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Regional Reflections: Healthy Living in the San Juans

Tags: Fellowship Regional Partnerships

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Trevor Zalkind, San Juan Regional Fellows

Trevor Zalkind

In a land of jagged peaks, open farmland, and arid desert, it’s hard to question how the San Juan Region boasts such hardy people.

The San Juan region’s nonprofits and foundations work closely with other community groups to ensure a prosperous, healthy community. Over the course of an August trip to the region, I encountered firsthand the resilient spirit found in area nonprofits, which spurred my determination to help make their home a better place.

In the town of Delta, I visited two clinics which help fill the gaps in health care in the county. The Delta County Memorial Hospital urgent care clinic serves as a means for families in the county to obtain primary care for non-life-threatening situations. As non-critical patients are seen in the clinic rather than the hospital, the hospital’s capacity for urgent patient care increases. A Kidz Clinic is a part of the Delta County school district and offers primary and dental care to children whose families rely on Medicaid. The unique partnership with the schools ensures children can easily access care, while providing parent literacy programs in the same complex.

Primary care for low-income families is hard to come by even in urban settings. The staff at each clinic made a lasting impression on me because of their willingness to step up to the plate so that low-income families can have healthier lives. Especially in the case of A Kidz Clinic, there were only four staff, yet hundreds of children now have the basic medical and dental health that they so rightly deserve.

Across the Dallas Divide in Telluride, we met with representatives from the Pinhead Institute: a nonprofit focused on after-school STEAM education programs for youth. The organization is closely affiliated with the Smithsonian institute and encourages youth to tackle problems creatively using modern tools like 3D printing.  Pinhead runs an internship program that places seniors in high school within prestigious organizations all over the country.

The organization ensures the region has future scientific leaders from the mountain town of Telluride who can creatively adapt to and solve regional challenges.

Back north, specifically behind a Walmart in Montrose, I exited a trailer with a hard hat and reflective vest, ready to tour construction of the Montrose Recreation Center. It is the first rec center in Montrose, created to meet the need for gym and pool space that has not kept up well as the population of Montrose doubled in the past 20 years. The center will provide much more gym space, and in addition to traditional recreation center amenities, there will be a therapeutic center on-site to help people recover from conditions like strokes and heart attacks. Montrose will be an even more appealing place to live, play, and stay now that the recreation center is nearing completion.

At our last stop of the trip, waiting for us at the Gunnison Valley Community Foundation was an array of community members, ranging from board members to county representatives, to a local doctor. The members in this group worked closely with one another to develop a guide to personal health in the Gunnison area. The guide, working with an all-encompassing view of health, took into account factors such as outdoor recreation and shared hobbies as health items. The guide rewards collaboration and communication across the county by major organizations, and is a testament to the abilities of Gunnison to address local concerns.

As I headed back to the Foundation, I reflected on the staff at each of the organizations I visited and their dedication to the vitality of the San Juan region. Knowing that the people of the region are working tirelessly to have increasingly better access to health care and information, more opportunities for recreation, and the new possibility of first jobs in science and technology industries makes me humbled to support them.  

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Representatives from the Pinhead Institute in Telluride receive a merit grant from Council member Andrew Karow and Trevor Zalkind