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Fort Collins nonprofit providing respite care for children expands services to Weld County

Greeley Tribune - 11/1/2023

Oct. 31—A Fort Collins-based nonprofit that's provided care for children and teens with developmental disabilities for more than 40 years will expand its reach to Weld County families after it began serving the county earlier this year.

Respite Care, Inc. at the start of this year expanded services to Weld County after more than 40 years of helping Larimer County families.

The nonprofit already helps 15 Weld families and would like to help more, according to Development Director Kaitlin Bjork.

"We got to 15 quicker than we thought we would, which is great, and we hope that number can continue to grow," she said. "We're hoping as families find out about us that we can hopefully provide some relief for people."

Children who qualify for services at Respite Care have developmental disabilities and require specialized care that is not typically provided by standard child care organizations, according to the Respite Care website. As the executive director of The Arc of Weld County — which supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities — Amelia Koehmstedt said there is a huge need for respite services in the area.

"Respite centers provide a space for benefits of respite to be maximized for all members of the family," Koehmstedt said. "And they can be customized to the needs of the individual in care and the family."

A 2016 report from the Colorado Respite Care Task Force noted respite care is one of the most frequently requested support services in state and local caregiver surveys. Many people use respite care services while they are at work, running errands or just taking some time to themselves.

Respite Care serves children until age 18 — breaking them into three separate programs based on age: babies and toddlers are "pebbles," school-age children are "rocks," and teenagers are called "boulders."

"There is very different types of programming within each of those three groups," Bjork said. "It's geared toward those ages and milestones that those kiddos are working on hitting."

Parents bring their pebbles, rocks and boulders to Respite Care at 6203 S. Lemay Avenue in Fort Collins, and pay on a sliding scale based on income.

The low end of the scale is $3.50 per hour and the high end is $13.50 per hour, but the average falls right near $5 per hour, according to Bjork.

"It actually costs us $33.50 per hour right now to provide the level of care we do," Bjork said. "So that's why we fundraise to make up the difference, just to keep it super affordable for our families."

Donations make up more than 80% of the nonprofit's annual budget, according to its website. Respite Care hosts two fundraisers each year: the Respite Ball, which is set for Nov. 18 at the Embassy Suites in Loveland and already sold out, and the Respite Luncheon in April.

Along with care at its center in Fort Collins, Respite Care takes participants on special trips throughout the year, including a summer wilderness camp. Partnering with Highlands Presbyterian Camp, Respite Care takes eight to 10 children to Allenspark every year for just under a week.

"It's kind of like your typical summer camp," Bjork said. "They go hiking and boating. They do campfire songs and camp games. It's really, really fun."

Why expand now? Simple.

"We didn't want to lock ourselves into one area if we could potentially serve more families," Bjork said. "We also weren't on a waitlist, so we thought we might as well open it up to more people if we could help more families."

Bjork also mentioned a handful of families who lived in Larimer County when they started coming to Respite Care but have since moved to Weld County.

"We were like, 'Would we stop allowing them to come here?' — which just really didn't make sense," Bjork said. "So that really got those conversations moving."

Respite Care's expansion to Weld helps fill a need in a county without respite care centers.

"The opportunity for a variety of respite services is critical to meet the needs of our entire community, and Respite Care has been successfully doing this for decades in Larimer," Koehmstedt said. "We are honored for their expansion to our region."

Kristin Ceriani and Lacy Hoyer Helms plan to open WHALE Respite Center in west Greeley next year, becoming the first respite center with a physical location in the county.

Respite Care is typically busiest during the summer and on days when school is out, Bjork said, but the number of children they help varies. The only time they have ever reached capacity and had to put people on a waitlist was during the height of the pandemic, mainly due to staffing reasons.

In 2022, the nonprofit served 112 children, providing 40,259 hours of child care. In addition to the staff, volunteers provide one-on-one engagement with participants. Volunteers donated 2,780 hours of their time to the nonprofit in 2022.

Bjork would like the nonprofit to increase the assistance it provides to Weld County families with continued outreach.

"We hope that number will continue to grow," Bjork said. "We're trying to spread the word and let families know we're here."

Editor's note: Greeley Tribune Editor Jerry Martin was not involved in editing this story nor its publication, as his wife, Kelly Martin, serves on the board of directors for Respite Care, Inc.

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