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The Challenge for Native-Serving Community Centers: Keeping the Doors Open

March 26, 2020 | 3 min read

The Challenge for Native-Serving Community Centers: Keeping the Doors Open

DICILearn more about the Denver Indian Center and the work they do to help their community in this post of Amplifying the Voices of Tribal Communities in Response to COVID-19.  Shawna Maher (Lakota Oyate ) is a Relationship Guidance Specialist at Denver Indian Center and shares the perspective of an urban cultural gathering center serving American Indian and Alaska Native people in the Denver Metro area. 

Tell us about the work your organization is doing in your community.

Currently, we have two programs operating out of the Denver Indian Center, The Native Workforce Program (NWP) and the Honoring Fatherhood Program (HFP). We also have a community food bank that supplies and distributes both emergency food as well as senior commodities. All three programs are designed to impact the Native and broader community. We serve Individuals representing 95 different tribal affiliations and are working to increase that number with more outreach and expanded services that include elder and youth programs.

What are the biggest challenges Denver Indian Center faces when it comes to the COVID-19 epidemic? 

We are closed to the public, but staff are working remotely to provide clients as much support as possible via non-personal contact. We will continue to provide information and limited support services through our respective programs. NWP is still distributing gas cards and bus tickets.  HFP is remaining in contact with participants and exploring ways of utilizing the internet for conducting classes. Although our general community food bank is closed, we are still distributing food packages to the seniors in our community.

Biggest challenges are finding ways to service our community without direct person-to-person physical contact or social distancing.  Almost all services we offer are tangible and require direct contact or communication in delivery of services. One issue for Denver Indian Center is health and safety of the staff and our community; the community is in need most of the time and has many of the at-risk factors that make COVID-19 vulnerable to it. The secondary issue that we are facing is the need to keep the doors open. Our operational support is limited, so we can always use more funds supporting operational costs.  


What do you wish the broader public and funders knew?

We operate on a limited budget for operations and a little more would make it easier to expand services and hire additional people. The Denver Indian Center is the go-to or epicenter of information for a significant portion of the American Indian community in Denver and surrounding areas. We are a strength-based organization promoting self-reliance and self- determination in supporting and advocating for our community. The pandemic has put a spotlight on the invisibility of our community by showing how much we are impacted, yet not receiving adequate resources to help support our community in every basic need.


How have you seen community members come together to support each other?

The Denver Indian Center and other American Indian organizations in the area have been diligently brainstorming ideas on how to continue collaboration in helping the Native community at large. We are compiling a list of resources and sharing any listings and information to the community.


How can funders and philanthropy help you and your community right now? 

Monetary donations and supplying basic needs such as food, hygiene products, and home care items that have become unable to obtain due to the over-purchasing and hoarding by others.


How can the general public help your community right now?

Any support would be greatly appreciated. We can use support for the operational side, as well as direct support. This can take the form of small donations here or there- it doesn’t have to be a large amount of money, small donations drive most non-profits.

Support the Denver Indian Center with your financial donation


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