Nonprofit provides insight into pandemic impacts


PINEDALE – Last year proved to be a difficult year for local nonprofits grappling with COVID-19.

Representatives from nine organizations that receive funding from the Town of Pinedale gave presentations before the town council on Jan. 11, providing a glimpse into how nonprofits survived and adapted to last year’s challenges.

The town awards annual contracts to nonprofits for services that “benefit Pinedale residents” and “improve the quality of life” in town, Mayor Matt Murdock explained. The organizations submit an application in March and the council makes its final decision in June, Murdock added. Each nonprofit is required to give two yearly reports on how and where the funding is used.

Carla Sullivan, executive director at MESA Therapeutic Horsemanship, told the council that the pandemic forced the organization to cancel spring horse riding lessons.

During the COVID-19 shutdown, MESA transported horses into town to visit kids at their front door, Sullivan said.

MESA established COVID-19 guidelines following local health orders and procedures set by its umbrella organization, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, Sullivan added.

Changes included new and specialized cleaning protocols around the horses, tack and tools, Sullivan said. Children are required to bring their own equipment because sharing gear is no longer allowed, she added.

Due to public health orders, MESA canceled its annual horse show, the agency’s primary fundraising and public relations event, Sullivan explained. Donations were “were down significantly this year,” she said, and said the town’s contributions were appreciated.

Despite the challenges, MESA offered riding lessons to 18 children this fall and Sullivan said many young riders “hit new milestones.”

The town’s contributions to the Pinedale Aquatic Center helped the nonprofit meet financial needs and apply for grants, said director Amber Anderson.

The PAC significantly expanded structured afterschool programs that offer a “safe” environment for children while following public health orders restricting unaccompanied children under age 14 in the facility, Anderson explained.

The PAC currently runs organized afterschool activities five days a week, “not just on Friday like we did before (the pandemic),” Anderson stated.

“We work hard to be creative in our programming options to get the kids in here, because we know that’s important,” Anderson said.

The PAC’s new elementary program is “near capacity,” while middle school program is more “hit or miss,” Anderson added.

Teresa Sandner, executive director at the Pinedale Preschool, told the council that enrollment decreased this year. She attributed the lower numbers to financial difficulties caused by the pandemic and parent concerns about safety.

The town’s financial support allowed the Pinedale Preschool to continue their scholarship program to help families in need, Sandner added.

Enrollment in preschool programs at the Children’s Learning Center dropped this year, said Sublette County Director of Development Becky Gregory. Demand for special education and “early intervention” services remained the same, she added.

Gregory reported an increase in financial need among families in the community.

“We’ve seen more requests for scholarships than we’ve ever seen,” she said.

Allison Bolgiano, executive director at the Children’s Discovery Center, stated that the facility was “operating at maximum capacity” to meet childcare needs for working families.

The Children’s Discovery Center increased the number of classes and hired additional staff, Bolgiano said. The facility also provided 6,000 meals to children since September, she added.

The pandemic affected finances for families at the Sublette County Sexual Assault and Family Violence Task Force (SAFV), stated Robin Clover, executive director. A “huge percentage” of the agency’s clients lived in poverty or were eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds, Clover explained.

Clover emphasized COVID-19’s effect on mental health. The pandemic unleashed fear and uncertainty, and the “barriers” created by public health orders compounded people’s struggle with mental health issues, Clover said. While she understood and appreciated the need for masks, she said that her clients “needed to see smiles” again, she explained.

The Pinedale Fine Arts Council pared back its Soundcheck Summer Music Series this year due to COVID, stated Kari DeWitt, executive director. Soundcheck hosted five shows with 400 people attending under social distancing guidelines.

DeWitt told the council she was pleased Pinedale was able to host arts in town as events across the country were canceled.

“A lot of the artists said (Soundcheck) was their only venue this summer,” DeWitt said.

Rendezvous Pointe Senior Center closed in March to protect vulnerable citizens, said executive director Paul Jensen. In July, the facility reopened with a wide variety of restrictions to enforce public health orders. When COVID-19 “surged” in early December, Rendezvous Pointe shut down again and remains closed, said Jensen.

Fear surrounding the pandemic significantly reduced the number of people receiving meals at the facility when it was open, Jensen explained. The center averaged 60 to 65 pick-up and home-delivered meals per day, he said.

Rendezvous Pointe continues to partner with the Wyoming Department of Health’s Home Services Program to provide personal care and services that allow senior citizens to remain at their homes, Jensen added.

The center offered various classes through its activities program, a “critical” service to senior citizens’ health and wellness, Jensen said. Rendezvous Pointe served 550 clients through its activities program over the year, Jensen reported.

Pinedale managed to host the annual Green River Rendezvous Days in the midst of a pandemic, said Sam Harnack, Main Street Pinedale’s program manager.

Rendezvous was “wildly successful” despite the challenges in planning a large event with multiple restrictions in place and the constant possibility of cancellation.

Funding from the town helped the agency purchase supplies, a generator and create advertising for Rendezvous.

Harnack also counted the High Altitude Farmer’s Market remaining open all summer as a success.

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