SAN MIGUEL COUNTY – The annual ringing of the Salvation Army bell at Christmas-time may soon become a familiar sound in Telluride and Norwood. The Christian-based human services organization is establishing a presence in the region in the form of a new San Miguel Service Extension Unit, tasked with serving the residents of San Miguel County in the most need.
There will be welcoming reception on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 5-7 p.m. at the Wilkinson Library, where the community is invited to learn what services the Salvation Army will be offering in the region and what kinds of volunteer opportunities are available.
“A service extension unit is the smallest thing a Salvation Army unit can be,” says San Miguel Service Extension Unit boardmember Jennifer Dinsmore, who also serves as Emergency Management Coordinator for the San Miguel Sheriff's Office. “We collect donations, we offer services.”
The county's new service extension unit was instigated by the intermountain division of the Salvation Army, according to Jacqueline Cisneros, regional service extension coordinator for Colorado and Utah. Based in Denver, Cisneros oversees the 58 volunteer-run service units in Colorado and Utah; there are a total of 110 units in the intermountain division, which includes Wyoming and Montana.
“I contacted different officials in the community and we did case a study of what needs there were in San Miguel County,” says Cisneros, explaining that with Salvation Army service units already in place in Montrose, Durango, Cortez, Delta, Gunnison, Pagosa Springs and Moab, there was a gap in San Miguel County. “We figured we could help there,” she says, adding that she is currently evaluating the need for a service unit in Ouray County, as well.
In San Miguel County, Cisneros says, “I contacted everybody – churches, community leaders, local volunteers.” From that, “a diverse group of volunteers came together to bring the unit there. I think we have a good representation of people from the community coming together to fill in the gaps of what needs there are. But we're always looking for more volunteers.”
According to Dinsmore, Cisneros and the San Miguel Service Unit board talked to regional service providers, including One Telluride, Angel Baskets, San Miguel Resource Center and Telluride Foundation, to identify major service needs in the county, and they came up with transportation assistance and emergency housing as the most immediate needs.
Transportation assistance might include providing fuel to a person who needs to drive to Montrose for a doctor's appointment or a Greyhound bus ticket to someone needing to go to Denver. For emergency housing, “we will work with hotels in the area to give us a reduced rate for someone in need for up to three days,” says Dinsmore. If the person or family needs housing beyond three days, “we'll re-evaluate after that time.”
The Salvation Army provided $5,000 in seed money to get the San Miguel Service Extension Unit started, and “we just developed a mission statement,” says Dinsmore.
“We're hoping to launch our services on Oct. 6 with the open house.”
“We're trying to create our foundation and our name in the community,” explains Cisneros. From there “we see it taking off. We have another list of other needs that aren't being met, so we will slowly add other [goals]. But we don't want to do that until we are solid. We constantly keep an eye out because communities are always changing.”
Once the county service unit meets its first two goals of transportation and emergency housing, the board will expand to other needs, which may or may not include creating a Salvation Army thrift store.
“We have all these great big ideas, but we want to focus on these two first,” says Dinsmore. “One thing that I am so excited about – once you have a Salvation Army unit in your county, the county is eligible for the services that the Salvation Army already provides, such as disaster response services. For example, if we need to evacuate and shelter people, the Salvation Army will help feed those people.”
Also, social services organizations will be able to use the program as a referral for their clients in need.
One additional goal the San Miguel Service Unit will work toward sooner rather than later is putting the traditional Salvation Army holiday-season donation kettles in several area communities this year. “We want this to be seen as a collaborative effort,” says Cisneros, who herself has worked several hours as a kettle ringer, which she found to be a valuable experience. “You see so many types of people who donate, all different generations telling Salvation Army stories.”
Ninety percent of the money collected through the kettle ringing program stays in the community, says Cisneros. “The unit sets up the guidelines for spending. We don't tell you how to spend it; we work with the unit to come up with guidelines and regulations. It will go to help locals, it will help transient visitors – whatever is needed.” The remaining 10 percent goes back to Salvation Army divisional headquarters as a tithe, she says.
Cisneros has been traveling to Telluride every other month since January to get the San Miguel Service Unit off the ground. “I'm on the road a lot. I've visited all my units within the last year” to show support, provide guidance, provide necessary tools, go to meetings and events, and work directly with local leaders.
“It's actually really fun. I've seen very interesting places,” areas effected by dust bowls, gold rushes, ski resorts. What she likes best is that “you get to see the goodness of the people in the community.” Helping people is “a passion for all the volunteers. It's always nice to work with truly, genuinely nice people. I get to do that every day.”
The underlying benefit to having a Salvation Army service unit in a community becomes obvious when a public emergency or natural disaster happens, such as the recent Fourmile Canyon fire in Boulder.
“Our response time is very good,” says Cisneros. “We were [in Boulder] immediately, providing food for First Responders until FEMA showed up, which I believe was 72 hours.”
Among the services the Salvation Army provides throughout the world are disaster relief, day care centers, summer camps, holiday assistance, services for the aging, AIDS education and residential services, medical facilities, shelters for battered women and children, family and career counseling, vocational training, correction services, and substance abuse rehabilitation. Nearly 30 million people a year are aided in some form by services provided by The Salvation Army, according to their website. People can give to the Salvation Army by donating airline miles, unwanted vehicles, clothing and household goods, making direct monetary donations, or by simply volunteering.
San Miguel Service Extension Unit members Dinsmore, Ketrich Steger, Angela Hart, Robin MacNeal and Karen Gauvey will be present at Tuesday evening's open house at the library, which will include appetizers and drinks. For more information, contact Ketrich Steger at 728-4864. The Salvation Army's Jacqueline Cisneros may be reached at 303/863-2194.