by Lindsey Toomer, Colorado Newsline
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet heard firsthand accounts Friday of how the federal funding he helped secure for nonprofit Servicios de la Raza is helping Colorado’s Latino and Latina community.
In a roundtable discussion with Servicios leadership and clients, Bennet sat down to get a better understanding of what the nonprofit does so he can be a stronger advocate in Washington. Organization leaders thanked Bennet for how the $2.2 million in federal funding he helped secure for the nonprofit has helped Servicios expand and improve its services.
Servicios de la Raza, the largest Latino-oriented nonprofit of its kind in the state, provides human services support to anyone who needs it relating to reentry from the criminal justice system, behavioral health, health care access, employment and financial coaching, victim services and more. The $2 million for Servicios included in the 2023 federal funding bill will help it complete a new community center in West Denver so it can further expand where it offers all of its services.
One of the sectors that’s seen the greatest boost amid increased need is Servicios’ behavioral health support, led by Ana Vizoso, vice president of health and wellness. She told Bennet about how the organization’s Holistic Offender Mental Health Engagement has grown with additional funding, expanding mental health and substance misuse services that Servicios offers in jails. It also works with people as they come out of the criminal justice system to reduce recidivism.
“That funding really allowed us to be able to expand and support our community in the setting where they are, which is many times while they’re incarcerated,” Vizoso said.
Vizoso said one of the key benefits she sees working with those reentering from the criminal justice system is the access they have to wraparound support services on top of a standard 90-day mental health engagement period.
“We know that if folks are having access to food, to health insurance, to other supportive services, they’re more likely to prioritize their mental health, and then … especially with our workforce development program, financial empowerment, I think we’re able to support them returning to our communities,” Vizoso said.
Roberto Gurza, Servicios’ director of employee resources, equity and service innovation, emphasized that a key component of Servicios’ work is looking to serve more than just the needs clients directly ask for help with. Operating as a one-stop shop, he said, is necessary to properly support the communities Servicios serves.
“The truth of serving a historically underserved community is that members of that community are not just underserved in one area,” Gurza said. “They’re underserved across all areas.”
That funding really allowed us to be able to expand and support our community in the setting where they are, which is many times while they’re incarcerated.
– Ana Vizoso
President and CEO Rudy Gonzales also thanked Bennet for his support to get Servicios a $1.5 million grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to bolster staff that helps families enroll for health coverage.
“It really expanded our ability to reach more of our communities across the state,” Gonzales said. “We are concentrating this grant on pregnant women and also children and families, and so this will be our focus throughout the next three years with this grant.”
‘Now I have everything’
Stephanie Chavez lives in Fort Lupton and connected with Servicios after finding out she was pregnant. She didn’t have a job or health insurance and needed to enroll in Medicaid before she went into labor, but she ran into multiple roadblocks as she tried to navigate the system herself.
“Then I had a friend that told me that they have gotten help from (Servicios), so that’s when I started and got in contact,” Chavez said. “Now I have everything pretty much, I have Medicaid for me, my daughter and my husband. They’ve been very helpful.”
Chavez said having Medicaid has helped her family immensely, especially because of how expensive hospital bills can get after giving birth. She said all of her daughter’s shots have been covered by Medicaid, when previously she and her husband would have had to pay out of pocket for such medical expenses.
Brenda Villalobos lives in Thornton and also came to Servicios for help enrolling in Medicaid for herself and her family. Her 6-year-old son has asthma and a variety of allergies, so she was frequently paying for expensive trips to the hospital while uninsured. Now that she has Medicaid she has a primary care provider and was able to take her son to an allergy specialist.
“That really helps because it gives me the confidence that I can go to the hospital and I can go to the doctor without thinking, oh, can I afford it? Can I pay for it? So it’s been really helpful,” Villalobos said.
Bennet said seeing the growth the organization has made amid increasing demand across the state is inspiring. Vizoso reiterated that more funding support will only help Servicios expand its services as the need remains greater than its capacity, despite the growth the organization has seen.
“The social determinants of health are vast — it warrants a vast response,” Gonzales said. “So we work to meet that need and we continue to listen to and hear community and what is needed out there.”
Gonzales said when Servicios worked with only a handful of mental health providers and case managers, they had a wait list of around 150 people. Now, even as that staff has grown to 30 providers with more to be hired, the waitlist still has around 150 people on it, he said.
“Just the mental health needs in Colorado are off the charts, especially for adolescents in our state everywhere, every community, every geography,” Bennet said. “We have an old infrastructure that’s set up to support the need from 20 years ago or 30 years ago, I think that’s one of the reasons why Servicios is so important because you’re set up to deal with what we face today, or what we’re going to face tomorrow, that’s what you’re building for.”
This story was written by Lindsey Tommer, a reporter at the Colorado Newsline, where this story first appeared.
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