Billie Stanton Anleu, The Gazette
A major, multifaceted community boosting effort is coming to southeast Colorado Springs, a part of the city that has struggled with high poverty and crime rates, thanks in part to El Pomar Foundation and El Paso County Public Health.
El Pomar committed Thursday to a $350,000 grant over a seven years in support of the RISE coalition of more than 30 public, private, nonprofit and community agencies in the southeast quadrant.
"Possibilities: Southeast Colorado Springs" is the coalition's initiative to empower community residents and activists to steer the effort.
Nearly one-fourth of residents in the southeast section live in poverty, with a 9.8 percent unemployment rate - compared to 4.1 percent citywide. Southeast neighborhoods are more heavily minority, with both Hispanic and black residents present at about twice their numbers citywide.
But the community is proud, family-oriented and resilient, residents told El Pomar researchers.
Those community members will compose the majority on the steering committee and be encouraged to participate in the push toward healthier families, community and economy. In order to engage more residents, Public Health will provide child care, healthy meals and snacks, translation support and transportation to and from meetings.
"The health department mission is people, prevention and partnerships," said Dan Martindale, director of county Public Health. "And when you add funding to that, the sky's the limit."
El Pomar's research found strong organizations, programs and people committed to the community, and they will be tapped. Silver Key Senior Services recently moved into the area, and the city of Colorado Springs recently completed the new Deerfield Hills Community Center.
"The city can bring considerable leverage and influence to this effort," said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, noting the $1.8 million spent by the city on community development in recent years, the improved transportation through Mountain Metro Transit and creation of an economic opportunity zone along South Academy Boulevard.
Councilwoman Helen Collins, who represents the area, is expected to participate, too. "I know she cares about the community, and this is one of those opportunities," said Mina Liebert, a county public health planner who will run the RISE steering committee. (The acronym signifies resilient, inspired, strong, engaged.)
Under Public Health's plan, the Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce will run a committee on building a healthy economy. The YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region will coordinate the panel on healthy families. And the Council of Neighbors and Organizations will work with residents on building a healthy community. Planning will continue through March by the county's public health leaders and its RISE coalition.
County Public Health won the El Pomar grant of $25,000 to start the initiative. When Kyle Hybl, chief operating officer of El Pomar Foundation, announced the grant Thursday at the Deerfield Hills Community Center, the crowd reacted with excitement. "It goes to show the number of community partners and invested residents that want to create change," Liebert said. "This funding truly is bringing together multiple partners."