It might be easy for motorists passing through Kiowa to drive past the Lions' Hall without understanding or even noticing the abbreviation displayed on the yellow marquee in front.
But for some individuals and families, “ECCO” translates into …
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But for some individuals and families, “ECCO” translates into the kind of help that can make a crucial difference in their lives.
Founded in 2006, ECCO, the Elbert County Coalition for Outreach, was established as a nonprofit 501(c)3 to serve as a hub of outreach for residents of Elbert County.
“Prior to the formation (of ECCO) we would have these groups, three or four of us doing the same program, and no one else doing something else that was needed,” said Sheila G. Kelley, member of the ECCO board of directors and Elbert County's CSU 4-H Extension Agent. “The first year that we met, we coordinated our programs and identified other needs in the community. We really educated each other about what our unique services were.”
ECCO views the type of help it offers as a hand up, avoids competing with programs offered by other organizations, and prides itself on its collaborations with member agencies to provide emergency support services to families, individuals and victims of crime.
“We don't do this on a continuous basis. One family can't come in every single month and get something. We'll get you back up on your feet,” Kelley said. “If they come back in six months and they've shown us they've tried to get a job but something has happened, we may help them a second time.”
In 2007, ECCO reopened the thrift store located in the Lions' Hall at 336 Comanche Street.
“After much discussion, a lot of work, and our great luck in finding Pam Witucki as our director, we jumped in with both feet,” Kelley said. “Looking back, it was a really big dive.”
“My focus is in our community,” says Witucki who sees plenty of opportunities for volunteering in Elbert County as well as at ECCO, whether it is sorting donations, preforming general maintenance at the center, or just stopping by to write thank-you notes to donors.
“Don't go to Colombia when your neighbor needs teeth,” she said. “One of our volunteers would stop by to fill the hour before she picked up her kids at school. We have plenty of small projects that can be completed in an hour.”
The ECCO Thrift Store is open six days a week and is generously stocked with winter coats, clothes, shoes and household items. Once donations to the thrift store are sorted, any overflow stock is sent to the New 2 U Thrift Store in Limon or to Arc Thrift Stores.
Beginning March 17, the thrift store will also provide office space for the Nurse-Family Partnership, a program providing home visits from registered nurses to low-income, first-time mothers from pregnancy until their child reaches two. The mothers and their babies receive care and support so their family can become economically self-sufficient.
Whether it is providing winter coats or helping a father put new tires on his car so he can continue commuting to work, the services ECCO provides is possible through grants, donations and fundraising, most of which comes through sales from the thrift store. ECCO accepts no federal money, keeping it free from the massive amounts of paperwork and constraints that typically come attached to such grants.
In 2014, ECCO was able to raise nearly $44,000 despite the cancellation of a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant in March 2014. The grant, funded by Department of Human Services, was typically used by ECCO to help families outside of the normal scope DHS's services. The DHS cited a lack available funding for the grants awarded under the program.
Witucki describes the loss of the grant as more inconvenient than catastrophic. ECCO's financial position is stable, and it continues offering services to clients referred by DHS.
“The community has stepped up,” Witucki said.
Donors may also designate where they would like their money to be spent. Examples include client services, utility bills or home repair. Donated money is typically cycled back into the local economy in what Kelley describes as sustaining the community.
“We provide gas vouchers for someone to go to a doctor's appointment or a job interview,” Kelley said. “That gas voucher is then turned into a business here in Kiowa, and that becomes extra income to that family.”
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