By Nissa LaPoint/Catholic Charities of Denver
While Team Samaritan House riders cycled past Dillon Reservoir Wednesday morning to raise awareness of people in need, team member Larry Smith visited one of Catholic Charities’ newest service locations in the area.
Since Smith became president and CEO of Catholic Charities, the charitable organization serving northern Colorado expanded its services, most recently its women’s, child care and immigration services to Summit County residents.
“Catholic Charities needs to be here because we need to be wherever there are people who are in need,” Smith said about its Parish Center location in Frisco, Colo. “By doing it with a parish center, we’re also giving them an opportunity to know Jesus and the Church in a way that advances their spiritual life as well as their material life.”
Smith’s visit June 15 coincided with the annual Ride the Rockies Colorado Bicycle Tour. A group of 30 volunteer cyclists wearing Team Samaritan House jerseys rode the tour to raise funds and show compassion for the needy. Smith drove a support vehicle for the team and visited staff along the way.
Since Catholic Charities’ Gabriel House project opened in September 2015 to serve mothers with children 5 years and younger, staff served 62 families in the area—and that number is only increasing, said Graciela Harris, the organization’s new childhood outreach specialist in Summit County.
“This is a very expensive community to live in,” Harris said. “There is a population that needs these services. They’re not always visible, but they’re contributing members of the community.”
A community of Hispanics living in the mountain towns also need assistance with documentation. Catholic Charities added a monthly immigration counseling opportunity to assist families and child care services to help train and license area providers.
Harris said she’s also working to bring the sometimes “hidden” services of child care out to the daylight.
“It’s one of those things that’s a hidden service because Colorado mandates that providers are licensed, but many are not,” she said. “But we’re here to say, ‘You don’t have to fear. We can help you get licensed.’”
In Summit County, the high cost of living and state licensing mandate drives child care services underground. She joined Catholic Charities to help launch the program “¡Enseñanza!” and transform childcare into a supportive network of trained and licensed providers.
“What we hope to do is to reach out to people who care for children in their own homes and make sure that the quality of service is good,” Harris said. “The ultimate goal is to move childcare providers toward training and help them become licensed.”
It’s unknown how many provide childcare in the county, she said. A perfect storm of a rising number of households with children in Summit County—a 23 percent increase over 10 years according to a 2013 study—and rising costs of living has squeezed families looking for affordable, and safe, options for childcare.
“Of the many families I’ve met who don’t qualify for Head Start, they will find the nearest friend or affordable provider to watch their child,” Harris said.
The concern is that private childcare providers may be isolated and lacking the training to effectively prepare children—from infancy to 4 years old—for schooling.
Catholic Charities wants to expand resources for these providers to network and access educational opportunities that translate into developmentally-appropriate care and learning experiences for children. The hope is to raise the number of available providers in Summit County to help drive down the costs for families. Licensing will help ensure children are left in a safe environment, she said.
Since services were expanded, the response has been overwhelming, Harris added, and their presence is making a difference in the lives of families.
Smith said that families in need in Summit County should have a voice.
“These people need a voice,” he said. “As a church organization we have a duty to help these people right where they are—that is our calling.”
For more information about services in Summit County, call (720) 584-0299 or visit https://ccdenver.org/summit-county-services.