Laramie Foster Closet, other organizations request funding

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LARAMIE — Before the Laramie Foster Closet started its Cody’s Closet program, providing in-house items like shoes, socks and underwear at local schools, school staff would often purchase necessary items themselves for students in need.

Today, Alan Vazqueztell, founder and director of daily operations for Laramie Foster Closet, said his organization takes specific requests from local schools and also provides standard items to schools across Albany County School District 1.

“We’re two years in to a new project called Cody’s Closet,” Vazqueztell told the Laramie City Council and Albany County Commissioners during a joint work session Tuesday. “We actually stock the schools with clothing, shoes and socks, underwear, things that (students) specifically need … they can also contact us with special requests.”

The Laramie Foster Closet was one of 29 agencies with presentations to local government Tuesday, requesting general purpose fifth penny dollars under the Community Partner Program.

Last year, the Foster Closet served more than 600 students, either through Cody’s Closet or its other programming. Part of the funding his organization was requesting, Vazqueztell said, would pay for specific items such as snow boots. Other times, the Foster Closet packs up an entire wardrobe.

“We basically pack up duffel bags, 10 days worth of stuff, for whatever they need, and drop it off to the school,”Vazqueztell said.

“They give it to the child, they don’t make a big deal out of it.They just pass it along, and the kids take it home. It is theirs.”

City Councilor Erin O’Doherty thanked Vazqueztell for his work.

“I think it was a brilliant idea, how you started Cody’s Closet to reach out to the schools,”she said. “It warms my heart that Laramie is the kind of community that makes it work.”

Vazqueztell added that for many years, school counselors and staff would buy items for students themselves.

“I feel very grateful to be a part of this, and to be able to help because it is a big need that I didn’t realize until we started asking questions,” he said.

Each year, the city provides funding to local agencies such as the Laramie Foster Closet from the general purpose fifth-penny tax in two ways: through the Community Partner Program and via fee-for-service contracts, according to a memo to local government from City Manager Janine Jordan.

In fiscal year 2022-23, the City Council awarded a total of $460,645 from the fifth-cent sales tax for the two programs, of which $210,645 was awarded via the Community Partner Program to multiple local agencies and $250,000 was paid via fee-for-service contracts to Laramie Regional Airport, Laramie Chamber Business Alliance and Laramie Main Street Alliance.

Historically, organizations eligible to request funding through the Community Partner Program fall within one of three categories: civic/quasi-governmental agencies such as Albany County Public Library; social service agencies including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Downtown Clinic and Laramie Interfaith; and recreational, arts and cultural agencies such as Laramie Plains Museum, Laramie Historic Railroad Depot and Relative Theatrics.The total requested amount for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1 was $426,250.

In her presentation, Big Brothers Big Sisters Community Relations Officer Hanna Eslinger said this organization requested funding to provide mentoring services to youth as well as supportive services for families.

“We know that every child is capable of doing incredible things. Sometimes all they need to get over their hurdles is to have that person in their corner rooting them on, who believes they are capable of doing those things,” Eslinger said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters operates several programs in Albany County, including one-to-one mentoring, after-school programming for elementary through high school students and juvenile justice programming in partnership with the Albany County Attorney’s office “to help with job skills, life skills, and (teach) tools to keep youth out of the court systems,” Eslinger said.

In another presentation, Laramie Reproductive Health Executive Director Janel Anderson said her organization was requesting funding to assist with its “mission to provide compassionate, preventative care to the community in a supportive and non-judgmental environment.”The clinic, she continued, is hoping to add HPV vaccinations to its comprehensive care options.

“We believe everyone deserves access to high quality health care, and to have their unique sexual and reproductive needs addressed,”Anderson said, adding that the clinic also has recently added its first male provider to the staff.

The Laramie City Council will make preliminary funding decisions in late March or early April, and final decisions will be announced on the city’s fiscal year 2023-24 budget. Award payments will be made in August, according to city documents. Similarly, the Albany County Commissioners will make a final funding decision upon adoption of the county budget at the end of June 2023.