Kids at Heart Founding
The August 2001 the seed for Kids At Heart was sown by Sharon Kunze, a Fort Collins local and member of Heart of the Rockies Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)[HRCC]. Two other members of the same church were foster care parents working with the county to adopt their second child. Sharon saw the toll the process can take on foster parents and those seeking to adopt. On her own initiative,and on two separate occasions Sharon gave the family a gift certificate to a restaurant and offered to watch their children. From that Fundango and Kids At Heart was born.
Having experienced the respite personally, Bill encouraged HRCC, to begin a ministry to foster and adoptive families. He gathered a team and the ministry was formally born. Soon after, Kids at Heart hosted a Christmas Carolling/Parents Shopping Night Out for the Larimer County Foster Parent Association. Some in the congregation hosted a dinner for the children and then joined in carolling around the neighborhood.
As a result of Bill’s work with the county and the county staff’s appreciation for the congregation’s commitment to foster families, Bill approached the staff and proposed a faith-based partnership. The county was receptive, so Heart of the Rockies applied for and received a grant to hire staff and expand our services. This was the first faith-based partnership for the county, and their first respite service.
Our First Note of Thanks From a Family
“A Note of Thanks
[Early on in our operations the Kids at Heart Team reached out to meet special needs of a local family. Debra sent the following.]
I would like to introduce myself-my name is Debra. I am the mother of four children. I am a single parent. I am trying to rebuild our family and – by the grace of God – miracles are occurring daily. The wonderful caring people such as you have made the journey much easier. I want to express my thanks (especially for the younger ones) that you have all made a difference and touched all of our hearts and lives. Again, thank you for all of your kindness, efforts, and prayers. Hope your holidays are merry!
May God Bless You, – Debra and Family”
Partnering With Larimer County
In the fall of 2002, Heart of the Rockies had initiated a partnership with Larimer County to develop a respite care program. The program was initially modelled similar to Vacation Bible School, with kids grouped into small groups and travelling to different activities. The first event was held in December 2002 at Heart of the Rockies.
Shortly thereafter it was decided to name the monthly respite care events, Fundango. We developed a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club where we held our monthly events.
Our First Award
In November 2003, Loveland-headquartered Group Publishing honored Heart of the Rockies with a $3,000 award presented at a luncheon hosting over 100 non-profits from Larimer County. Group’s Special Church Award recognized the work of Kids at Heart.
Growing Kids at Heart
Erica Wharton was hired as Executive Director in April 2008. Five years before that, she had been volunteering and planning Fundangos. Under her leadership, the program grew to what it is today. She added more staff and brought innovative leadership. Kids at Heart hosted its first Camp Fundango. The first camp was provided through a gift from the Clifford Scott Foundation, started by Mitch Johnson and Angela Norman. Mitch also knew the owners of Camp Timberline in Estes Park, who generously provided staff for 109 campers. Erica recalled that:
We had 21 families, 35 adoptive children, 13 foster children, and 17 biological children who participated in our 3 day camp. During the weekend, our families were able to participate in the mountain adventures (zip line, gut check, silencer, and climbing wall), the “refreshing” lake (huge slide and blob), campfire with s’mores, square dancing, and a scavenger hunt. And if that wasn’t enough, we had amazing Chef Leroy on site who cooked up a storm. It was such a wonderful weekend, and great to see our families having fun together. I don’t think I will ever forget this weekend.
In 2010, Erica hosted a Stewards of Children class to help protect our kids and others in Larimer County. The class was taught by Shannon Yockey through the Child Advocacy Center.
10th Anniversary Recognition from the County
During its tenth anniversary, in late 2011, Heart of the Rockies was honored by the Children, Youth and Family Division of the Larimer County Department of Human Services. With over 100 case workers and other department staff present, division head Jim Drendel recognized the importance of Kids at Heart to the department’s ongoing work. A plaque, which hangs in the church’s lobby, reads:
Heart of the Rockies Christian Church
Thank You for Sharing Your Passion and Vision for Serving Children of Larimer County in the Kids at Heart Program.
The November 2011 edition of Heart to Heart carried the following letter from the county, with whom the church has enjoyed a strong partnership over the years.
Dear Members of Heart of the Rockies Church,
It is my great honor to acknowledge the spectacular work that has been done over the last ten years by Heart of the Rockies. I have had the privilege of working with Jeff Wright and the church for many years. I myself have worked in the field of child protection and juvenile delinquency for thirty plus years. I cannot recall any situation where a church has done so much and asked for so little.
In an age of so much negativity a light shines over the work you are doing. The positive nature of your program and the compassion in which Heart of the Rockies delivers Fundango is truly inspirational. There is no way as Larimer County’s Child Welfare Division Manager that I could ever thank you enough! In closing, want every one of you to know that children are safer in Larimer County because of you reaching out and helping us. Thank you so much,
James M. Drendel, PhD. Larimer County Department of Human Services Division of Children, Youth & Families
Becoming a 501c3
In an effort to meet the ever growing needs of the community, Kids At Heart became a standalone 501c3 non-profit at the end of 2016. This allowed the organisation to apply for and receive grant funding from new sources, as well as participate in the Colorado Gives day annual activities.
#TeenConnect and our Partnership with The Young Ascenders
In 2020, Kids At Heart partnered with a non profit called The Young Ascenders to offer respite programming for our teenagers. Their mission is to use Rock Climbing to develop social & emotional skills, depression & anxiety management, self-awareness, coordination, cognition, resilience, and other life skills. It is a powerful method of delivery for meaningful experiences, applicable metaphors and teachable moments that enriches our lives outside of climbing.
We are excited to share a glimpse of the past 20 years with you, and we are eager to continue providing services for the next 20 years!
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