“They showed deep caring, creativity and collaboration!” declared Erica Mares—Clinical Director of Taos Behavioral Health (TBH). Mares was referring to the large number of individuals and organizations that came together to create a new summer program for 250 Taos students.
Mares, Sienna Sanderson, Director of the TBH Nurturing Center and Taylor Etchemendy, Director of “Inspire”—the Early Childhood Bi-lingual Development Center began talking this spring about the intense need for Taos students to be nurtured and supported in the transition from isolation and distance learning to a new world of in person education. The months of COVID isolation have been hard—full of frustration and stress for families and youth. The three community leaders knew that this transition presented a unique challenge to create a Continuation of Care and provide student with social/emotional learning opportunities to support their development.
“We presented our ideas to the Taos School District and described a two-tier model. The first tier would be a weekly 30-minute presentation in classrooms to support social/emotional learning. The second tier was community-based intervention by local agencies that included internet and financial program support. The district leadership team was supportive of the concepts and offered to open spaces for pod activities in a summer program. “ Then Sonya Struck, the Taos Community Officer for the Lor Foundation, assisted the leaders in crafting a proposal which received $30,000 from the Lor Foundation to begin a program.
The leaders then presented the ideas to the Brent Jaramillo, Taos County Manager who helped craft the request to the Toas County Commissioners. With creativity and commitment, the county Commissioners approved a $120,000 grant to TBH from Federal Community Rescue Funds to implement a program based on the initial Lor Foundation funding.
With funding received, the planning and collaboration “took off like wildfire” states Mares. A call for referrals went out to school personnel and then to the general public. The target audience was for high-risk students who needed care and support. There were 500 referrals received—with places for only 250. T
Mares describes the effort as “preventative and clinical” with a major emphasis on reducing the level of behavioral stress as school re-opens. The Taos school leadership teams in Taos and Questa were supportive and have provided 12-14 sites where groups can meet. The school districts provided USDA school foods to all sites. A special paid internship opportunity was given to high school students who wished to work for the 5 weeks of the program. They received training and are shadowing the lead Community Coordinated Support Service (CCSS) person in their assigned pod.
The program will run from June 28-July 30 and will provide recreational and social experiences for attendees that use the resources of the whole community. The pods are kept stable in membership and strict COVID Safety protocols are implemented. There is no ability to receive drop-ins with the adherence to health protocols. One unique strength of the program is that number of sibling groups have enrolled—which reinforces family stability and learning.
The Family and Youth Center is providing access to their facility and other agencies are offering reduced fees for use. The usual cost for a day of Child Care is $45. With the In-kind contributions of the agencies involved, TBH was able to reduce the contract costs per student to $15 for a half day and $30 for a whole day.
We know that our students are climbing out of a most unusual year—and this community sponsored creative and caring support is an important investment in our future. It will reap gold.
TBH has the largest credentialed and licensed behavioral health staff in northern New Mexico and can be reached at www/Taosbehavioralhealth.org , 105 Bertha St. in Taos or 575-758-4297.
Mary McPhail Gray is the board co-chair of TBH and can be reached at 575-779-3126 or email@example.com