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Deborah Hendrix, a Pikes Peak United Way board member, said community input will guide the services offered at the Family Success Center.

Pikes Peak United Way, in partnership with Harrison School District 2, will be opening a Family Success Center at what is now Pikes Peak Elementary School beginning in August of 2022. Pikes Peak Elementary’s approximately 350 students will be sent to nearby Carmel Community School, Monterey Elementary and Centennial Elementary schools after the current school year, while PPUW will take over the location and offer a variety of services and programming to community members in the building.

“This idea has been brewing for the last four years,” said PPUW President and CEO Cindy Aubrey during an Oct. 9 town hall event organized by District 4 City Councilor Yolanda Avila. “Originally this idea came about because we were working with kids from Mitchell High School. We were working there because the graduation rates were the lowest in the city, and we wanted to get there and see how can United Way get involved and be helpful to the families, to the kids, because we need to do something. We got to know the families pretty well and started floating this idea around called the Family Success Center, and when people found out what it was they said, ‘That’s great, but we want it to be in Southeast Colorado Springs.’”

The Family Success Center will house a variety of programs and services for students, parents and family members. “This center will be a resource for the neighborhood to discover its unique strengths and assets, and to address challenges and explore opportunities,” said Deborah Hendrix, a member of the Pikes Peak United Way Board of Directors. “It will be a place where families and students can achieve their goals by connecting with the resources, training and support they need to reduce barriers and increase their chances for success. The overarching desire is for residents to see this Family Success Center as a place of hope and opportunity. The center will provide pathways to goals, dreams and expectations, building personal empowerment and offering training and career options. This will not be a hand out, but a hand up. A two-generational approach will be used to provide improved outcomes for both parents, grandparents, guardians and their children. The two-gen approach focuses on creating opportunities for addressing needs of both children and their respective caregivers, together. We know that children fare better on numerous measures when parents are economically secure, educated and healthy. Engaging all adults in a home and including all household members contributes to the overall economic vitality and stability of the family.”

United Way’s Family Success Center is not only made possible by D2, which will be renting out the space at Pikes Peak Elementary School, but also by a $1.5 million grant from the city of Colorado Springs. “The City of Colorado Springs has placed high priority on a number of projects here in the Southeast, including the $8.5 million investment in Panorama Park and the $160 million in road and bridge projects over a two-year period,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. “That investment will positively impact us city-wide, and be especially impactful for folks living in the Southeast. The facility that we’ve identified here today, after all the intrigue about where this might be, this facility is also going to positively impact families in this quadrant of our city. When we learned about the partnership between Harrison School District 2 and Pikes Peak United Way, the city of Colorado Springs wanted to do all we could to come alongside and help make this project a reality. The business plan was solid, with great ideas about repurposing this wonderful elementary school into a place where residents of all ages can come for education, assistance, social services and more. I’m very grateful to the City Council who voted unanimously to provide a $1.5 million grant to renovate this existing facility and make the Family Success Center a reality. The city is proud to be part of this public, private and nonprofit partnership.”

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Mayor John Suthers announced that $1.5 million in grant funding had been provided to Pikes Peak United Way by the City of Colorado Springs.

Additional financial partners include Ent Credit Union, Colorado Springs Health Foundation, USAA, Weidner Apartment Homes, Mari Wiseman Deminski and Larry H. Miller Charities. Additionally, Sen. Michael Bennet (D) has secured $250,000 for Pikes Peak United Way in a Senate Appropriations Bill. The Senate is expected to vote on the bills by the end of the year either individually or as a combined package.

Wendy Birhanzel, D2’s superintendent, said changing demographics in Southeast Colorado Springs made the partnership possible. “We’ve been looking at demography studies in Harrison for years,” she said. “We have a declining enrollment, we’re landlocked and people are having fewer babies and the cost of housing is pushing people out, so we knew we had some buildings that had less than ideal enrollment. We’d been looking at that for years. Then this last year we really decided how to target and support our students best, moving them to higher-population enrollments, and United Way came along at the same time, with this Family Success Center that they’ve been wanting to do.”

Birhanzel notes that the Family Success Center is another example of D2 offering services and opportunities to students outside of the classroom. “As educators, we think we need to teach reading, writing math — which we do — but it has to go beyond that,” she said. “We have to help the family unit, as a whole, progress. That’s how the food distribution comes into play, the clothing closets, the Family Success Center. We want to change the narrative for the whole family, not just the student who is in our seat, so we really say our impact extends beyond the school doors. Our job is to serve the community.”

In addition to offering D2’s adult education programs, the Family Success Center will host a wide variety of programs with input from the community. “We will continue working with residents in Southeast, determining what they want and need in the Family Success Center,” said Hendrix. “Here is what we’ve been told so far: job readiness and training classes that prepare adults for new and better jobs, GED classes that help adult learners prepare for, pay for and pass the required test, financial literacy workshops and one-on-one credit counseling that helps people understand and manage their personal finances, health and wellness education opportunities that ensure families have the knowledge to meet their emotional, physical and nutritional needs, including nutrition counseling, health clinic and mental health counselors to meet the physical and mental health needs of families, parenting groups, evidence-based parent education, support groups for young parents, moms’ groups for new babies, grandparent support groups, fatherhood enrichment activities, computer training and tutoring and so much more.”

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.