It is hard asking for help, but Brandy Ward swallowed her pride when she and her four children – all younger than 10 – walked into Durango High School.
“I don’t know how I feel,” she said. “I feel ashamed of myself, but I know that it will help.”
As more than a dozen people representing local social, health and education agencies stood Saturday at tables around Ward under the fluorescent lights of the DHS Commons, she said, “I knew this was a place to come for any kind of help.”
Durango School District 9-R invited the agencies it works with most when trying to help families solve the many problems poverty can cause, said school councilor Sean Hembree. The idea for the Community Resource Fair developed out of what he called a “poverty simulation.”
District 9-R staff assumed the role of a fictional family this past summer, each of different sizes and earning different incomes, Hembree said. The simulation took weeks, and he said staff members were forced, at times and vicariously, to choose between food and health care, work or child care.
“It helps dispel some of the myths surrounding poverty,” Hembree said.
But many of the people gathered for their familiarity with the resources to help families in need this weekend sat at tables waiting for people to ask. A low turnout may be attributed to the stressors of the holiday season coupled with the challenges of poverty, said Claire Ninde, spokeswoman for San Juan Basin Public Health.
It can be daunting, even for professionals like Hembree, the school councilor said, to find help from the more than 100 nonprofits working in La Plata County. It was clear when staff organized the event, he said, that Saturday’s three-hour fair might be a hard sell for families in need because it is difficult to ask for help.
District 9-R hopes to turn the Community Resource Fair into a biannual event, Hembree said. It’ll take better timing next year, but Ninde said it’s worth the effort.
There is value in having all organizations and agencies in one place at the same time, she said, and there is value in meeting people face-to-face and seeing the collaborative community support for those who may need it.
It’s nice to have so many support services in one place, even if it feels a bit degrading to go to them for help, Ward said, her children coloring at a table in the gymnasium.
Of the four she brought – she has six in total – Ward said the two youngest were most excited about the winter warmth kits they got from San Juan Basin Public Health.
“They’re the social butterflies,” she said.
It would be great if District 9-R hosted a Community Resource Fair twice every school year, Ward said. She moved back to Durango from Iowa about a year-and-a-half ago and said she plans to tell her friends and neighbors about the event.
It’s hard to get to the many social service organizations spread around Durango and La Plata County, Ward said.
“This is way better,” she said.