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It’s being called a local success story. The Chaffee County We Are Chaffee initiative presented a series of locally made video shorts focused on the housing crisis in Chaffee County in Buena Vista on May 4 and in Salida on May 10. The two events attracted a large audience of 160 attendees.

The free events included a diverse collection of stories created by Chaffee County community members who shared their perspectives about what home means to them. It was followed by an engaging question and answer session with the storytellers. We Are Chaffee would like to acknowledge the significant effort and energy the storytellers devoted to sharing their powerful stories and thank each of them: Araya Rodriguez, John O’Neal, Tibor “Ted” Sarai, Mark Chonofsky, Paula Berg, and Sarah Hamilton.

Courtesy image.

In addition to the Storytelling movie, a new film titled, “Ser Vistos (To be seen): Hurdles to Healthcare in Chaffee County” highlighting health equity, was presented by the Community Equity Coalition. Prior to each movie event, several local organizations dedicated to enhancing and supporting our community and its diverse members participated in a public open house which included a free dinner for all who attended.

The goal of the We Are Chaffee storytelling initiative is to create conversation and action around housing and health equity in Chaffee County.

“Sharing stories is an important part of learning and understanding what is happening at the core of our community,” said Chaffee Housing Director Becky Gray. “The hope is that these stories will increase awareness and inspire advocacy for positive change by providing input to elected officials and on the County Land Use Code Update to ultimately create a healthier, more resilient community.”

Responses from the audience survey supported the We Are Chaffee initiative’s efforts. More than 75 percent of the audience said that the program increased their awareness of both housing insecurity and health equity in Chaffee County during the events.

In addition, the majority of the audience said that they would be willing to contact elected officials about updating related policies to improve access to safe and secure housing within Chaffee County, and they overwhelmingly agreed that they would support a ballot initiative to provide sustainable funding for housing efforts.

The audience submitted many encouraging comments, including: “I wasn’t aware of the extent of housing and health care insecurities. It’s impressive to hear the stories and find people stepping up to help,” and, “The personal stories were very impactful and inspiring. I appreciated the diversity of stories and life experiences. The Q&A gave me much to think about.”

The We Are Chaffee initiative grew out of the Chaffee County Public Health and Chaffee Housing Authority’s grant-funded Housing+Health Program to inspire strong community dialogue and education about the connection of health and housing. Interested readers can look for We Are Chaffee’s new program called, “We Are Chaffee, Too!” a written story collection of local people who call Chaffee County home on the We Are Chaffee website, on social media, and in public places throughout the county sometime this summer.

“Now, more than ever before, we must “look upstream” to identify the key factors that play into whether someone has a good shot at achieving optimal health and wellness,” said Chaffee County Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom. “Having safe, consistent, and attainable housing is a critical component to one’s health outcome, both physically and mentally, as these powerful stories reflect.”

To view the video stories, learn more about local partner organizations, and discover how you can get involved with the We Are Chaffee and the Housing and Health Initiatives visit: or To learn more and to view the Community Coalition Health Equity video, visit:

Now that the storytelling event was a success the next question is — will it move the dial and help create more housing?

Featured image: The participants in the “We are Chaffee Too!” storytelling event shared their perspectives on searching for affordable housing in a Q&A session after the film shorts. Courtesy photo.