Celebrating its 65th anniversary and 20th Innkeeper Dinner on Sept. 26, Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains followed what has become its tradition of fun and camaraderie coupled with the stories on how LFS, founded as Lutheran Social Services, has supported the communities it serves over the past year.
Guests learned that in the next several weeks the agency will take over the KPC Kids Place Respite Center, which provides emergency care for children under 6 who could be in precarious situations. An LFS program that has been busy with fire and flood disaster recovery the past two years will continue its work as long as it's needed. And the dinner was an opportunity to meet one of the refugee families resettled here.
"Saddle Up for LFS" invited the several hundred attendees to dress Western and tour the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, chow down on barbecue and hear about the licensed, faith-based, social-service agency's programs, which are expanding, reported President/CEO Jim Barclay.
In May, LFS was asked by the nonprofit Pikes Peak Family Connections to take over KPC Kids Place Respite Center, which provides short-term emergency care for families to help prevent child abuse and the breakdown of the family. KPC was named for Kevin Patrick Caleum, who was 5 months old when he died of shaken baby syndrome in 1999.
Pikes Peak Family Connections reported it was temporarily shutting down because of financial issues.
Barclay said that after due diligence, the LFS board agreed to accept the transfer effective Oct. 1, under the leadership of 25-year supervisor Gwen White. The facility will be relicensed and staff is being hired and trained. Family Connections Executive Director Traci Hearne was hired as director and the respite center should reopen in early November.
In 2012 the center served 501 children from 304 families.
Another highly anticipated report was on disaster relief. Barclay said, "A year ago I began this report by focusing on disasters that had hit Colorado: two historic wildfires and a horrific theater shooting. Now here we are again, nearing the end of another consecutive year of multiple disasters, which have left our neighbors and landscapes changed forever by the Black Forest fire, the mudslides in Manitou Springs and a 1,000- year flood that has inflicted over $2 billion in damage, death and destruction in many communities across Colorado."
LFS will, Barclay said, "ramp up our ongoing disaster response ministry to join many other community organizations in bringing help and hope to survivors for as long as it takes. That's what we do . we show up, we walk with the vulnerable with the compassion of Christ and we stay for the long haul until those affected can, by the grace of our loving God, confront their 'new normal' with a sense of confidence and healing."
The response, which could continue for a number of years, will be, said Barclay, "not unlike what is still happening in the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina."
The LFS refugee and asylee programs receive 130 new refugees each year, Barclay reported.
Sharing her story at "Saddle Up" was one of them, Elise Lukambo, a teacher whose Tutsi husband was murdered 17 years ago by machete-wielding Hutu extremists in front of the family in Rwanda. Elise was brutalized and her arm and shoulder were severely cut.
Lukambo survived, she said, only because they thought she was dead.
Other family members were murdered, but Elise and her children escaped and had "dreams but no future," she said, until years later when they were accepted to travel to Colorado Springs.
LFS helped them find housing, education, "a refrigerator with food" and health care, and she has a job.
"God brought us here," said Lukambo. "Now I can tell my story. Before, I just cried."