Need for crucial services in Pinedale unabated
PINEDALE – Many nonprofits providing essential services in Pinedale continue to experience a spike in demand. Early childhood education centers and local youth programs are at, or close to, maximum capacity. The number of clients seeking relief from sexual assault and family violence increased by 30 percent. Affordable housing remains a challenge for many clients seeking services in Pinedale.
Across the board, nonprofits are feeling the crunch and finding creative ways to keep up with the growing needs of some of Sublette County’s most vulnerable populations.
On July 10, the Pinedale Town Council heard reports from eight organizations that receive funding from the municipality in the form of contracts for service. This financial partnership with the town allows nonprofits to step in and offer an array of benefits to the community that a small town government cannot afford to maintain.
Mayor Matt Murdock thanked each agency for “providing an important safety net for residents” and “making Pinedale a better place to live.”
Pre-K and youth services
Early childhood education plays a pivotal role in laying the foundation for a child’s success later in life, as evidenced by a heightened demand for slots in Pinedale’s pre-K school network.
Eighty-five-percent of the growth in a child’s brain takes place between the ages of 3 and 5, said Teresa Sandner, executive director at the Pinedale Preschool. A well-rounded early childhood education curriculum positively impacts a child’s performance in K-12 school and college, can help graduates thrive in the job market and even keep people out of the prison system, Sandner explained.
Despite the importance of pre-K programming, early childhood centers tend to find themselves on the chopping block first when it comes to cuts from government entities, Sandner continued.
Pinedale Preschool uses the town’s funds to offer scholarships to families struggling to navigate inflation and “rough” financial times, Sandner noted.
The pre-K classes at Pinedale Preschool were “maxed out,” and Sandner anticipated her facility being full this fall.
The Children’s Learning Center (CLC) in Pinedale was “close to maxing out” in enrollment and began a waiting list for its pre-K class, said Becky Gregory, Pinedale site manager and the Sublette County development director.
The CLC is the only agency in the county licensed to perform developmental screenings for pre-K children. Gregory’s facility coordinates with early childhood education centers across Pinedale to ensure that all children receive screenings.
In Pinedale, the CLC conducted 141 developmental screenings during the 2022-2023 school year, Gregory reported, an increase from 129 screenings carried out between 2021 and 2022.
Certified specialists provide services for 45 children in Pinedale at the CLC or at other schools in town, Gregory said.
With 42 children enrolled in the Children’s Discovery Center’s summer learning program, the facility was “at capacity,” reported director Kalie Miles. The center already tallied 42 students for its fall pre-K class and hired a new part-time teacher to help with growing enrollment, Miles added.
An “extensive waiting list” existed for families unable to find a spot this fall, Miles told the town council.
Amber Anderson, director of the Pinedale Aquatic Center (PAC), recognized a “huge need” for quality preschool- and elementary-aged programming in the community.
The available spots for the Little Wrangler Day Camp this summer “filled immediately,” Anderson reported.
“It was like Black Friday when registration opened” for day camp this spring, Anderson said.
The Little Wrangler Day Camp served 81 children for at least one day each week, Anderson noted. The PAC wrapped up its Junior Wrangler soccer program with 169 participants, she added.
Administration at the PAC was in discussions with Sublette BOCES to meet spiking demand for youth programming, Anderson said.
MESA Therapeutic Horsemanship tallied its “highest ever” enrollment of 23 youth from Pinedale this year, said executive director Carla Seely. MESA offers a safe, non-judgmental environment in the midst of a “tough world” for young people to gain self esteem, confidence, physical independence and social relationships through horses, Seely added.
MESA is seeking volunteers, horses and a place to call its own as participation grows, Seely told council members. MESA currently uses the Pinedale Rodeo Grounds for classes, where there is no shelter during the long winter, or they must wait for an opening at the fairgrounds.
“We would settle for 10 acres – a barn, arena and a place to pasture our horses,” Seely said.
SAFV and Bridges of Sublette County
The Sublette County Sexual Assault and Family Violence (SAFV) Task Force provided assistance to 63 clients over the course of the fiscal year ending in June, said executive director Mandy Moffat. This figure represented an increase of over 30 percent from the previous fiscal year, Moffat reported.
SAFV tallied 2,703 individual services for the recent fiscal year, a considerable increase from approximately 1,600 individual services the previous year, Moffat added. Clients seeking multiple services rather than single, one-time assistance, were also on the rise, said Moffat.
SAFV worked with between 25 and 30 clients per month, Moffat continued, and the agency provided 182 shelter nights in both Pinedale and Big Piney.
In response to questions from the council, Moffat stated that a majority of SAFV’s clients were long-term residents in Sublette County rather than short-term – folks who wanted to stay in the community.
Making Sublette County home proved a challenge because of a “tough” job market and obstacles to finding affordable housing, Moffat told the council. With the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program, a COVID-19 relief initiative distributed by state governments, coming to an end on June 30, Moffat said many clients worried about how they would pay their rent in July.
“Money is tight for everyone,” Moffat said.
Bridges of Sublette County, affiliated with the nationwide Bridges Out of Poverty program, hired a new community resources coordinator, Maura Williams, to help meet needs in the community.
Williams assists clients in identifying resources that individuals and families can use to make ends meet, from rental assistance to paying for groceries, or to navigate more long-term goals like pursuing further education.
In 2023, Bridges continued to graduate students, or “investigators,” from its Getting Ahead course where people learn about the necessary “resources to survive,” said board member Michelle Costello. Ten community members also enrolled in a financial literacy class, with several individuals setting up savings accounts for the first time, Costello added.