GERING — Since 1965, there’s been a community-based organization to serve the low-income population and those unable to meet their needs through other sources.
Beginning as Panhandle Community Services, the agency is now called Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska, or CAPWN. It provides programs to more than 8,000 individuals, children and families with clinical health services, community health services and supportive health services. Programs are offered across the Panhandle, and some as far east as McCook and North Platte.
As a nonprofit agency, they’re supported by grants from the federal government, the state and the private sector.
CAPWN’s family stabilization manager is Carmen Trevino, who’s been with the agency for the past 35 years.
“I started with the agency in 1984 when it was still located at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Station,” she said. ‘We moved to our current building on 10th Street shortly thereafter in the late 1980s.”
Trevino, a Scottsbluff native, wasn’t always in social services.
“My background in high school and in college was in accounting, which is a lot different from human services,” she said. “I was a stay-at-home mom and started to feel it was time for me to get back into the workforce.”
After applying for several positions, she was hired as a receptionist at Panhandle Community Services for a short time.
“I left from there to work at KDUH television for about six weeks,” she said. “Then a position opened up in the department where I am now. People encouraged me to apply, so I thought about it and here I am.”
Trevino admitted she was very shy and timid at that time and didn’t know if her new job was something she’d be able to do.
She stayed with it and recently observed 35 years in an industry she loves. Her big rewards are in listening to people share their stories, offering them kindness and encouragement in their journey through life, and helping them get over the bumps in the road, which can be a challenge.
“Ultimately, change is always up to the people we serve because we can’t make people change,” she said. “We can help them and offer them the tools they can use along the way if they choose that.”
As CAPWN’s family stabilization manager, Trevino’s department works with people who are in crisis situations.
“We’re in a position to assist with rent, utilities, prescription help and gasoline for travel to medical needs,” she said. “We have lots of requests for a variety of things and try to work those within our budget to help during emergency situations.”
The CAPWN mission extends far beyond health services and child and family assistance. Coming up soon is a large holiday food and gift program. Then they’re on to free income tax assistance for low-income individuals and senior citizens.
By late summer, CAPWN is helping the United Way of Western Nebraska Stuff the Bus program, providing necessary school supplies for children of families in need.
And for the holiday season, CAPWN coordinates the Red Kettle campaign for the Salvation Army. Ninety percent of what’s collected stays in the community to help those in crisis.
“We also have an emergency food pantry,” Trevino said. “At this season, we’re receiving fresh vegetables from the Ever Green House in Gering and fresh vegetables year-round from the greenhouse at North Platte Natural Resources District. It’s wonderful to have those kinds of fresh things in our pantry for families.”
The Commodity Supplemental Food Program for income eligible seniors, Migrant Head Start, Migrant Health, Youth Services Shelter, and supportive housing are also among CAPWN’s offerings.
Other CAPWN departments also keep busy. The Foster Grandparents program places seniors in elementary schools and day care centers throughout the community. They assist the classroom teacher and provide a grandparent’s role model for young children.
Through their health clinic, they offer medical and dental services, behavioral health services, immunizations, reproductive health and other related offerings.
“People don’t often realize how many services we offer,” Trevino said. “We’ve just recently been awarded funding to assist with homelessness and rapid rehousing dollars to help people get back into stable housing quickly.”
She said it’s so beneficial to her by helping families grow, wherever they are in their lives.
“We accept people for who they are and meet them where they’re at. Our job is to help them move forward, even when they take a few steps back. It’s such a joy to see that progress. It’s amazing what you can do if you only try. That’s the reward we see.”