The buzzing of the helicopter overhead made Fort Lyon feel like a modern day war zone. However, the battles raged at the old fort today deal with a different kind of war.
Most of the residents you’ll meet after passing through the gates of Fort Lyon have dealt with many hardships throughout their lives. They’ve battled addiction and homelessness and being ostracized by their family and community.
A community building event, the second this summer, was held at the facility Thursday evening. A prominent figure behind the continued effort to better integrate Fort Lyon into the Arkansas Valley is Casey Westmoreland.
The 26-year-old Georgia native has, for the past 10 months, worked to identify different ways to improve the relationship between the fort and its neighbors.
Westmoreland said a similar event held in June was not as successful as she would have liked, but after learning from past mistakes, she approached the most recent occasion with a healthy dose of optimism.
In the unrelenting heat residents and visitors gathered around Parkview Medical Center’s CareConnect chopper as it landed. Adrenaline combined with the hot temps to create a concoction of excitement and anticipation for what was in store.
Rounding the corner and approaching the copter was the always zestful Westmoreland, greeting every single attendee she could find with a smile and a conversation. Maroon backpack in tote she zig-zagged across the campus to make sure everyone had what they needed for the day.
“I think one of the issues is that there's this perception that the state hasn't done a good enough job hearing issues,” she said.
“There’s a perception that people don’t know who to bring those issues up to, and now that we’re looking at what we want to do with the rest of the campus, I’ve been really intentional about trying to meet different people in the community.”
Westmoreland put in a lot of work to get the event going. Helping her was Sammie George, director of Bent County Economic Development Foundation.
After making a quick stop at the chopper, Westmoreland received a call and immediately made a beeline toward the truck carrying the rock wall brought by the Kiowa County Sheriff's Office and instructed them on where to set up.
Westmoreland, who was in perpetual motion for the whole event, mingled with anyone she could find until the next task needed completion: setting up the speaker system.
Lending a helping hand was Fort Lyon Case Manager T.C. Valdez, who had nothing but praise for what Westmoreland has done for the burgeoning community.
“The promotion of it was great and the presentation was awesome,” he said.
Valdez has worked at Fort Lyon for around five years and spoke about his approach to helping residents through their addictions.
“I’m not here to change what you think," he said. "My goal is to give you something to think about."
After set up was complete, the first raffle took place.
Sitting on a rail a few feet away from the ticket drawings was Colorado District 64 Rep. Kimmi Lewis. Fresh off delivering some beef earlier in the day, Lewis stuck out from the crowd with her cowboy hat and blue jeans.
Thursday’s visit to Fort Lyon wasn't Lewis' first go-round at the facility. She said one of her big goals for Fort Lyon is to find a balance between the residents, county and taxpayers.
“We need a facility like this in the eastern part of Colorado. We just need more facilities like this for Colorado,” she said.
As the raffle moved along Lewis spoke of one of her past experiences at the fort.
“They had a little second-hand store down here, and I would go and buy gifts for Christmas, and they were hand-made items," she said. "It was great.”
Lewis would like to see a store like that come back to Fort Lyon.
“We’re all God’s people, no matter how we walk in here, and we have to be real proud to be here,” she said.
A presentation about Census 2020 was given by Department of Local Affairs Executive Director Rick Garcia and State Demographer Elizabeth Garner.
“I want you to walk away with three things," said Garner about the annual population count. "It’s important, it’s easy and it's safe."
Garner said people should fill out their census forms because it’s only 10 questions, and important funding can come from the census. She also mentioned that the form will be accessible online.
The clouds steadily stalked the event and with every minute that passed, they creeped closer and closer. County Administrator Calvin Feik brought the impending storm to the attention of Westmoreland and George, who began tearing down the booths in anticipation of the wind and rain.
While packing things up, Westmoreland went spoke to the number of Fort Lyon residents who volunteered, thanking them for the work they put in.
Flanked by Bent County Commissioner Kim MacDonnell, Westmoreland spoke gleefully about the success of the event.
As she stopped to reflect on the day, Westmoreland said, “There’s always room for improvement, but I’d probably give today a A minus."
She said she would, over the course of the next few days, talk with people and strategize about how future events.
“Really, it’s kind of up to what the community says, so this one really came about because Sammie's been doing those quarterly community building meetings,” said Westmoreland.
Showing the community that Fort Lyon can be a resource is a huge factor, she said, and added that in her time in the valley, she’s seen that addiction touches almost everyone.
“I’m not going to look at someone who has lived here their whole life and say, 'No ,you’ve had this here before Fort Lyon,’ because that's not helpful,” she said.
The Fort Lyon model is something Westmoreland believes can be revolutionary.
She spoke about how, after working as a social worker during college, she was discouraged by the system she saw.
She described it as traumatizing for the homeless, because the system would just throw them in housing and then treatment over and over again.
The success of Fort Lyon and her work building up the program is what motivates Westmoreland.
Another factor is the stories of the residents.
“There’s woman here who was in an abusive relationship. Her partner super-glued her eyes and her mouth closed, threw her in a dumpster and left her there,” she said, “Those are the people that we’re serving here, and I have yet to not be motivated to work as hard as I can to help those people, because they deserve better.”