Volunteer Gwynne Allen stocks the shelves at Tri-Lakes Cares.
Volunteer Gwynne Allen stocks the shelves at Tri-Lakes Cares.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a weekly series running through December highlighting nonprofit agencies and their programs that are part of the Give! Campaign. For more information, go to indygive.com.

Founded more than 30 years ago by Celia Snyder, Tri-Lakes Cares has been a beacon of hope to those living in need in the northernmost reaches of the El Paso County.

Focused on emergency assistance and building self-sufficiency as well as relief programs (school supplies or turkeys at Thanksgiving), TLC is the only health and human services agency providing a one-stop-shop north of Colorado Springs.

The nonprofit is participating in the Give! Campaign for its second consecutive year, and has undergone several changes since it joined the campaign, according to Executive Director Haley Chapin. Changes include the expansion of its service area, the closure of its social enterprise thrift store, Hangars, and loosening its client eligibility requirements to better meet the needs of the Tri-Lakes demographic.

Regarding its income standards, Chapin said Tri-Lakes Cares moved to using area median income — rather than the federal poverty level — as its eligibility metric.

“We wanted to be more reflective of the community we serve,” Chapin said. “Part of our strategic plan is being nimble, so we went to area median income. The five zip codes we serve have higher costs of living than the city [of Colorado Springs] or [El Paso County] as a whole.”

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An individual making up to $44,376 is eligible for assistance through TLC, Chapin said. Federal poverty guidelines limited assistance to individuals making no more than $21,978.

“We’re expecting a jump,” she said. “Our overall assistance numbers were going down, but we had the capacity, so we bumped up our eligibility level so we can service more people.”

In the most recent fiscal year concluding in September, 1,331 individuals in 490 households received 10,883 instances of service from TLC. That included 86 veterans receiving 778 instances of services; 173 senior citizens receiving 4,854 instances of services; and 233 individuals living with a disability who received services.

In addition, this school year TLC will provide about 400 children in Lewis-Palmer School District 38 schools (plus one school in Academy School District 20) with “Snack Packs” for weekend consumption. Those eligible have qualified for free and reduced-price lunches at school and may experience “food insecurity” at home over the weekend. In April 2017, D-38 confirmed nearly 9 percent of those enrolled qualified.

Chapin also said TLC closed its social enterprise thrift store last year because of increased competition and declining profitability. She said the closure has amounted to a loss in the “six figures” for the nonprofit.

Last year’s budget was just short of $1.5 million, with nearly $627,000 coming from in-kind donations. In fiscal year 2018, TLC has budgeted $850,192 in cash and $640,612 in in-kind donations. The nonprofit employs 12, to include five full-time employees, Chapin said. She added that service areas include all of 80921, as well as Black Forest, Monument, Palmer Lake and the Air Force Academy.

“You would think the academy would have a system to help their own, and they do, but there’s lots of stigma tied to looking for help and it can make your permanent file. … They can come here and we don’t disclose that information,” she said.

Chapin said TLC’s participation last year in the Give! Campaign netted a couple thousand dollars — more than she expected.

“We were happily surprised last year. We hadn’t been involved in Give! before,” she said. “We’re thrilled to be part of Give! again. Sometimes it seems the north end of the county is forgotten about. … We’ll work with anybody to bring that awareness up here.”