It began as part of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s War on Poverty, and 50 years later, the nonprofit Southern Ute Community Action Programs has become an integral part of the Ignacio community, serving everyone from babies through seniors.
Among SUCAP’s many programs are Head Start and Early Head Start, the Ignacio Senior Center, The Training Advantage, Peaceful Spirit Treatment Center, SUCAP Youth Services and Road Runner Transit.
Each of those has subsidiary programs, SUCAP Executive Director Eileen Wasserbach said. She has been involved with SUCAP since 1983 – except for a five-year hiatus – and has been executive director since 2000.
While the two Head Start programs serve about 190 children from 140 families each year, including providing transportation, the agency also includes parental advocacy, parenting training and developmental screening in its offerings as well as administering a child care assistance program for Native Americans in La Plata County and a child safety-seat program.
“Services consistently exceed the traditional standards of Head Start programs,” Wasserbach said. “In fact, this program has been selected as a model program for other Indian and non-Indian Head Start services throughout the country.”
For more than 200 seniors in Southeast La Plata County, SUCAP provides nutrition, transportation, information and recreation services.
While youth services are relatively new, SUCAP operates Curiosity, an after-school program in the Ignacio School District, in addition to working with junior and senior high students to promote healthful lifestyles, including avoidance of drugs and alcohol.
“Teen Court is operated in the Ignacio middle and high schools as a function of this program,” Wasserbach said.
One of the early focuses of the nonprofit was training people and creating employment, Wasserbach said. An initial enterprises was a cucumber farm, with the harvest used to make pickles, “first pickle,” the organization’s scrapbook says proudly from that period.
“The first director was Peggy Richards,” Wasserbach said. “There really was some vision there.”
Training and providing workforce opportunities is still one of SUCAP’s principal programs. The Training Advantage, which assisted more than 1,800 people in 2015, operates in 17 Colorado counties in the Western, Southwest and Southwest regions with offices in Durango, Ignacio, Pagosa Springs, Cortez, Montrose, Delta and Gunnison.
“The disease of substance abuse is another common problem targeted by SUCAP,” she said. “Peaceful Spirit offers a 40-day residential treatment program, outpatient services, women’s groups, a transitional living component, family counseling and therapy, relapse prevention and aftercare and wellness/fitness-related activities.”
Taking the leadIt’s the many firsts in its inaugural five decades SUCAP can look back on with pride, Wasserbach said.
“SUCAP took the lead in getting ambulances and medical equipment stationed in Ignacio and Arboles in the 1970s,” she said. “SUCAP also arranged to train EMTs to serve on call around the clock.”
All of Southwest Colorado can thank SUCAP for helping to found the Crossroads Center at Grandview, which serves as the detox unit for several counties.
The nonprofit also helped found the first iteration of the Ignacio Public Library before there was a library district, a Teen Drop-In Center, an Even Start Family Literacy Program and a community fitness program in an old Army building that led to the SunUte Community Recreation Center.
Community Action Programs were founded in 1964, and Ignacio was initially served by Southwest Community Action in Durango, Wasserbach said.
The 26-mile difference made it difficult for the organization to serve Ignacio, so two years later, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe formed its own organization.
“The Tribal Council accepted the opportunity on the condition that the OEO (Office of Economic Opportunity-Indian Desk) would agree to the tribe’s plan to offer the services to all low-income people residing within the boundaries of (Ignacio) School District 11-JT regardless of ethnic background,” she said. “This action was unique because most Indian Tribes with Community Action Programs opted to serve only their own tribal membership. The Tribal Council believed that if they were truly to develop tribal human resources, they must help improve the lives of their non-Indian neighbors as well.”