Westside CARES pleased with 1st year in new site

       More than a year since moving out of its long-time home in a church basement, Westside CARES is happy to have a location with more than twice the space.
       Giving a tour recently at 2808 W. Colorado Ave, Executive Director Steve Brown pointed out how the two-story, 9,600-square-foot building allows room for a lobby where clients can wait their turn - in the basement, it had been a hallway - as well as additional work stations for staff and volunteers and increased storage areas for clothing and food.

Often out of view of needy clients, staff and volunteers at Westside CARES work on emergency-assistance issues. Shown above are (from left) Jana Bohnen, Carol Keenen and Carol Wilkinson.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The building “makes a strong statement about the values of Westside CARES,” Brown summed up in a recent column in the agency's newsletter, the Connection. “It is a lovely building, filled with beautiful people.”
       Started in 1983-84, Westside CARES is funded through a collaboration of 22 churches, plus grants and individual donations. It's run by a small paid staff, bolstered by volunteers. Emergency aid is most often food and clothing, but a nurse is on hand a few hours a week (a gift from Penrose/St. Francis), and staffers who understand bureaucratic machinations help clients with referrals or in filling out forms. Available on a limited basis is financial assistance for rent, utilities, clothing, laundry, glasses, prescriptions and/or bus fares.
       The staff works daily, but public hours are 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, plus 4:30 to 6:30 Thursday evenings.
       Applicants eligible for food allotments are given vouchers they can turn in at any of six Westside CARES pantries, including (on the Westside) Sacred Heart and Trinity United Methodist churches and the Westside Community Center.
       Working families who've hit on hard times are the most frequent client type, Brown said.
       Having a more accessible site on the avenue has not led to drastically increased numbers of people seeking help. The average daily sign-ins before the Westside CARES move in September 2013 were 160 to 180 a day. Now they're about 200, he said.
       A neighborhood concern going in had been that a facility giving things to the needy might attract less reputable sorts. However, such problems have apparently been rare. Both Brown and local police said the complaints have been few, and CARES staff try to be watchful for people hanging out around the building. “We're trying to be good neighbors,” Brown said.
       While most recipients live in the Old Colorado City area, the agency's geographic area is much broader: west of I-25 and Highway 115, south of the Air Force Academy, east of Teller County and south to the westward extension of Academy Boulevard. “CARES” is an acronym for community action, resources and emergency services.
       As for the building itself, a nonstop concern is taking care of it and paying off its mortgage. The building was in good shape when purchased, but shortly afterward the elevator stopped working. Another undesirable discovery was that the second floor was too cold in winter, which led to unanticipated insulation costs.
       What staffers would like to do, when money is available, is to add amenities that would enhance client service. Examples are better handicapped access and a partition of the waiting room to create separate space for families with children.
       A capital campaign - addressing the mortgage as well as maintenance costs - is under way, with a goal of $1.5 million. Gifts and pledges as of November have totalled $640,000, Brown said.
       In his Connection column, he compared the building-related financial aspects of Westside CARES with riding on a roller-coaster, which can make a person feel as if “our stomachs had been pushed into our ankles.” The column concluded with an appeal for financial support, “and if you hear some muffled screaming, that's just me trying to avoid nausea and a bad headache and enjoying the ride.”

Westside Pioneer article