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Community-led program asks what can be done for local youths struggling

Team UP for Students seeks to use programs already in place for La Plata County youths
Team UP for Students has its first meeting to tackle issues facing La Plata County youths. “What are the barriers keeping La Plata youths from doing outside-the-classroom stuff or from utilizing youths services?” asked United Way of Southwest Colorado President and CEO Lynn Urban. “What are the restrictions? What resources can we recommend to parents?” (Megan K. Olsen/Durango Herald)

La Plata County youths struggling with mental health and other issues, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, may be getting some assistance from a newly organized, community-led program with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

La Plata County announced on Oct. 28 that the final $3.5 million of its American Rescue Plan Act funds would go to 13 different projects throughout the county. United Way of Southwest Colorado, which organizes collaborative efforts to assist communities in-need, received $350,000, and of that, $175,000 will be going toward the struggling youths of La Plata County. The purpose of ARPA is to help economies and residents hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, teachers, parents and representatives from youth services and programs from around La Plata County gathered for the first meeting of the Team UP for Students Foundational Series, a community collaborative that will figure out how that $175,000 from ARPA can be used to assist youth recovery in the county, especially after the two-year impact of the pandemic.

“We’re focusing on what we already have in La Plata (County),” said United Way of Southwest Colorado President and CEO Lynn Urban. “We don’t want to start something new. We want to work with the programs already established in the community. Everything for students outside the classroom. After school stuff like The Boys and Girls Club and La Plata County youth services.”

“We need an Uber for students!” joked one of the educators in attendance, when the discussion turned toward where the funds would go, but the reference was based on a more serious issue of why a lot of county students do not participate in youth services or programs. To put it simply, many of them do not have access because of a lack of transportation.

“It’s a major barrier in rural communities,” Urban said.

“Some of them might also be so suicidal, they can’t make it there,” said Kasey Correia, executive director of Dancing Spirit Community Art Center. “That’s something to consider.”

The group discussed a recent study run by San Juan BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services) that asked La Plata County students about certain issues they faced within their community, and 54% of those surveyed said that suicide was a “huge issue.”

“These are the kinds of things we want to tackle,” Urban said. “These issues that were made worse by COVID. What are the barriers keeping La Plata youths from doing outside-the-classroom stuff or from utilizing youth services? What are the restrictions? What resources can we recommend to parents?”

Mental health, child abuse, and lack of access to transportation and food will be the at the forefront of Team UP’s efforts to help local youths moving forward.

“Our job (United Way) is to get the districts talking to each other,” Urban said. “Then get them to collaborate and prioritize strategies for helping our youths and put funding toward it.”

One attendee was unconvinced of the actual money available for Team UP.

“One-hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars isn’t nearly enough for all of these programs,” he said. “How are we supposed to spread it out?”

“That’s why we need a steering committee, so they can decide where the money needs to go,” Urban said.

Team UP’s next meetings will determine who will be on the steering committee, what efforts need to be prioritized and where the funds from ARPA will be allocated.

Anyone in La Plata County is invited to come to the meetings and collaborate on efforts to improve the quality of life for local youths. The next meeting will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 17 at The Durango Rec Center.

molsen@durangoherald.com

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