The Truth About Southeast Colorado
By Andrea Swan, Program Manager, Rural Philanthropy Days
“Most people don’t think there is anything out here and don’t have any interest in visiting.”
“We really only get bad press out here and people often only highlight the things that are going wrong, rather than what’s going right.”
If you read the recent “Colorado Divide” series from the Denver Post, you’ll know this perspective is all too common in Southeast Colorado. Many residents are used to their corner of Colorado only making the news when discussing disheartening trends in rural America. We frequently hear of the resource deficiencies, lack of job diversity, and cycles of generational poverty. This message does nothing to lift the region up or highlight the amazing work of strong-willed leaders fiercely supporting their communities. It is time to flip the script and start telling the truth about Southeast Colorado.
Spend one day in the region and you’ll experience the unique beauty of the expansive plains, where the sky never ends and sunflowers crowd two-lane roads. You’ll visit communities that are supportive, tight-knit and fiercely independent all at once. You’ll meet resilient and resourceful people doing vital work to address community needs. You don’t have to look very hard to see all that is right in the Southeast.
Diligent and committed community groups and volunteers are busy revitalizing downtowns, building arts districts and creating supportive spaces to provide essential services. In Prowers County, Lamar Partnership Inc. is an accredited Main Street America program and is recognized in a national network of over 1,200 communities creating quality spaces and strong neighborhoods through preservation-based economic development. Further west, Trinidad Artspace is leading a statewide effort to connect affordable housing and creative economic development. This initiative will help to grow and enrich the already bustling Corazon de Trinidad Creative District. In Bent County, the historic Fort Lyon Correctional Facility has been repurposed and now serves as Fort Lyon Supportive Residential Community, providing transitional housing, counseling, educational and vocational services for 250 individuals previously experiencing homelessness.
We visited Lamar earlier this month to launch planning for the 2018 Southeast Rural Philanthropy Days conference. The Lamar-based event will engage nonprofit professionals, community leaders, government officials and business leaders from Baca, Bent, Crowley, Huerfano, Kiowa, Las Animas, Otero and Prowers counties, as well as statewide grantmakers and resource providers. The local Steering Committee, a group of 30 dedicated nonprofit professionals and community leaders, shared why engaging in this effort was so important. They called out the naysayers in their towns and around the state, firmly emphasizing the wonderful assets of their communities. RPD is a chance to showcase the opportunities for investment and connect their projects to meaningful resources.
It is clear Southeast Colorado is working to revitalize its communities and allow residents to truly thrive. We have the privilege of working alongside these incredible individuals in their efforts to highlight all that is right and good in the region, a list of projects big and small. It’s time that Southeast Colorado gets the recognition and uplifting narrative that it deserves – we can’t wait for 2018!