Many San Juan County nonprofits are reporting a greater demand for their services, particularly as families cope with layoffs in the oil and gas sector

by Joshua Kellogg, Farmington Daily-Times
June 25, 2016

FARMINGTON — San Juan County nonprofit organizations are seeing increased demands for services for children and families at the same time that they’re facing cuts in funding due to the depressed regional economy.

More families impacted by layoffs in the oil, gas and coal industries need services, while financial support for the nonprofits that fund those services is declining. And this comes as a new report ranks New Mexico 49th in the nation for the overall well-being of children.

New Mexico retained its ranking of 49th out of 50 states in this year’s Kids Count Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Mississippi was last in the nation, according to the report.

New Mexico has held this ranking since 2013, the same year the state ranked last in the nation, according to the report.

Veronica Garcia, executive director of the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children, said that in state politics, children’s issues tend to take a backseat.

The detailed information in the report — sorted into four categories: economic well-being, education, health and family, and community — gives people a snapshot of important factors affecting children on a national, state and county level.

Garcia said her biggest concern was the 30 percent of New Mexican children at or below the poverty level in 2014. That’s a 6 percent increase from 2008, the report states.

In San Juan County in 2013, 27 percent of children were living in poverty, according to the report. Twenty-two percent of children nationwide were living in poverty in 2013.

San Juan United Way has provided a large share of funding for the county’s nonprofit organizations, but the group has seen support decline in recent years. The local United Way helps fund 18 partner agencies, providing more than 40 programs that support the community, according to Cathryn Abeyta, the organization’s executive director.

The organization raised $2.45 million during its 2015 campaign and awarded $1.29 million to its 18 partners, according to Abeyta. The remaining funds were distributed to nearly 100 different nonprofits.

Partner agencies, on average, saw a nearly 20 percent decrease in funding after the 2015 campaign, she said. The organization raised about $3 million in 2014, according to Abeyta.

Abeyta is also projecting a drop of more than $600,000 for the upcoming fall campaign, which could result in a loss of about an additional $322,000 for the 18 agencies.

“Our function is really to raise money to make these programs possible in the community,” Abeyta said. “It’s important to us we get the whole community involved to reach our goals.”

The Aztec Boys and Girls Club saw a funding decline of about 30 percent after the 2015 campaign, according to executive director Mike Patch. And the organization has seen a 20 percent increase in the number of children enrolled in its summer program.

Patch said the agency knew the drop in funding was going to happen, based on the economic activity in the county, which includes decreased tax revenue from oil and gas production.

“I would be lying if (I said) it wasn’t a hardship,” Patch said.

He said he believes the increased summer camp enrollment stems from families trying to find child care services at a lower cost.

The Aztec Boys and Girls Club has created a new scholarship program this summer in response to the number of people who want to enroll their children but can’t afford to pay for the services, Patch said.

The executive directors of People Assisting the Homeless, or PATH, shelter and the Economic Council Helping Others Inc., or ECHO, food bank said they have also seen an increase in demand for services among families and children.

Sarah Kaynor, executive director for ECHO, said the food bank provided 5,190 backpacks full of food to 3,500 students in 24 schools in San Juan County last year. She said demand for the backpack program has grown the fastest of all the organization’s programs.

“It’s just grown exponentially. It’s scary how much need is out there,” Kaynor said.

Kaynor said the program primarily feeds elementary school students, some of whom are in danger of going home to no food on holidays and weekends. She was also concerned about the decline in the oil and gas industry in San Juan County, along with layoffs at the local coal mines.

PATH Executive Director Jonna Sharpe said the shelter has seen a 35-percent increase in requests for families needing housing.

“About six years ago, we had the most children we ever had. The number keeps going up,” Sharpe said.

Sharpe attributed the increase to the cost of housing in the area and the decline in the county’s economy.

“It is difficult for large families to find suitable housing, and (they) don’t have the income to rent a home,” Sharpe said.

Sharpe was concerned about the future of PATH because the nonprofit lost about $54,000 in funding in the last three months. In addition to San Juan United Way funding cuts, she said, a grant from a local oil and gas company decreased by 75 percent.

Sharpe said the shelter has responded by cutting staff hours, which has resulted in PATH turning away some people when there are empty beds available.

The San Juan United Way will launch its annual fundraising campaign on Sept. 15 with its annual Day of Caring event.

“I’m already working hard to expand our fundraising efforts and enlist support across San Juan County to fill in that funding gap to meet the needs of our community,” Abeyta said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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