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SunUte scholarships available for eligible youth 

Photo Credit: SunUte

Recipients receive free membership for one full year 

The SunUte Community Center in Ignacio is signing up students for free memberships, paid for entirely though federal funding. These scholarships are still available to eligible students in the Ignacio area. While many of the scholarships are spoken for, SunUte still has around 200 unclaimed memberships for kids going into third grade through 12th grade – including students who are recent High School graduates. 

Grant monies were made available to SunUte through the Southern Ute Social Services Division; more specifically an MSPI grant from the Department of Health and Human Services: Indian Health Services (IHS) Meth Suicide Prevention Initiative.  

“Our goal is to relay to the youth, that through this grant, that we have worked so hard with…that we want you here — that this is a place to be,” SunUte Community Center Director, Robin Duffy-Wirth emphasized. “So many kids that are coming in are on the basketball court, in the gym, or in the pool. It’s just fantastic. We are seeing new faces here.” 

Roughly 150 kids have already signed up for the grant funded SunUte membership opportunity. “There is a contract that outlines what we expect — we are all about ‘Character Counts,’” Duffy-Wirth said. “This is an amazing example of collaboration, why should the money go back to the government when we can use it in our community.” 

Free memberships are available on a first come, first serve basis, early registration is encouraged and recommended. The deadline to apply is 7 p.m. on June 30. The free membership is equivalent to a standard student rate of $125 per year. 

Eligibility is for youth who live within the boundaries of the Ignacio School District, but not necessarily attending Ignacio schools. Students attending Hope academy, homeschooled students, and others who attend neighboring school districts, but still live in the Ignacio area are also eligible for the grant funded scholarship. The grade level is the only qualifier, and where you reside within La Plata County. If a student already has a SunUte membership, that existing membership will be extended. 

The youth membership grants students access to the basketball courts, pool area, gym, air hockey tables, and future gaming area. 

An additional Tribal Court grant provided funding for a dedicated gaming area which will provide access to an XBOX X-Series console, a PlayStation PS5 console, two flatscreen TVs, state of the art gaming chairs with headphones, and additional couches for socializing. Time limits and a waiting list for the gaming room will be implemented by SunUte staff to ensure a positive, and well-balanced environment for youth at all times. 

“We are addressing all children, not everyone wants to shoot hoops, work out in the gym…or swim,” Duffy-Wirth explained. “Frankly you can’t do that all day, this gives one more option. We have created a safe space, with great role models. And we are trying to [encourage] all kids to come in — the gaming room is just one more dimension.” 

“The gaming area offers another avenue for youth to socialize with their peers and the goal is for it to help with mental health,” SunUte Community Center Recreation Manager, Virgil Morgan said.  

SunUte feels that in order to make that possible, they need to offer the youth what they want, and the gaming area is a big part of it; in turn, providing an avenue for stronger mental health means something different for every kid. In SunUte’s perspective, that could be gaming, skateboarding, shooting hoops, swimming, or lifting — their goal is to provide for the many. 

“We’re here for the kids and they know it,” Morgan said. 

Students and parents throughout the community have already received the program information, forms — which require student/parent signatures. If a student or parent needs a packet, they are available at SunUte’s front desk, Ignacio Community Library, and at the ELHI Community Center. SunUte recently extended their hours from Mon.-Fri. till 8 p.m., to better cater to the needs of youth, weekend schedules are now 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

  “The scholarship creates a variety of opportunities for our youth,” Morgan said. “Tribal member youth use the facility more because their friends can use the facility along with them.”  

SunUte believes they are now meeting the needs of the community on a larger scale.   

“The impact is not [necessarily] on the gym, since they have to be 13 and up, but the rest of the building is full of energy,” Duffy-Wirth said. “Kids are free to come and go, but when they are here … we will keep them safe.” 

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