society puts on different genders and sexual orientation
  • Your access to healthcare
  • Food stability and your access to nutritious foods
  • Employment/working conditions: job security, safety, job benefits
  • Social environments: social support from your family/friends, church or faith community
  • Spiritual support: Whole wellness includes your mind, body, and spirit. Many health issues stem from a lack of spiritual support like loneliness, isolation, hopelessness, fear.
  • Your physical environment: stable and safe housing, transportation, air and water quality, neighborhoods; studies have shown an enormous impact on health: The average life expectancy in the homeless population is 42-52 years compared to 78 in the general population…a 30-year discrepancy!
  • Healthy child development: your early experiences affect brain development and school readiness – which carries into adulthood.
  • Your culture: language barriers, access to culturally appropriate healthcare and services

Last year, the Penrose-St. Francis Faith Community Nurses conducted a study, looking at what social factors affect clients’ health. After meeting with visitors at the Neighborhood Nurse Center at Tri-Lakes Cares, the results were troubling:

  • 52% had no income or were living on a fixed income, such as social security or disability
  • 71% had food insecurity (reported times of not having enough food to eat)
  • 45% lacked consistent transportation resources
  • 40% lacked access to a primary health care provider

As you can see, our clients noted being significantly impacted by several SDOH, including jobs/income, access to food, transportation, and healthcare.

This is surprising data, but what can we do in response?

Well, first and foremost, Faith Community Nurses cannot solve these issues alone. We collaborate with local community service organizations, like Tri-Lakes Cares, and work as a team. This partnership brings together diverse services under one roof for the underserved people living in northern El Paso County, who often don’t have access to services in Colorado Springs. It takes community partnerships to address the effects that social factors play on our neighbors’ health.

Understanding and addressing SDOH is essential to provide equitable, effective, and high quality holistic care to those we serve.

At Tri-Lakes Cares, we’ve created and improved programs to reduce poverty and factors leading to crisis. We provide a hand up during a crisis, and increase access to resources like food, clothing, housing, and transportation.

Penrose-St. Francis Faith Community Nurses at Tri-Lakes Cares serve as part of this team. We strive to improve medical services, coordinate access to healthcare, including medical, dental, mental health, and provide emotional and spiritual support – focusing on community wellness.

Together, we provide a holistic model of health, addressing the various levels of need: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual!

As a team we refer clients to appropriate resources depending on particular needs, using staff and volunteer strengths and expertise. For example, a client may come in for food from the pantry, but a thorough assessment by the case managers and/or the nurse results in them leaving with much more, like prescription assistance, access to medical care, utility or rent assistance.

Every client we see, we ask the question, ‘How can we help?’ And ‘How can we as a community team address the needs today and plan for the future?’ in order to positively affect the wellbeing of our clients, and thus, improve their ability to be healthier and stronger.

That is the ultimate goal as we think about Social Determinants of Health.

 

ABOUT CINDY STICKEL

Cindy Stickel is a Penrose-St. Francis Faith Community Nurse who staffs the Neighborhood Nurse Center at Tri-Lakes Cares in Monument. She is part of a team of six Faith Community Nurses who are assigned to community service agencies throughout El Paso County, bringing the Centura Mission to life in the community by encouraging health and healing, advocating for the most vulnerable, building relationships with neighbors in the community, reaching out and listening to those who are hurting, and creating hope.

Giving what is needed vs Giving what you want to give

Giving what is needed vs Giving what you want to give

This time of year, everyone wants to help those who are less fortunate.

When a natural disaster strikes (think the hurricanes in Texas and the Caribbean earlier this year) people want to help but donate the wrong things. For instance, does someone who lives in the tropics really need your old winter coat, even if they have lost everything to a hurricane? More likely, they need fresh water, cleaning supplies and building materials.

Similarly, think about what is needed on a local basis. Tri-Lakes Cares strives to meet the specific needs of those we serve in our community. Our Giving Tree program provides the opportunity for generous individuals to donate specific items requested by children and seniors. Our Holiday Food program gives all the fixin’s to our families to create a holiday meal at home – they can take the items and cook them at home, making memories beyond the hard times they currently face.

As impersonal as it may seem, sometimes the best thing you can do is make a financial donation. When I worked for an international aid organization back in the mid-1990’s, it was more cost effective for us to receive cash donations which were then used to purchase much needed humanitarian supplies in Europe to be shipped directly to the war-torn areas of Bosnia. If we had tried to purchase those items in the U.S. and arrange for shipping and transportation, we would have helped a lot fewer people with meager supplies.

In the same manner, Tri-Lakes Cares can leverage your donations to purchase food through Care & Share at a much reduced rate. Your $20 can purchase up to 100 lbs of food, supplementing the many donations we receive through food drives and collections in the community. In addition, your financial contribution can help with things such as rent assistance and utilities payments. This may not seem “sexy” but it can make a huge difference in the lives of those who are struggling to keep a roof over their head or make sure their families stay warm.

So, before you start collecting coats or toys or other items, contact us (or any of your preferred charities) and find out what is really needed. It may not be what you think it is.

Christine, Development Manager at TLC, worked for an international aid organization in the mid-1990’s and wrote this blog from personal experience having to provide humanitarian aid overseas.

‘Tis the season for food drives!

‘Tis the season for food drives!


Like many food banks and food pantries, Tri-Lakes Cares is entering the hectic season of food drives when community groups and individuals collect food for our pantry. With your support last year, our pantry distributed over 200,000 lbs of food through the various programs!

We are so grateful for the generosity of so many BUT sometimes the items donated are not always the most useful or the most needed to stock our shelves.

Here are a few guidelines to consider when hosting a food drive:

Visit our Current Pantry needs page to see what is most needed: Pantry Current Needs  You can also call Michèle, our Food Programs Manager to inquire about specific needs at (719) 481-4864, ext 111. She can also provide you with collection bins for smaller drives and answer any questions about donating food.

Large packages or cans are great money savers for the buyer BUT unless a family has 10 members or more in the household, these large sizes are impractical for our food pantry. We are not set up to break down large bags or boxes of beans, rice, flour or other staples (10 lbs or larger) and typically we send them to the Marian House Soup Kitchen on our Friday morning bread runs.

Avoid baby food. Believe it or not, there is little demand for these items. Most families that have infants or small children benefit from the WIC program (Women Infants and Children nutrition program) which provides them with infant formula and baby food. Most of our client families have older children and the occasional donations we receive of baby food are sufficient to meet the needs.

Exotic foods. Every food pantry receives those odd ite ms (usually left over from gift baskets) like canned oysters, wild game, oddly flavored coffees or condiments, strange vegetable combinations, etc. These items can be donated – paying attention to “best use” by dates (more on that in the next bullet) – but often they will remain sitting on our shelves as long as on your own pantry shelves.

What about those “best use by” dates or “sell by” dates? Believe it or not, these are not required by federal law (according to the USDA website), except for on infant formula. Dates are provided by manufactures to help consumers determine the best quality and time of consumption of food products. There is a lot of confusion revolving around these dates, but a good rule of thumb to follow is within one year of the date stamped on the can or box is acceptable. Anything older than that, we will not be able to use.

Watch out for those dents and broken boxes! Please do not donate cans that are severely dented, boxes that are torn or open, or any open or started food items. We will just have to dispose of them.

Consider nutrition value. A large number of the clients we serve are senior citizens, who are struggling to make ends meet. Items such as gluten free, low sodium and low sugar can be in demand, but if we don’t have it on our shelves, it makes it difficult to meet those needs.

If you don’t want to donate food, there are two other ways that you can help our pantry:

Shop “Buy It Forward”. Once a month on the first weekend of the month, the King Soopers on Baptist Road offers pre-packaged bags of the current month’s grocery items needed for our pantry. When you do your own grocery shopping, add a “Buy it Forward” bag to your cart. The bags are collected and picked up by a volunteer and delivered to Tri-Lakes Cares. It’s easy and doesn’t require any extra shopping on your part.

Donate! Believe it or not, your financial contribution can be stretched further through the buying power we have with Care & Share Food Bank, where we can typically pay 19 cents per pound for food. Your $25.00 could purchase 132 lbs of food and other items; or support other needs in the pantry. Click on the big “Donate Now” button at the top of the page to make a contribution today!

However you choose to support us, our most heartfelt thank you!