By Caitlin Switzer

REGIONAL-Making sure local kids have what they need to become productive, well-adjusted adults is the focus of most families, and a number of community organizations in Montrose. So how are we doing?

For Executive Director Kaye Hotsenpiller of Hilltop Community Resources, the answer to that question is simple.

“We have a lot of kids living in poverty here in Montrose,” said Hotsenpiller. “The overarching picture is that we are doing ok, but there’s room for improvement—right now, there are just so many kids who don’t have food on the table over the weekend.”

Hilltop offers a full menu of support options, including pregnancy prevention, in support of local families. However, the more than 100 children who turned out for the most recent Kids Aid distribution (Kids Aid is a non-profit that provides food over the weekends for school kids) was disheartening—and alarming. Montrose’s high rate of teen pregnancy is a concern as well, as is the higher-than-average rate of obesity in Montrose, she said.

“I think that the problem of children living in poverty is overshadowed by some of our larger issues, like drug use and sexual assault,” Hotsenpiller said. “I am proud of efforts like Live Well Montrose Olathe, where they are trying to work with our schools, and here at Hilltop we do a lot of advocacy for single moms, and for moms and dads who may have a child with mental health issues. We are proud to provide the support they need.

“But one out of four children is living in poverty here,” Hotsenpiller said. “It’s really sad, and I think we can do better.”

When it comes to the health and well-being of local kids, Colorado Kids Count Data offers a statistical report card. Here in Montrose County, 2015 Kids Count data reveals that progress has been made on a number of issues impacting the health and well-being of local kids, though the numbers also show room for improvement.

Within the total population of 40,754 in Montrose County, the number of children under age 18 is 9,640. Of those, 7,321 are of school age, and 2,318 are children under age five.

The percentage of local schoolchildren who qualify for free and reduced lunches has dropped from 54.0 percent in the 2014 report (based on year 2013 enrollment) to 50.8 percent in the 2015 report (based on year 2014 enrollment). On the other hand, median household income has dropped from $45,226 in the 2014 report to $43,946 in the 2015 report.

According to Kids Count data, the percentage of children born to single mothers in Montrose County dropped from 26.1 in 2012 to 24.7 percent in 2014. Teen births in Montrose County (per 1,000 female teens between the ages of 15 and 19) have dropped, from 34.5 percent in 2012 to 28.8 percent in 2013. Statewide, teen births are down from 24.3 percent in 2012 to 22.3 percent in 2013. The percentage of kids born to women with less than 12 years of education is also higher in Montrose County than it is statewide, though it has dropped here as it has statewide; in 2012, 21.9 percent of children here were born to moms with less than 12 years of school, and in 2013 that number was 19.2 percent. Statewide, just 14.5 percent of kids were born to mothers with less than 12 years of education in 2012, and in 2013, 13.5 percent were.

Here in Montrose, one local school has been dedicated to lowering the teen pregnancy rate since it was created in 1998. Passage Charter School is the state’s only charter school that serves pregnant and parenting teens. Passage Charter School also serves the next generation by providing a safe, reliable source of child care both for Passage students and the Montrose community.

“We provide quality child care for our teens and for the community,” Director Alaina Rogers said, “And we offer hands-on parenting training and classes. Studies show that kids who receive quality child care are more successful later in life—and more likely to graduate high school.”

On the other hand, a lack of quality child care and playtime can have a profound impact on society, she said.

“I just read about the link between serial killers and play,” Rogers said. “These are adults who did not get to play—something that is very important to the developing brain. This is why we need to have recess! Let them play!”

For families and children here in Montrose, another identified need is for additional adult role models to serve as mentors.

“I think we do very well when it comes to collaboration among agencies,” said Curtis Hearst of Partners Mentoring. “I meet with a group of professionals once a week to discuss the neediest youth in our community, and we brainstorm about resources to help those kids and their families. The resources are available—but sometimes I think people can be intimidated, and don’t take advantage of what’s out there.”

Partners can be a resource that help strengthen families, because senior partners are there to offer an additional resource for kids and parents, Hearst said. Clients are referred to Partners by outside sources such as human services departments and the Center for Mental Health.

“And mentors are one resource that we are lacking here,” Hearst said.

Many of those who benefit from the support offered by youth mentoring programs are single moms and dads.

To become a mentor in Montrose or Delta counties, contact Partners Mentoring at 970-249-1116.