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Residents in southeast Colorado Springs hail return of nutritional, health services for mothers, newborns

February 1, 2018 Updated: February 2, 2018 at 9:31 am
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photo - Farasha Brown, WIC educator, left, interacts with smiling 7-month-old Makyle Lee as he is held by Geneva Montoya as his mom Jasmyne Coward, right, watches on at the new WIC (Women, Infants and Children) center that celebrated its grand opening Thursday February 2, 2018 in Colorado Springs. It's meant to serve southeast Colorado Springs -- an area significantly impacted by the county's decision to move those services to the extreme northwest corner of Colorado Springs several years ago. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).
Farasha Brown, WIC educator, left, interacts with smiling 7-month-old Makyle Lee as he is held by Geneva Montoya as his mom Jasmyne Coward, right, watches on at the new WIC (Women, Infants and Children) center that celebrated its grand opening Thursday February 2, 2018 in Colorado Springs. It's meant to serve southeast Colorado Springs -- an area significantly impacted by the county's decision to move those services to the extreme northwest corner of Colorado Springs several years ago. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).  

After a 12- or 16-hour shift caring for elderly and infirm patients as a home-care nurse, Andrea Booi just wanted a break.

Instead, she had to drive 20 minutes to the far northwest corner of Colorado Springs to get vital nutrition for her and her unborn baby.

Now, that hassle is a thing of the past.

El Paso County Public Health on Thursday officially opened the new southeast Colorado Springs office for its Women, Infants and Children program, commonly known as WIC.

The facility comes as El Paso County services slowly return to the central and southeast neighborhoods that were abandoned several years ago when the county consolidated its operations at the former Hewlett Packard building in northwest Colorado Springs.

For new and expectant mothers such as Booi, 33, the move is nothing short of a godsend. She relied heavily on the program for help while dealing with gestational diabetes while pregnant with her son, Josiah Banos-Cruz. As a result, he arrived only 10 days before his due date, rather than months early as can happen from the condition.

And it proved critical for helping ensure Josiah got formula the first six months of his life, when she couldn't breastfeed. Now, she uses it to get healthy food for the growing 15-month-old boy.

"It's more accessible," she said. "Now I can actually go home (after work), relax, have a little bit of a breath, and then go around the corner to the WIC office."

"And I know there are a lot of mothers who don't have the luxury of a vehicle," she added. "Some have to take the bus or sometimes walk.

"That's why this is so big. Everything is up north. Everything is not as accessible as it should be."

The office is housed in the former Harrison School District 2 administration building, 2948 E. Fountain Blvd. The school district is leasing it to the agency for $1 a year.

It includes a breastfeeding classroom, an exam room for mothers, a room to measure, weigh and examine children and several cubicles for family consultations.

Four WIC educators and one dietitian currently work there. However, that staff is expected to double to eight educators and two dietitians by the end of the year, said Kate Kwerneland, the office's WIC registered dietitian.

No new staff will be hired for the new building - each of those employees will move from El Paso County Public Health's headquarters at the Citizens Service Center, 1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road.

The four educators began accepting appointments at the new location on Jan. 16. Already, they serve roughly 2,000 clients - only 250 to 400 short of capacity. Many live far from southeast Colorado Springs, but will travel to the new facility to keep seeing their longtime WIC educator.

Several new and expectant mothers who couldn't get to the northwest office have signed up for WIC benefits at the new location, Kwerneland said.

"This is a great project and it will live on for a long, long time, hopefully," said Dan Martindale, the county health department's director.

El Paso County Public Health spent about $250,000 in reserve funding to renovate the building. The Colorado Health Foundation pitched in $180,000, another $85,000 came from state WIC supplemental funding, and Harrison District 2 helped pay for repairs to the roof and the heating and ventilation system.

Other county programs also are expected to take root here, such as job assistance and social services help, said El Paso County Commissioner Peggy Littleton.

A Penrose-St. Francis Neighborhood Nurse Center also is expected to open an office at the building. The program offers blood pressure screenings and health consultations for men, women and children - even those who don't receive WIC benefits.

And the building includes a conference room for nonprofits and community organizations to host meetings.

The coordinator of RISE - a coalition seeking to give southeast residents a greater voice while helping further revitalize the area - will have an office there, and it's expected to serve as a home base for the initiatives.

"It's like a mini-hub for resources," said Joyce Salazar, the coalition's leader.

She hailed the new office as vital for families across the city's southeast side. Still, she stressed the importance of services continuing to return to this area.

A five-day series by The Gazette last fall showed that the city's southeast quadrant suffers from disproportionately-high rates of poverty, unemployment, crime, gang activity and poor physical and mental health.

To address those issues, more services must come here, she said.

"We look at it from a trust factor," Salazar said. "It has to be more than just a one-off."

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