It takes a community

By Paula Blair, Case Manager & Program Manager

There is a phrase which is used frequently – “it takes a village.” The Tri-Lakes community exemplified this recently.

On a snowy and cold January day, Jim and Mary – homeless clients of Tri-Lakes Cares – had a special request.

They have been living in their old van at a local truck stop. Jim and Mary had already shelled out money for repairs, but it still need extensive repairs, including heat making it even more difficult to stay warm.

They had read on TLC’s website that we could offer hotel vouchers, so they asked if they could get one to get in out of the cold. Fortunately, we had received grant funds from First Congregational Church in Colorado Springs specifically to help homeless clients.

Since Jim and Mary were currently parked at a gas station on Baptist Road, it was suggested they could stay at the closest hotel, The Fairfield Inn. Haley, TLC’s Executive Director, told Paula, the Case Manager to contact Dave, a TLC board member, who knew the owner of the Fairfield Inn. After several phone calls and emails, a room was secured at a steeply discounted rate – just in time for Jim and Mary to be safely housed before a snow storm the following day.

In the meantime, Haley also contacted Kyle and Carrie, owners of Christian Brothers Automotive in Monument to find out if one of their technicians to look at the van where it was currently parked. A tech went out and determined that it was an easy and inexpensive fix. He drove the van to the shop, where Christian Brothers provided a deep discount to TLC to help these homeless clients.

In the end, the van was repaired, while Jim and Mary were safe in a hotel room during a very cold snap.

We thank Kevin, the owner of the Fairfield Inn; Kyle and Carrie, owners of Christian Brothers Automotive, and First Congregational Church in Colorado Springs for assisting two individuals with life-saving help.

Cooking Matters – Learning how to shop for, and cook, healthy meals on a budget

By Michele Palmer, Food Programs Manager

Earlier this year, Tri-Lakes Cares partnered with Care & Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado to begin offering “Cooking Matters” classes to our clients.

Per Jessica McConnell, the Cooking Matters Program Manager at Care & Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado:

Cooking Matters helps families to shop for and cook healthy meals on a budget, as part of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

Cooking Matters offers cooking, food skills, and nutrition education for community members facing food-insecurity. We provide courses and tours throughout El Paso County to teach skills for creating healthy meals and stretching food budgets to ensure families are fed and nourished. The classes are hands-on, skill-building, and discussion based to introduce low-income families to healthy possibilities within their financial means. We staff classes with Nutrition and Culinary experts, and other volunteers from the community, so the participants can get the most knowledge from the classes.

Sisters, Bella and Micah cooking up some fun in the kitchen!

In July, we concluded our first “Cooking Matters” class for families. Trinity Lutheran Church offered their kitchen facilities for 4 families (4 adults and 4 children) to learn about shopping and cooking healthy meals on a budget. With the help of Jane, a Tri-Lakes Cares volunteer nutritionist, the families and other TLC volunteers prepared dishes which were both budget-wise and healthy. Everyone then ate together, with the clients receiving the ingredients to re-create the meal at home. After completing the 6-week course, the graduates received a cookbook, cutting board, reusable grocery shopping bag and, best of all, a super-duper, high quality Chef’s knife!

We are currently conducting our second session of “Cooking Matters” – this one for adults only.

If you would like to learn more about the “Cooking Matters” classes please contact Paula Blair, Programs Manager at (719) 481-4864, ext 112.


Ayla and her brother study the weekly sales ads. Hmmm…what will be on the menu?


Chef Lynne (and TLC Volunteer) teaching about cooking, prep and knife skills.


Volunteer nutritionist Jane did a fantastic job teaching the aspiring home chefs about nutrition, smart shopping on a budget, and menu planning.

Some of the proud graduates! They successfully completed the 6-week course and received a cookbook, cutting board, reusable grocery bag, and best of all, a super duper high quality chef’s knife!


The Cooking Matters classes would not be possible without our fabulous volunteers! From left to right: Mary, Lori, Paul, Lynne, Rebecca and Jane. A big thank you!

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!



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.



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!