Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group

Mayor Anna Stout - City of Grand Junction - Full Circle Podcast

June 22, 2022 Mayor Anna Stout Season 2 Episode 5
Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group
Mayor Anna Stout - City of Grand Junction - Full Circle Podcast
Show Notes Transcript

Christi sits down with Grand Junction Mayor, Anna Stout, to discuss what's happening at the city, her work as CEO of Roice-Hurst Humane Society and at the Foundation of Cultural Exchange.  Anna is a busy gal and so passionate about her work - listen and get inspired!

To find out more about her organizations, click below:
Foundation of Cultural Exchange
Roice-Hurst Humane Society
City of Grand Junction

Prefer to watch your podcasts? Check it out on YouTube: https://youtu.be/oOd3yh-V02k

Speaker 1:

The full circle podcast, compelling interviews and incredible tales from Colorado's Western slope, from the mountains to the desert Christie , Reese , and her team here from the movers, shakers, and characters of the grand valley and surrounding mountain towns that make the Western slope, the place we all love. You'll learn. You'll laugh. You'll love with the full circle. Hello everybody. And welcome back to the full circle podcast. I'm your host, Christy Reese , and I'm honored today to introduce our guest, miss an stout . Welcome. Anna is the current mayor of our fair city of grand junction . She's also the CEO of the Royce Hurst humane society and the president of the, and founder of the foundation for cultural exchange, which we'll talk a little bit more about. Welcome Anna.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, Christie .

Speaker 1:

Um , cheers. Cheers. We're gonna drink a little wine today.

Speaker 2:

Local wine, take

Speaker 1:

It easy local wine. Yes, of course. So, wow. You have a lot going on in your life and there's a lot of things to talk about. Um, let's start with being the mayor. I mean, that's your most prominent position? I , I would guess, although you've been at Royce Hurst for how long?

Speaker 2:

Seven years, my seven year anniversary was two weeks ago . Mm-hmm <affirmative>

Speaker 1:

And how long was city council?

Speaker 2:

This is, I just started my fourth year on the council.

Speaker 1:

And first term is mayor

Speaker 2:

That's, right?

Speaker 1:

Yes. How, how is it going? How , how is it different than being a city council member?

Speaker 2:

I , you know, so I'm the only woman on the city council and , uh , if I'm completely honest, I think the thing that's the most different is that I don't feel like I swim upstream as much mm-hmm <affirmative> for, you know, like I don't have to elbow my way to the table as much to be listened to, to be acknowledged, to be credible. If that makes sense. You got

Speaker 1:

The GLE

Speaker 2:

That's right. <laugh> so it's, you know, aside from the fact that there are just a number of events that I, that I attend now to ribbon cuttings or opening ceremonies or groundbreaking, or, you know, whatever, there's a lot more of that, but, but honestly, aside from the scheduling, it really just feels different. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and I think that that really does have a lot to do with being one of the youngest people on the council and the only woman.

Speaker 1:

Well, congratulations. Thank you. It's um , a great accomplishment to have you as our mayor and you've put in a lot of hard work to get there.

Speaker 2:

Thank you. Mm-hmm <affirmative> it's been, you know, it's it's it was interesting because just this morning as I was at a meeting and we were discussing some potential housing options that a couple nonprofits are looking at, and it was just kind of nice because after three years, it really, when you sit down and talk to somebody about something that, you know, but you didn't really realize how much, you know, until you need to sit there and talk about it. It's kind of gratifying because in three years I've learned a ton about how cities are run and about, you know, land use zoning and development in general. Um, a lot about the issues that face our community, that it's really easy to potentially see and criticize or opine about if you, you come to the city or you live in the city, but until you really understand the inner workings of a city, you don't quite, you don't fully grasp what the issues are. So that's been, I think one of the nice things is learning really how our city operates and, and you know, how the whole thing works

Speaker 1:

Well. And , and with any public hearing entity , uh , or they have pub public meetings, excuse me, there is that element of, oh, <laugh> , if you're co so concerned about this and how it's being run, come try it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1:

It it's a lot of work,

Speaker 2:

Lots of opinions that just don't fully understand the way that everything works. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and I , it's funny because I'll see things, I , I , I sort of monitor some of the, the local pages on Facebook to, I like to know what the community's saying, what the community's excited about, what the community's upset about. And it's really interesting how so many of the solutions are, are very simplistic. Well, the city just needs to do this, but there are so many more layers to how the city operates or to how to the restrictions on how things are funded and how we can use tax dollars, or what fund , what percentage of what tax goes to what, and those are things that are in many cases, determined by voters, and we can't just snap our fingers and reallocate funding, for example. So there there's a lot that once you really understand you kind of peek under the hood and understand the way that the whole engine works, it's not as easy as just, you know, changing the tires and then having everything work differently. Yeah .

Speaker 1:

Would it be, if that was true? <laugh> wow. Um, well, let's talk about some of the issues that are facing grand junction. What do you see as the top priorities for the rest of your tenure as mayor and, and the rest of your city council leadership?

Speaker 2:

Y you know, I think these ones are pretty easy because we can see them. They're , they're really obvious right now they're in our faces. One is clearly housing. And so that's the that's supply of housing. That's the affordability of housing. Um, it's people being priced out of, of our market here, local people who are being priced out because people are coming in from out of town. So figuring out how we make sure, and a lot of people are selling rentals because it's a really good time to sell homes. So people who are renting are not in a position to buy a house, but they're losing their rentals. And , and then if you add an additional layer to that, that we see at the humane society, there are, there's a lack of rentals, but there's an even bigger lack of pet friendly rentals. So there are just a number of layers of the housing thing that, that go all the way from just supply in general, that even people who can afford to buy a house can't necessarily find one really easily all the way down to , um, you know, people being priced out of the market and becoming homeless. We have a lot of working homeless in our community and that's tragic.

Speaker 1:

Yeah . Yeah. It certainly is. And, and we're fully aware of that too. I mean, it's, it's challenging for us. We're working with buyers every day that are saying, please help me find something. And it's, it's super challenging. Yep . And we're , and we're trying to create some inventory here, ourselves we're building. Um, but yeah, lots of, lots of pieces to that puzzle.

Speaker 2:

Yeah . You know, you look at hindsight is 2020, and we look back from 2010 to 2020, we spent about a decade not building. We did that . We were not creating the supply for the market that we have now. And so we're paying for that. And now that's one of the things that's facing the city. This is the first time our city has ventured into housing as a priority. We actually have it as a , as a line item in our budget for the first time we're trying to address the housing shortage. And we're trying to address the rental shortage that hasn't happened before. So that's something that, that is a priority for us now. And I foresee will be a priority for years until we get to the point that we're not , uh , in this situation anymore with the , the lack of housing

Speaker 1:

And how much of a factor is, or how much are you focusing on the planning department and making that process more friendly. So more projects can be approved more quickly.

Speaker 2:

In fact, last night we had at our workshop, we had our zoning and development code , uh , update, update <laugh> . So we're updating the zoning and development code specifically for this. So in part, we're trying to just make sure that the process that the , the code is written in a way that is easy to interpret, it's easy to , um, you know, to , to navigate through, but we're also then making sure they're at development code matches our comprehensive plan. It's a 10 year comprehensive plan that we just adopted last year. Um, we wanna make sure that the things that we've prescribed in that plan that say, this is the way we think land should be used in the community for the next 10 plus years, that the code is friendly to that. And the code matches that as well. Um, and then also that our strategic priorities and our housing , we just did a STR housing , um , analysis. And now we've got housing strategies that have come out of that. Well , we wanna make sure that our development code reflects the housing strategies that we're setting for the city. Um, and each of the strategies we'll have goals underneath it. So that's a process that we're working on right now. So it's simplification of the, of the code and plain language, and making sure that it's easy to figure out everything you need to know about, you know, building, adding an AU or, you know, remodeling or redeveloping. So everything should be pretty easy to , to navigate at some point in the next couple of months, once we get the code rewritten. But it also is to make sure that we're not, that the city's not part of the roadblock in getting houses

Speaker 1:

Up for . And I love the plan to encourage ADUs. I think that's a really important part. And, and a lot of people are watching that.

Speaker 2:

Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, I'm excited. I actually, I've got a downtown city home and I've got a lot that would definitely support one. And I'm, I'm keeping my eye on it too.

Speaker 1:

Um, for a long time, as we came out of the recession and back into , uh , more developments starting to click through the departments and the planning process, and then we hit the pandemic, seemed like there was a real staffing issue. Has that been resolved to the city's , uh, content

Speaker 2:

The city is doing , um, compared to most businesses? I think the city's doing quite well with staffing backup up . You know, we do have some challenges, especially in our public safety areas, because there's so much training that has to go into creating a police officer for example, or a firefighter. Um, but we are, I think in our general staffing doing much better than a lot of other businesses. And that's in part because we're trying to be a really good employer. Um, one of the other issues that we're facing as a community right now is a , a severe shortage of health childcare spots. So we're 4,000 plus units or units. Um , here, I'm thinking of housing, <laugh> , we're 4,000 plus slots short for, for , um, childcare . That's pretty significant, especially if we're talking about things like how do we, you know, as at the humane society, we're struggling with the same labor market that everybody else is. And so when you look at ways that , um , organizations can attract or what some of the challenges are for hiring people in many cases, childcare is that challenge. So

Speaker 1:

Right . And is not just always about salary, right? Exactly . It's benefits. It's about childcare is huge for people. It really is . It is , it doesn't matter how much you get paid. If you can't find a place

Speaker 2:

Exactly

Speaker 1:

For your child to care exactly . Some sort of care ,

Speaker 2:

There's not a slot, then it doesn't matter. You can, you can spend all the money you want trying to get 'em in, but if there's nowhere for them to go, then there's nowhere for them to go . So one of the things that the city has done , um, we, we just recently purchased a, a defunct childcare facility. And in addition to purchasing it and remodeling it, we authorized additional funding to expand it. So the city will have its own childcare facility , um, beginning in the fall. So we're hoping that those are the kinds of things that are gonna help us continue to staff up and not be in a situation that, you know, things like development are getting held up because we don't have enough people to, to review plans and authorize them. Mm-hmm

Speaker 1:

<affirmative> okay. So housing number one priority. What else?

Speaker 2:

So housing childcare, I would list , um , among the other, you know, top priorities, mental health. Well , but

Speaker 1:

It childcare not just for city,

Speaker 2:

Correct for the entire community, for

Speaker 1:

The entire community. Mm-hmm <affirmative> mm-hmm <affirmative> . And so , and what other kinds of things are you doing to help the rest of the community with childcare ?

Speaker 2:

That's a great question. So I actually think that , um , when we talk about city priorities, it's often hard to extricate them from county priorities or valley wide priorities. So one of the things that we're doing is by creating this citywide childcare facility and moving 60 slots into the , the city facility, we're freeing up 60 slots in the rest of the community, but then the county is doing a lot. So maca county through the public health department , um, is, is really creating an initiative to try to support healthcare facilities. So that's providing kind of an umbrella for all, all childcare facilities. They'll provide training, they'll provide , um, sort of administrative services, those kind of , um, the overhead costs that you think of for a business that, that are hard to include. And so when we can do some economies of scale with that and have childcare facilities be able to utilize this sort of umbrella of the health department , um, and their expertise specific to childcare facilities, then we're hoping that that actually encourages more childcare facilities , um, increases the training and the availability of trained childcare facility staff. Um, and that's, that's one of the things. So we're, we're kind of part of that in the sense that the city's doing its own childcare thing, but we're really supportive of this idea of having many more childcare facilities open up around the, the area mm-hmm

Speaker 1:

<affirmative> and another great example of the city and county working together. Yes . Which there's been some great collaboration

Speaker 2:

For the couple years. This is absolutely. I think when we look at a lot of, when we look at the strides that the community has taken, especially I would say in the last two years, I think one of the, the things that's the most promising is the increased collaboration between the city and the county specifically. And I would say many entities that includes the university , um , that includes Frida Palisade and other entities. But, but truly if you look at the city and the county, those are the two major players in the community when they don't get along, it just impedes progress. And now for the last couple years, there's been a real sincere effort to work together and, and to , to view each other as colleagues mm-hmm ,

Speaker 1:

<affirmative> great. Uh , any other issues at the forefront for the city?

Speaker 2:

We're definitely looking at , um, mental health. That's something that doesn't belong specifically to the city, but again, this is something that we're working on collaborative collaboratively with everybody else. Um , one thing that we've done that is specifically within the city is our co-sponsor program was our police department. So traditionally the coson programs that are , this is an innovative idea, right? You staff, a police officer with a social worker , um, somebody who's trained in mental health interventions and trauma informed care. And then they go out together so that when we're getting calls to 9 1, 1 that really aren't crime, but it's somebody in crisis. Mm-hmm , <affirmative> , that's really not the best use of our police resources, but there's not really another option. So by, by putting these people together and having the two of them go out, they're able to, to better manage the situation in the past, we've done that. It started out as a partnership with the county, mind Springs in the city, and then the county has, has actually done a different program. And so instead of us doing this where we don't control the, you know, the , the whole process, right, this has been a partnership where this is a coson, who's employed by a mental health facility. We're bringing those in house . So we're expanding the coson program, but bringing it all in house so that this is a person who receives city benefits <laugh> , you know, and has access to things like our childcare facility and our health facility. Um, but it'll just be a better partnership because now we'll have those, the key people who are employed in that role, and we're not gonna have the turnover that we were seeing before, because it was a different agency that was supplying the coson mm-hmm <affirmative>. So that's one piece of, of the mental health puzzle that, you know, when you look at the , the overall mental health, that's a public health issue. So that's really more of a county thing. A lot of that funding is coming down from the state, but the city does have pieces. And that co respon program, I think is one of the most prominent examples of that at the city.

Speaker 1:

That's a , that's really great. I love hearing that. And I, I would say I haven't kept up on it enough , uh , need to keep up with all that news. Um, can you talk a little bit about , uh, where the city stands with riverfront development and projects going on down here, we're uniquely , uh , excited about everything that's going on here and just love an update.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. So this is, you know, this is kind of the crown jewel of the community right now. And we recognize that prior to the , this , this development here and the do Rios development, just a little bit down the river here, they're really, it was sad. We were one of the, the only communities, if not the only community in the country that had this kind of a riverfront, the size of community that we are, that hadn't developed a riverfront. So I grew up here. I grew up across actually straight behind us where the lion will soon up on orchard Mesa up on Mesa. Yeah . I went to school right here. We used to have to walk this bridge for gym class <laugh> . Um, we cross the, the fifth street bridge every single day to come into town. And it was, I , I remember that what that looked like. It was a junkyard of 8,000 plus cars. The rendering plant was just on the other side. So every time you crossed the bridge, you covered your nose cause it smelled foul . And now we have this incredible gem and we're really proud of that. And it is the city's , um, you know, it is the pride of the city. So one of the things that I can tell you that we've been working on because I was just in Denver two , two or so weeks ago, presenting to Dola the department of local affairs, defending a , a grant request for $600,000 to help with some of the , um, the bank cleanup over at do Rios, the creation of the, the public amenities. That'll be part of that there. So we're, we're working on that and excited to see, do Rios, start to stand up and start to come outta the ground. Um, you know, Los colonials here is, is effectively the city's done its part here with Los colonials . Now really it's a , it's a matter of the Los colonials development corporation to continue the recruitment of businesses and getting people situated here. Um, there are still talks about what to do with the, the Plaza concept, I think is the best way to call it. So whether there will be a Plaza there's, there's been talk recently about a sort of public farmer's market , similar order to the parks Pikes market up in Seattle. So that's in exploratory stages right now. I mean, in general, this is just an area that we're really proud of with the, the development of the water park here, getting people to the river and you being able to, when you get people to the river, you're able to do better river education, conservation education. People are more likely to appreciate and care for the river if they spend time in or near it. So that's essentially what's happening here. Um, Los colonials is, is pretty well done from the city's the city's role in this. Um, but do Rios is still our priority. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>,

Speaker 1:

It's so exciting , uh , to think about the connectivity and just everything that you can do from here. You can come park down here, ride your bike for miles , uh , go up to the park. You can skateboard. You can, gosh, when the zip line comes in, that's gonna be a , another great attraction, but then you can just go right down the street to a concert <laugh> and I mean, there's so much just within walking distance and

Speaker 2:

Speaking of walking distance, here's something I'm pretty sure most people don't realize. And I'm curious to know if you've put two and two together on this,

Speaker 1:

Listen up, everybody.

Speaker 2:

The animal shelter is a walkie is a walk from here, 10 minute walk from where we sit here today. And so it's a really exciting opportunity that we have for people who walk dogs to actually walk them here to the riverfront and be able to, to get them off the shelter grounds and to yeah . Socialize them out here and, and give them the enrichment of being to a new place. So this is something that I think is really exciting. And now that this road, you know, connects over here to the west of, to the east of us , um, there's connectivity here for the shelters. So people can, can walk dogs and, and , you know, double time enjoy being with a shelter dog and being out here Los colonial . That's fantastic.

Speaker 1:

Well , cheers to that. Cheers. Well, that's a good segue to talking about Roy Hurst and you've been there seven years. And , um, what changes have you seen in your tenure there and how were the most drastic effects of the pandemic on , uh , the pets in Mac county?

Speaker 2:

Oh man. And

Speaker 1:

How and how you operate.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. The animal shelter of today compared to seven years ago is , um, wildly different. And that's because even seven years ago , the mentality of animal shelters will still bring us all your animals. We're the , we're the best ones to take care of them. You know, these 15 people here are the only ones in this community who know how to take care of animals. And it was really a sort of a judgemental approach to animal sheltering, which was, you're not good enough to have a pet, bring it to us, we'll take care of it and we'll find it some magical, perfect home. We've really worked to shift that and to start to look at people who bring pets to us, people who wanna adopt pets from us, people who donate to us all as allies in, in our, in our mission. So anybody who comes to the animal shelter is making probably a really difficult decision to let go of a pet, or if the animal comes in and it's not in the best shape, it's really easy for us to jump to this judgment of what a terrible pet owner or, you know, they don't deserve to have a pet when really the fact that they came to the animal shelter means that they're trying to do the best for the animal. And we don't know what circumstances they were in. We don't know if this was an income situation. If somebody lost a job, if somebody inherited this pet from, you know, somebody else who didn't have the means to care for it, we don't know most of the time what the whole backstory is. And that's okay. We know that that animal is now with us and we're gonna do the best for it. But in that sort of same vein of thinking, if somebody comes in and, and has a beloved pet and they wanna keep their beloved pet and they are a good home to the pet, but for whatever reason, you know, whether that's loss of a job or change in, in circumstances, living, living situations. Yeah . Mm-hmm <affirmative> , if they can't, if it's just a matter of not having the resources at the moment to take care of that pet, but they're an otherwise loving home that has been the biggest mentality shift in, in our animal shelter. We're starting to see it nationwide as well, mostly as a consequence of the pandemic, but this is something we started six, six and a half years ago, which is how do I help you keep your pet rather than this , having to come into the shelter and become a shelter pet,

Speaker 1:

Say , hand , hand it over.

Speaker 2:

Yeah , yeah , yeah. Give it to , we can do better. You're not doing the right. Yeah . You know, the right thing for this pet, you know, you are, if you love this pet, and if you're trying to keep this pet, and if you want to keep this pet and this pet's bonded to you, why does this have to become our pet? We can provide, we're gonna have to invest resource in this pet one way or another mm-hmm <affirmative> so rather than investing those resources inside the shelter, which no matter how good of a shelter you have, no matter how great your team is, no matter how , um, you know, how well designed you're building is, it's still never gonna be the best place for a pet. So if we can prevent that pet coming in and staying in a home that's otherwise loving and capable, we wanna do that. So we're , we're now really focusing on providing resources to pet owners and helping pets stay in their homes rather than coming to be shelter pets. So that's, I think one very significant change.

Speaker 1:

Wonderful.

Speaker 2:

Thanks. We're it's it feels better. Do you know what I mean? Like it's, it's less taxing emotionally for my team to not have to sit there and feel like they're the only ones who can care for these animals. It takes that weight of it kind of takes that savior mentality away from that . Well, not

Speaker 1:

Only savior mentality, but it had to be kind of depressing in a way, you know, every time you have these animals feel like , um, gosh, that it's not a good situation and, and turn it around to say we can help you . No . Yeah.

Speaker 2:

And you know, I've never met a pet that knows the difference between, you know, a , a million dollar home and a , and a hundred thousand dollars home. Right. They , they don't know the difference. Pets know what love feels like, pets know what you know , who their owner is. And they love that. And, and they just really can't discern between what this like perfect owner that shelters used to look for. And, you know, and otherwise loving owner feels like for them, love is love. And that's what we wanna try to preserve is any home that that's providing that love as long as the animal is, is cared for. If we can provide those resources to help them be as best cared for as possible, we wanna do that. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so that I think has been kind of the biggest shift is, is going, moving away from this idea of the shelter is a repository for pets. And instead the shelter is a resource for pet owners. So now, you know, we look at, obviously we're our core service is pets and it's the shelter is still our core program. But as we're shifting this, I think we're doing better for the community mm-hmm <affirmative> . And I think that the well , something actually, I should mention that , um, we hired about, I would say six years ago, we hired a social worker, a human social worker to work at the animal shelter, because we were seeing that the animals that were coming in were not coming in all the time because of animal problems. We have resources for that. We have people who can do animal behavior counseling, or , um, you to call

Speaker 1:

<laugh>.

Speaker 2:

I've met your dog. You have a great dog. I do

Speaker 1:

Have a great dog. I got a new cat. Oh gosh. I felt like I needed a third pet. I'm not sure why, but I totally disrupted the balance in my pet household.

Speaker 2:

We can help. Okay . We can totally help. So we have those resources to help pets. We are, you know, we consider ourselves kind of the pet experts obviously, but a lot of animals coming because of people problems. So we have a social worker who can actually look at the, kind of the holistic picture and see, you know, what's going on. One of my favorite stories is , um, from a couple years ago, we had a guy call asking for behavior consulting. So he, you know, was having issues with this dog. Well then our behavior counselors started working with him and realized, hang on, this, guy's living in a hotel with his dog. These guys are getting in arguments, the dog, and the man are getting in arguments because they're living in close quarters and this dog is not, you know, this dog's, it's just too , it's too close quarters. Right. Something's going on here? That's that has more to do with their living situation than it does with the dog's behavior. So our dog behavior person reached out to our social worker and she sat down and looked at it. And this guy actually , um, he had , he was a veteran, but he was not getting the benefits that he, you know, was entitled to. So she reached out. Yeah. She , she actually was able to connect him to the services, the human services that he needed. So he got a , um , a case worker , I think, through the VA, if I'm not mistaken, they helped him find housing. She was also able to help him connect to some other services , um, that he needed. And I , I don't recall what all he needed, whether it was mental health or some, you know , uh , food assistance or, or what it was. But I know that they connected him to a number of human related services. In the meantime, we put the dog into our short term boarding program so that the two of them could just have some space and he could focus on getting himself on his feet, knowing that at the end of that, he's gonna be reunited with his dog . So that was just something that I thought was really special because it wasn't just like, Hey, good luck with your dog. Here's some behavior things you can try. It was no, no, no. Let's, let's look at this whole big picture. If this is a situation that we can provide, we can connect the person, the pet owner to other resources that get the , the pet owner into a better living situation. That's a better living situation for the pet as well. So that's something that I'm really proud of that we have is this real close focus on what's happening with the person, because if we care for the people, the people care for the pets, so we don't have to.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. That's great. Um, so other other effects of the pandemic, what was, what was the most challenging aspect of that for you all?

Speaker 2:

Um, so there, that's actually a kind of a multifaceted question. One is that when the pandemic first hit, we didn't know. I mean, <laugh> , I think it's kind of interesting to sort of rewind to March of 2020 and what we thought we knew what we didn't know, what we were predicting and just kind of look at what actually turned out to be true. And I think a lot of what we thought was gonna happen didn't , um, definitely the case with the animal shelter, we were preparing for this total influx of animals because people were gonna be getting sick, potentially dying. And we were, we were really concerned about that. My other concern was I was gonna have a shelter of, you know, 70 animals and my whole team was just gonna get sick all at once. And we wouldn't have anybody to care for those animals. So very, very early on, I think within the first week of the pandemic, we did a huge foster push and just moved as many animals into foster as possible. We had this huge, amazing community outpouring of support and people signing up to foster. So we moved animals into foster so that we had space in the shelter to accommodate whatever came in. It also then the , the kind of positive consequence of that was it freed up space for our higher needs animals. So either our behavior animals or our medical cases, so now they could be in there a, it was less stress than the environment. Cause there were fewer animals in there. And B my staff now had more time to dedicate to each of those animals because the otherwise easy animals were now in homes. And then, you know, again, this is kind of just a layering effect of positive consequences. We know more about these animals because we can see, we can tell potential adopters what they're like in a home. Yeah. Cuz they're gonna behave differently in an animal shelter than they do in a home. So now we know their true personalities, their true behaviors, and we can use that better to get them adopted. So as soon as we're kind of looking at this, we're like, wait a second. This model actually makes a lot of sense, not just in the pandemic, but in general, because we have , um, a , a set capacity based on the number of kennels in the shelter we have. But if we have homes that are volunteering to take these animals in, we're no longer constrained by the capacity in the shelter, our capacity to serve animals is now number of people, we can get to open up their homes in the community. So it , it really did increase our impact. It we're providing, I think, a better service to our animals. Our fosters are able to, to volunteer without having to come to the shelter. And these animals are just having a better experience until they find their forever homes.

Speaker 1:

That's wonderful. I thought of something while we were talking, I didn't , uh , I didn't have this question , uh , prepared ahead of time, but can you talk about when you were talking about the vet and his dog in close quarters? I know a lot of us see the, some of the homeless population that have pets and what resources are available to them. Cuz I know a lot of us think, you know, the first thing we think is how tragic, you know, that , um, these people may be sleeping outdoors. Is there , are they warm enough? Is their pet warm enough? Um, is it right for them to own a pet , uh , when they don't have somewhere to live? Um, can you speak to how you are working with other organizations and try to help the homeless population and those that are pet owners?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. I'm actually really excited to share about this because we I'll just start by saying, we truly believe that any, that you don't have to have a home to be a good pet owner. And we've seen people who are in situations of homelessness and we, you never know, is that a , is that a chronic homelessness situation? Is this a temporary situation? We're not here to pass judgment on that. But what we have seen is that people will feed their pets before they feed themselves. And that, and, and they'll, they'll look out for their pets instead of themselves. People who are experiencing homelessness and who have pets are actually more cut off from services than anyone else who is in a situation of homelessness because you can't go on the bus with your dogs, you can't go into the animal shelter with a or to the human shelter. And there's a caveat to that. Now here in this community with your dogs or your cats , um, you can't go into a grocery store. You can't, I mean, there's so much that you can't access unless you have somewhere for your pets to go. So a lot of people are making these tremendous sacrifices to their own wellbeing because of how dedicated they are to their pets. So we're gonna, we start from , um, the, the initial premise of yes, they should have their pets. Um, we don't think anybody should be separated from them. And if you're going through whatever traumatic experience has landed you in that situation, we don't want the additional trauma of having to separate from your loved pet beloved pets. So what we, we actually, during the pandemic , um, we're looking at a grant opportunity that through pet smart charities and it was, I called the grants administrator and just kind of got a feel for like, what are you looking for? What kind of projects are your priorities? And we quickly realized that what the grant was meant for was bigger than what we could do. Um, we really looked, it was called the preserving families grant. So we were looking at the kind of programs that we have. We have our short term boarding program. We have our pet pantry. We actually provide food to the different agencies that serve people who are homeless. Um, but none of that is really none of that is like a super large program that needs a super large grant. That's what this was meant to be. So we started thinking about my team and I sat down and we were like, who are we not where's the need . Yeah . Yeah . Who are we not helping? Mm-hmm <affirmative> , where's that one. What's, what's the animal population that we're not doing a great job with yet. And we all kind of just looked at each other and we're like, yeah, it's the pets of the homeless we're we have a couple of small programs that serve them, but not in a meaningful way. So we reached out to Homeward bound of the grand valley and that is our human homeless shelter here in town. And basically just pitched, Hey, we, we have this grant opportunity. We think we have a good relationship with this funder. We think that we're, we have chances of getting this good chances. And the initial reaction was like, no, we don't want anything to do with this. This is complicated. We've tried to help pets before. And it's it's, it's just, we don't wanna go there again. And so we said, just hear us out, let's just try this. Let's write a letter of intent and see if we get , um, if we get a response that they wanna hear more let's apply and if not, we've lost nothing. And so we wrote up a proposal to actually bring these they're called pallet shelters. So they're kind of akin to tiny homes. Mm-hmm <affirmative> except they're not plumed. They have a heater, they have a cooler, they have beds that fold down. It's actually quite comfortable. Um, they're made out of the same material that airplanes are made out of the kind of fiber . I dunno if it's fiberglass or whatever it is, but, or composite, I think is what it's called. So these are pre-made shelters. And so we wrote this grant to Petmart and said, you know, our proposal is we're gonna buy , we're gonna buy these. We're gonna install them at the human homeless shelter in their parking lot . We'll fence it. And we'll, we'll, you know, basically make it part of the general program for homeless sheltering, but it'll allow people to be with their pets alone with their pets because that's one of the big barriers is that even when a homeless shelter is like, Hey, we'll put a kennel in the back. You can stay here, but your dog stays in the back. Yeah . That's not good enough. Most people are like, well , first of all, nobody's gonna sleep. If my dog's back there, my dog's gonna be shrieking the whole time and nobody's gonna get a good night's sleep <laugh> but also it's again, there's that bond. And it's that sense of like, no, I'm not gonna have my dog sleep out in a kennel while I sleep in here in a , in a dorm setting. So we have these shelters now set up , they're part of the overall homeless shelter , um, setup . So the same badges that get you into the homeless shelter. Um, there are badges that allow you access to these pet shelters. So now people are able to get out of the elements and not have to make the decision between giving up their pet or protecting their own safety and, and health. So they can, they can shelter privately with their pets in these homeless shelters.

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm <affirmative> . And so where are you on the timeline of this

Speaker 2:

Project? It's open, it's running. It is, yeah . People can access it. And , um, what's really cool about this is it's the first of it's kind in the entire nation. This has never been done before that people can thank you. We're really proud of it. We hope that it'll be a model that other it shelters , um , homeless shelters or animal shelters can follow in the future and what it does, is it really just, again, it eliminates that problem. It preserves people and their , and their pets, that bond until they get through to the other side, whatever that other side is, whether that's transitional housing, whether that's permanent housing. Um, but it just, we don't want people to be, you know, freezing on the streets, dying on the streets because they're choosing to be with their pets. So we're excited about it. And I mean, major shout out here to pet smart charities. This is a first animal charity that has funded human housing, knowing that it will benefit the pets.

Speaker 1:

So great. It's cool. Ah , I'm excited. Um, alright . I wanna talk a little bit about , uh, your organization called the foundation for cultural exchange. This is something that you founded and I'm just fascinated with it. I really wanna make a trip with you. So tell people what it is .

Speaker 2:

So the foundation for cultural exchange was started in 2004. So this is 18 years old now, and it was a group of us who went down as part of a class with what was then Mesa state college now, Colorado MEA university. And we came back up after going to Salvador for, I honestly don't remember how long it was somewhere between two and three weeks, I think. And we, it was a sociology class. We were really just there to learn about the culture, the history, they, they were only 12 years out of their civil war. So there was still a lot of very raw , um, history to, to observe and to learn about. So we went down there, stayed in a community, came back and a number of us were just like the total cliche, this, it was a life changing move . Yeah , totally . So we, we discussed what we could do to actually sort of honor the experience and honor the people who had led us into their homes. And we decided that we were going to approach the city and ask for the city to adopt this community as our sister city. What's really cool about this kind of in a full circle way is that I stood before the city council at 19 years old, asking them to approve this sister city relationship. And now I sit behind that very Dias that we stood that I stood in front of. So it's, it was kind of a , um, it was really powerful, I think, right when I was sworn in and was sitting back there and thinking, wow, I remember standing on that side . And I remember being terrified of the people <laugh> I was that I was asking for. They

Speaker 1:

Were all so old <laugh>

Speaker 2:

They were definitely older than it

Speaker 1:

Was <laugh> .

Speaker 2:

So , um, so it took us about a, just under a year of kind of persistence because it was 2004 when we first approached the city about this. And if you recall, that was an election year. And so there was not an appetite for something like this, especially because El Salvador was , um, you know, it had some let's call it communist undertones ,

Speaker 1:

Most like Columbia or Venezuela, you know, people think of it as a dangerous, scary place. Yeah . And not some thing we wanna be involved in.

Speaker 2:

Right. So there was, I think, some understandable hesitation on the council's part and we kind of just moved forward. We were like, well , okay, well we're gonna start a nonprofit anyway, we don't need the city's blessing for that. We took another group back there. We didn't need the city's blessing for that to do a delegation. And we kind of just came back and said, well, here are the things we're doing. We would really like this to be a sister city. And at that point, this , the city council was like, this is a no brainer. Let's do it.

Speaker 1:

So was this mostly , um, CMU students,

Speaker 2:

All , it was a mix. There were, there were a couple of us who were CMU students and there were a couple just kind of adult community members. I would say that our original kind of founding core group was about five people. If I'm, if I'm remembering, well, it's been 18 years, but <laugh> , but I think there were about five of us. And I think that was three of us were students. And two were professors if, if I'm remembering correctly. And so we just kind of wanted, we wanted to figure this out, but I mean, again, I was 19. I had no idea what I , this was, I'd never stood up a nonprofit before we had no idea what we were getting into. I think that was a benefit because we didn't know what to be nervous about. We didn't know , um, what the stumbling blocks were gonna be. We just kind of, we sort of just felt blindly through it . We're like, cool. We incorporated with the sec , the secretary of state , what now? Oh, we need to fire file the IRS , um, you know, nonprofit paperwork, things

Speaker 1:

Let's do that . Started falling into place as you figured

Speaker 2:

It out. Yeah. So we had no idea how much work was ahead of us to get it , um , actually formed. But , um, we worked down there for a couple years, just kind of really relationship building. Um, it felt frustrating at first because we really wanted to do projects, but the community was a little resistant to it. And, you know, in retrospect, I understand why, you know, there's a lot of paternalism that comes out of countries like the United States and countries like El Salvador, where , um, people just show up and wanna kind of impose some kind of project or, you know, do good if you will. And don't always fully understand the reality or have the community's interests at heart. So there was a little resistance at first. And then , um, I think after just a couple of years of continuing to show up with groups and, and continuing to be there, they came to us and said, look, we know that you're interested in, in doing something here. We don't need a water project. We don't need a road project. What we really need is our kids to go to school. And so we started a scholarship program. So we started in 2009 with three students in high school. So total scholarship budget of $900. And we now have 30 plus students who are in the program. We have 20 college graduates already, a number of , um , high school graduates or kind of tech school graduates and a budget of about $35,000 a year .

Speaker 1:

And where do you get your funding

Speaker 2:

From this community? Primarily? So we do have some people around , um, other parts of the country who, who support because they're either connected to the organization or to one of our board members or to the country in some way or another. But primarily it comes from here in grand junction or in the grand valley. And the reason for that is because we connect individuals to students. So it's not just, Hey, give us money for the scholarship program, but it's like, Hey Christie , there's this student, his name is Hiro . And here's everything you need to know about him. Are you interested in sponsoring him? And then when we come back next year and we're like, Hiro's doing great. You've gotten letters from him throughout the year. You know how he is doing. You're more likely to, to, you know, pony up the next year for that. The not so we're not starting at scratch every year. So it's really, the program is relatively self sustaining because the scholarship sponsors are very committed to their students and to, to seeing them through mm-hmm <affirmative> . And so what's really cool about the program too, is we start their scholarship in high school and then we guarantee it through the end of college. So they start high school with this mentality of, I need to do well and get into college because, because I'm a college student,

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, that's great. And, and you also lead some groups down there that help with animals and, and other things

Speaker 2:

We do. So this was something we started in 2018, we started kind of exploring the possibility in about 2017 or so, and now we do spay and neuter campaigns. We've had to suspend them during the camp , during the pandemic, but we have on planned for next year for 20, 23 last week of June into the first week of July. And we go down and we do , um , we take some veterinarians from here. Some from Mexico, we have a couple from El Salvador that participate. And then we do this massive Spain neuter campaign. And in the span of three days, WePay neuter about 500 animals. And it's really incredible because I think there's a misconception about , um, you know, Salvador and street dogs or Mexican street dogs. And these animals just aren't cared for. And that's really not. Usually the reality. Most of these pets have a place they call home. They have people who are caretakers for them who do have a lot of affection for them. And so when we go down there, people are excited to have the opportunity to provide vet care for their pets. It's not that they don't care. It's just that when you're struggling to , yeah , you're struggling to feed your kids. You're probably not investing 50 to a hundred dollars in a spare or neuter surgery down there. So what's cool about this though, is, you know, I've had a couple people ask, well, why animals, this is not, this was not the spirit of this is it's just because of your work at Royce Hurst. And it's not the reason we do this is because there's this really, really strong connection between animal health and human health. So if you think about having an overpopulation of animals that are unhealthy, because they're not receiving vet care, so either they're carrying ringworm or Lyme disease or any number of zoonotic diseases that can be passed to people, or you've got all these animals that are defecating in the streets and a , an average dog defecates about 800 grams a day. Well, that ends up in water sources , um, when it rains and it washes into their water sources or in the very hot Salvador and sun it bakes and then turns into part airborne particles. So this is a , a completely direct correlation between , um , animal health and human health. When we go down and we help make the animal population healthier, it makes the human population healthier, as well

Speaker 1:

As in all communities. But you know, when , when you are , uh , in the situation that El Salvador is in, they have a long way to go to even separate keeping feces outta the water supply. Right? Like it's a huge challenge. Yeah . And so any little bit helps.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. It's something that I, I feel really. And in fact, what's cool about this is that this actually inspired this, this kind of focus on human and animal health, the relationship in places like El Salvador in Mexico, where I've gone to DoPay Neu campaigns. I remember thinking like, wow, that, that link is so obvious. It's really easy to explain that or to kind of sell the concept to people that, you know, unhealthy animals equal unhealthy people. And I was thinking like, we're really fortunate here that that's not, we're not seeing that same connection and it's, but it's also unfortunate that it's harder to make that connection. And then all of a sudden the light bulb went on. And that was when I realized it's a different connection here in a place like the grand valley, where we have such high rates of, of poor mental health. We have such high rates of suicide. You can actually start to see that exact same connection, but instead of it being, you know, feces and Lyme disease, it's mental health and our pets here have a really, really direct impact on how well our community is. So the more animals that we keep with people and not let them break that bond and create that trauma and the more people we can get animals into their homes, the healthier our whole community is.

Speaker 1:

Wow. Well, I , you know, I have a ton more notes on everything that you've done, Anna and I, I have to say that I'm just, I'm so impressed by you. I'm honored to call you a friend. I think you're a great leader. Um, I'm excited that you are , um, doing so many good things for our community and I applaud you. Thanks . So let's talk about how people can help. Um, let's start with Royce Hurst. If people want to volunteer their time, give money, you accept donations of all kinds, blankets, food , uh , how do , how do people know what you need?

Speaker 2:

So we have a wishlist, we have a wishlist on our website. We also have one on Amazon for people who don't wanna go out to the store and bring stuff to us. Um, so that's our H humane society.org is our website humane society, org mm-hmm <affirmative> . Um, you can donate there. You can see what we need supplies wise , but I should also plug our , uh, Mesa county foster pet challenge, which we launched yesterday. And this is a partnership we have with Mesa county to try to recruit a hundred new foster homes in a hundred days. So this ends September 21st, we are full. This is the fullest we've ever been. We have, you know , on average 50 dogs on our wait list , MES county animal services is nearing capacity as well. Both of us are in this position of, you know, how do we serve all the animals that need help right now? And this is primarily being caused by our housing and our financial issues right now, the , the crises that people are facing, they're losing their homes. And the only way they can get into another home in many cases is by not having their animals. Yep . So we're trying , um , we're partnering with Mac county. We partner with them all the time, but this is very specifically a challenge that we've issued to the community to try to help us create fi or a hundred new foster homes, because every foster home that we get moves an animal out of the shelter and opens up a space for one of those animals on the wait list, or for us to bring an animal from Mac county. This community has not euthanized for space since 2010, and that is a big deal. But the only reason that's happened is because we've been really good about , um, making sure that we're working with animal services to transfer animals out when they get full. So we do not wanna put them in a situation where they're making that, that tough decision again . So, so ,

Speaker 1:

So bring us some buttons. Yes,

Speaker 2:

We will bring some

Speaker 1:

Buttons. Christie Reese group will wear them and promote the

Speaker 2:

Cause. And there are some challenges going on. So if Christie Reese group can recruit a certain number of fosters, I know Mac county , um , their employees are doing some challenges. A couple of businesses around town are doing some challenges. So I think there are a lot of ways we can get pets into, into temporary homes. Okay . So that's, that's another way to help at the shelter.

Speaker 1:

Great. And with your foundation,

Speaker 2:

With the foundation , um, the best way to support the foundation , um, other than just kind of an unrestricted donation would be to sponsor a student. And it's really meaningful because you hear from the student a couple times during the year, you know, what's going on with them. Um, you know, they're , they're overcoming some incredible odds to be able to go to school there. Um, the country is currently basically in martial law right now with , um, some interesting things happening with the government rounding up gang members. They had the pandemic was especially rough on them. Um, economically, financially, the country's really Rocky. So helping students get an education is one of the best ways to invest in the country, long term . So sponsoring a student that can happen@fclsalvador.org ,

Speaker 1:

F C E L salvador.org. That's great . Okay . And is there anything else you'd like to share with us today about , um, about yourself, about your causes? <laugh>

Speaker 2:

I , you know, I just, I am, so I was, I was not born here, but I was raised here. I've been here since about three or four years old, and I just love this valley so much, and I appreciate everything that you guys do for the community. I appreciate the, the way you support our nonprofits and all of the amazing things happening here. Thank you for being a champion for this area, this, this beautiful riverfront area, but also the grand valley in general.

Speaker 1:

Our pleasure. We love it too. Well, thank you again, Anna. This is it's been a pleasure to have you here today and thank you all for watching and listening the full circle podcast. And please give generously to the organization of your choice. But , uh , obviously today we wanna promote Royce Hurst and the foundation for cultural exchange. And , uh, boy, if , if people want to get involved in the city show up for meetings,

Speaker 2:

You know what, yes, please come to meetings, watch, see what happens. You can tune in. If you don't wanna come down to city hall, it's five 30 on the first and third Wednesdays of every month. But if you wanna know what's happening in your city and you wanna have an impact on it and you wanna have opinions about it, I would strongly strongly recommend that you, that you figure out the whole picture that it's not just , um, you know, it's not just giving ideas or angry emails cause we get a lot of those, but really understanding. And you know what? I think that a lot of people assume that things just happen and that they can't have an impact on what's happening, but you really can even

Speaker 1:

One voice, even

Speaker 2:

One a voice . It truly is. I mean, if you reach out to one of your city counselors, whether that's myself or the other six, we are able to , to escalate your concerns straight to the, to the staff that can address them. And I cannot tell you how often I've had people bring me something and have it solved within days if not hours. So , um, if you have ideas, engage us. If you want us, if you want something on our radar, come and speak in the, the public comment sections, the first couple minutes of the meeting and it's three minutes of your time, but it gets it on our radar and we really truly are here to, to serve. Um, this is not a salaried job. We're not making a ton of money doing this. So we truly are here for the benefit of the community. So please engage. Amazing.

Speaker 1:

Thank you, Anna. All right , everybody. We'll see you next time on the full circle podcast. Thanks again for joining us . Thanks for listening. This is Christy Reese signing out from the full circle of podcast.