Pay it Forward
Pagosans receiving and reciprocating

During a holiday season rife with reports about the economic downturn and hard times, it is good to remember the quiet, but formidable workings of one force for stability in our county.

The Pagosa Outreach Connection (POC) has sought, since 2003, to bring together individuals and organizations to provide emergency assistance to people in need. Their goal is to empower people and families to move toward independence and self-sufficiency, offering not a hand out, but a helping hand.

“There are times in everybody’s lives when we need something,” said Barbara Hendricks, co-founder (along with Pastor Don Ford of the Community United Methodist Church) of POC and coordinator for the promoting safe and stable families program in cooperation with the Archuleta County Department of Human Services.

“People in need can make an appointment with me,” said Hendricks, “and together we fill out an application and make a complete assessment of their financial situation. Then I present that application and request for assistance to the members of the POC, and all the members pledge to fund a certain percentage of the requested amount. We’re able to help way more people that way. Before the POC existed,” said Hendricks, “I used to have to go from place to place to place, asking each organization or church for $50 here and $100 there. The POC is a much better solution.

Another reason the POC can be so effective is that the organization can bypass all the red tape and bureaucracy of applying for federal assistance and go straight to Pagosa’s creative and resourceful network of giving. “There are strings that come with using money from federal grants to assist families. So we decided to do something on our own,” Hendricks explained. The POC, in short, is able to make connections between people who are in need and people who have something to give. The member organizations of POC include Archuleta County Social Services, the Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program, Centerpoint Church, Congregation Kadima Yisrael, Community United Methodist Church, Grace Evangelical Free Church, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Kiwanis, the LPEA, Mountain Heights Baptist Church, Pagosa Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Restoration Fellowship, the Pagosa Rotary Club, the Salvation Army, The Seventh-Day-Adventist church, Saint Patrick’s Episcopal Church and United Way.

The Salvation Army’s Archuleta Extension Unit has taken the POC’s mission a step further with their Pay it Forward program. A letter that is given to recipients of POC assistance, written by Drew Harbison (Salvation Army’s Archuleta Unit director) reads:

“POC … was created to lend financial assistance to families and individuals experiencing difficulty in times of crisis … However, there are countless families and individuals in Archuleta County who never approach the POC for assistance, yet are in need of various types of aid. The needs are endless, for example, a single parent who needs one night of childcare, or an elderly person who needs grocery shopping done, or a recovering cancer patient who may need yard work or snow shoveled. In an effort to address those unmet needs, the Salvation Army invites you to “pay-it-forward” by joining our “PIF” program. We are not asking for your monetary contributions, but instead we ask that you use your time, talents and God-given gifts to help others in this community.”

The Pay it Forward program, according to Hendricks, is a way of encouraging people to invest in their community. “It’s a domino effect, or a full cycle that repeats over and over again,” she said. “It feels good to get help, and it feels even better to give help. It builds respect and self-esteem and it builds community.

“I’ve never had one person say no when I’ve called to ask a former recipient to volunteer to do something,” said Hendricks. “They are usually thrilled to help.” Indeed, when The SUN contacted one former recipient of POC assistance who prefers not to have her name used, she said that she was excited to have a way of giving back to the community.

“I’d always wanted to ring be a bell ringer for the Salvation Army,” the POC recipient and volunteer said, “but I never knew how to volunteer for it before. I thought it was neat to be able to give back and also to get out into the community and meet people. I never thought I’d find myself needing help, so now it is more important than ever to me to have a way to help and to give back.”

In all, the POC has been able to serve over 80 families this year alone, according to Anna Harbison, co-director with her husband, Drew, of the Salvation Army Archuleta County Extension Unit. “We’ve helped a lot of people with medical bills, or medical travel expenses, we’ve helped single mothers and victims of domestic violence, we’ve helped lots of hard working families who’ve just fallen on hard times, we’ve helped elderly folks. The great thing,” said Harbison, “is that one-hundred percent of the money that is raised for POC stays in this community, so we really can do a lot to help.”

Another beneficiary of POC who preferred to remain nameless funds said she looks forward to a time when she can pay it forward. “The Outreach came to my immediate assistance in a time of great need, a very grim time,” said the former recipient. “And I definitely want to reciprocate that, whatever the area of need someone else may have. My motive would be to serve others.”

She shouldn’t have any trouble doing just that sooner of later, if Barbara Hendricks has anything to say about it. “I keep people on rolodexes,” she joked. “I have a pretty good memory, so sometimes I’ll meet someone and months later I’ll meet someone else that might be able to help the first person, or vice versa. So I call them up and we can sometimes put people together to help each other out, Hendricks mused. For example, she has, in the past, introduced a couple of single mothers to each other so they can trade childcare duties.”

This kind of sweet symbiosis is especially possible, it would seem, in a small town. “In our hearts we all take care of each other,” said Hendricks. We have a unique, strong community. You can feel it. The majority of people participate in our community. And the Pay it Forward program just keeps us that much stronger.

“I don’t know of any other organizations quite like ours,” Hendricks continued. “We have representatives from the Jewish faith to Catholics to Baptists, and it’s the heads of the churches that sit on our committee. They are busy people, but they make time for this because they really believe in strength in numbers and in the strength of a community.

“It’s really heartwarming to think of about the Pagosa Outreach for the holidays,” Henderson added. “Our focus is helping families, and we especially believe that no child should be left in need.”

The future, too, looks good for the POC. They just received word this month that they will be awarded a $5,000 grant from the El Pomar foundation.

And bell-ringing season is upon us! According to Anna Harbison, the Salvation Army gets all of its funds from donations. “We really rely on the bell ringing as a huge part of our income,” said Harbison.

Hopefully, despite harder financial days, the Pagosa community will be particularly generous in a time when people are more than ever in need. And there are a bundle of other ways — in addition to putting money in the famous red Salvation Army kettle — that Pagosans can offer assistance. The Salvation Army would like to put together a board of advisors for which they need members, and they are also looking for volunteers to be trained in providing emergency food services to people in the event of a natural disaster.

You can also make a larger donation directly to POC or the Salvation Army. All donations are tax deductible. Donors may give a gift in honorarium, if they wish.  Checks can be dropped in the Collection Kettles or mailed to Salvation Army P.O. Box 1567, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147. For more information about how to donate to or get involved in the Pagosa Outreach Connection, or if you are in need of emergency assistance, contact Barbara Hendricks at 264-2182, or via e-mail at bhendricks@archuletacounty.org.