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Council Member Reflections: The Honorable Dennis Maes

By Seth Lindsey

The Honorable Dennis Maes, Former Chief Judge, 10th Judicial District

Southeast Regional Council member since 2007

The Honorable Dennis Maes joined the Southeast Regional Council in July 2007. One of the Council’s first grant partners was the Breakfast Buddies program which targeted children with behavioral and attendance issues in school by providing educational and nutritional support. Judge Maes was presiding over truancy court in Pueblo at the time and shared that the Council’s focus on youth added to his excitement in joining. Since its establishment, the Southeast Regional Council has consistently maintained its focus on youth. Judge Maes added, “I know it is rather trite to say this because we say it all the time; they are our future.”

By 2013, the Council narrowed its focus area to afterschool programming for at-risk youth with an emphasis on multi-year grant partners as many of its previous recommendations were small, one-time grants. Judge Maes shared that he was, “a big proponent of multi-year grants to support organizations and help them not worry if they will be able to operate in the next year.” The Boys and Girls Clubs, HOPE Center, and the Rocky Ford School District afterschool program became frontrunners for this new approach. In 2014, the Council recommended three multi-year grants totaling $245,000 to these organizations for afterschool programming.

Judge Maes spoke further about the HOPE Center and its strong leadership from Executive Director, Lori Hammer. From Judge Maes’s perspective, “Lori was everything. She wrote the grants, mopped the floors, washed the windows, and was instrumental in getting things done.” With limited resources, the Council had concerns regarding the toll of fundraising on the HOPE Center. This was just one example of a broader issue regarding nonprofit organizations’ access to grants in Southern Colorado. In response to this concern, the Council began planning a way to provide widespread fundraising support.

After a joint council meeting with the San Luis Valley Regional Council in June 2016, the two councils partnered with the Community Resource Center (CRC) to co-fund a grant writing workshop for nonprofits across both regions. Each council invited four to five organizations to participate in the workshop and leave with a Colorado Common Grant application followed by one-on-one sessions with CRC staff to help organizations formulate a list of grant opportunities for the future. For Judge Maes, the heart of the issue was building the financial stability and sustainability of the organizations.

In 2019, the Council determined a new focus area, shifting from afterschool programming to youth mental health. Judge Maes shared an important lesson from the Council’s first steps in this new focus area: “We made a mistake by going into the communities and telling them what we thought they needed instead of listening. Now, when we go in, we always listen first.”

As a result, in August 2021 the Council convened a group of mental health providers which led to the recommendation of four multi-year grants totaling $205,000 to different youth mental health providers in the region.

Judge Maes hopes the Southeast Regional Council continues to be “persistent and consistent, continuing to recognize the needs of our community and doing everything possible to help them.” Over his more than 15 years working with the Regional Partnerships program, his advice to new council members is simple: “Know your community.”

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