Giving Thought: A helping hand for Aspen-area families | AspenTimes.com

Giving Thought: A helping hand for Aspen-area families

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

There's a new organization in Pitkin County that supports local families. Whether you've just moved to town and need some practical advice or you're a longtime resident in economic or emotional distress, Aspen Family Connections is here to help.

Director Katherine Sand moved to Aspen in 2001 and came to know the community through working at The Thrift Shop of Aspen. Specifically, as the chairwoman of the Thrift Shop's grants committee, which distributes roughly $600,000 per year to local charities, she took a deep dive into the valley's network of nonprofits and longed to be part of it.

"When this job opened up," she said, "I jumped at it."

Aspen Community Foundation: Aspen Family Connections is a new organization. What was the original idea and how are things progressing?

Katherine Sand: I started here on Nov. 1, 2016. Ericka Dries, our family support specialist, has been here for a year, working with families and doing a great job.

This is a new idea for the upper valley, but there is already a well-established Family Resource Center in the Roaring Fork School District. I think that provided a lot of people with inspiration and also an acknowledgment of the need. About 40 youth- and family-oriented organizations met for a couple of years, in a very original and visionary community partnership, to discuss what else we could do for local families. As a result of that dialogue, people felt there should be some kind of family resource center to serve Pitkin County. The idea is to help families navigate resources that exist but are perhaps hard to access and to make connections throughout the community to strengthen families.

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We're located in Aspen Middle School, thanks to the school district, which gives us this space. But we are here to serve every family in Pitkin County.

ACF: Can you give any examples of people or families you've interacted with to date?

KS: It goes from, "We're new in town and my kid needs to learn how to ski" to "My kid needs a therapist" and everything in between. People often come to us with mental health concerns, looking for counseling support.

We start with the family. You may need a math tutor for your child, or maybe you're looking for after-school programs. Or maybe you're a part of a family that's struggling economically because it's hard to make ends meet in Aspen, even if you have a job, two jobs or sometimes three. This is an expensive and challenging place to bring up a family. Fortunately there are excellent organizations that can help, but you have to know what and where they are.

ACF: Do you charge for your services? What are your funding sources?

KS: What we do for people is absolutely without charge. Our job is to do what we can with what there is in the community and to help people find ways to pay for the services they need.

We like to say that our funding is blended and braided. It's a combination of a very generous startup grant from the Healthy Communities Fund, some money from the state Department of Human Services, the school district, of course, and others. We're in startup mode as we determine what the community needs. I will be fundraising, applying for foundation grants and appealing to private donors. We have already had interest from many people in supporting our work, not just as donors, but also as volunteers.

ACF: What do you expect Aspen Family Connections to look like in three to five years?

KS: Well, one thing that's very important is this — all of the people and organizations that came together to shape this idea are still here, not only working to support the families we're helping but also thinking about what's next for us. There are a lot of wise heads in the room.

Based on what I've seen, there's an enormous amount of latent need. It doesn't take me very long to explain what we do to anyone before they can think of something that matches what their organization does or something their family needs. I have parents stop me and say, "I've given your number to my friends." From a community standpoint, this organization has been a missing piece.

The number of phone calls, emails, casual inquiries and serious referrals we're getting mean that we will need to think about developing and growing. We'll try to match what we do to the needs we see in the community.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.

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