Solving problems in a community isn’t always easy. Sometimes just as difficult is identifying those problems.
The Uncompahgre Valley Alliance for Community Action, which operates under Grand Junction-based nonprofit organization Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action, was formed to do just that.
Formed in the early 1980s, Western Colorado Alliance and its Uncompahgre Valley branch know what it takes to empower grassroots efforts toward community action.
Bianca Diaz has been working as community organizer with the Uncompahgre Valley Alliance since April 2022, and she is currently working on finding the next issues-based campaign for the organization.
Montrose as a ‘childcare desert’
The most recent campaign is a familiar one, though the UVA hasn’t received an enormous amount of credit for it. Diaz wasn’t yet with the UVA, but she said the organization, in meeting with community members before the pandemic, identified the community’s need for affordable childcare.
“They figured out when they were having house meetings, everyone’s feeling the crunch of the shortage of affordable childcare,” she said. “And there was a lot of that membership group that wanted to do something about it.”
The Uncompahgre Valley Alliance approached the City of Montrose, Montrose County and Bright Futures for Early Childhood and Families to partner on the issue.
Together, they funded a study conducted by Root Policy Center. It became known as the Montrose Childcare Assessment.
That was in 2020, and then the pandemic struck the UVA and the community.
“UVA came up with potential paths forward, and at that point, UVA kind of stalled,” Diaz said.
There was position turnover at the community organizer position, and though the childcare assessment addressed needs and even suggested solutions, the momentum slowed and priorities shifted.
Today, Unify Montrose, a separate nonprofit that operates under Unify America, is seeking to find solutions and empower the community to solve the affordable childcare issue. Unify Montrose’s main research tool was the Montrose Childcare Assessment conducted in 2020, which has been cited in educational material distributed by Unify.
Among the recommended actions in the assessment were: evaluating the potential for publicly funded childcare, developing and funding a scholarship program for income constrained households, developing a pipeline of childcare professionals, encouraging large employers to provide on-site childcare and supporting non-licensed childcare providers.
Unify America’s selected delegates will work together to determine what the best solution might be.
Picking the next community issue
Meanwhile, UVA has been revitalized, and Diaz’s work with the organization is a big part of that. She has been organizing small group meetings to determine what issues are affecting the Montrose community.
They also participate in what they call “deep listening,” which is essentially letting community members air their opinions.
Their hope is to identify the next community issue and begin tackling it at some point in 2024.
“The mission is to build grassroots power through community organizing and leadership development,” Diaz said. “So we’re all about, ‘how do we bring people in to work on issues that are most pressing to them?’”
The UVA works within parameters when it selects its research actions and issue-based campaigns. It took a lot of time and work to determine the group wanted to take research action toward helping solve the childcare issue.
Right now, they are spurring community conversations by asking this:
“Can you describe a problem that you, your family or your neighbors face that impacts your quality of life and keeps Montrose from being the place you would like it to be? What experience have you had that will show us your concern? We invite you to tell us that story.”
Making it ‘winnable’
But UVA wants to make sure it is choosing “winnable” problems. In other words, if a problem is too large to tackle with grassroots work, they may stay away from it.
Diaz more than once mentioned Montrose’s lack of affordable housing as an issue about which people have voiced concern. Other issues affecting the community are climate and energy issues as well as problems related to local food and agriculture.
“From (the point of identifying the problem), we can run research actions to see how we could address, for instance, the affordable housing crisis here in Montrose,” Diaz said. “Does it mean making sure our city council is taking advantage of legislative funding? We can take these larger themes, and then whittle them down through our research actions to figure out what makes the most sense.”
At the same time, UVA is working to grow the organization and better the community.
“We’re trying to make this a healthy, just, self-reliant community,” Diaz said.
Throughout September, UVA will continue to host small group conversations.
Coming up is their “Seeds of Community Action” event at the Montrose Recreation Center at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 27.
Members who pay annual dues and help make decisions within the organization will be on-hand at the event to help inform and guide discussion.
In October, UVA will organize a training, and then a gathering in November and December, updating everyone on their research actions and issue selection process.
Justin Tubbs is the Montrose Business Times editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 970-765-0915 or mobile at 254-246-2260.