Founders of enrichment program spent 7 years living next door
September 16, 2019
Longtime teachers Duncan and Laney Howard have such a heart for their students that they decided to move in next door to them.
Ten years ago, when Laney was teaching at Cottonwood Plains Elementary north of Loveland and Duncan was teaching eighth grade at Immanuel Lutheran School, they saw that the children coming from the three mobile home parks in north Loveland weren’t making the same progress on state assessment tests as other kids, Laney said.
What was most missing in these children, most of whom come from Spanish-speaking homes, was vocabulary development and life experiences, she said. So the next year, the Howards started a once-a-week after-school enrichment program in the Lago Vista Mobile Home Park off East 57th Street.
The Howards had spent several years as missionaries in Central America so they could speak Spanish and loved the Latin American culture, they said.
One thing led to another, and now the Howards offer after-school programs for students from kindergarten through high school four days a week in two modular classrooms donated by the Thompson School District.
Two years into their efforts, the Howards decided to move into a single-wide trailer to be closer to the families. Five years ago, their boys suggested that because they were in their early 60s and in effect working two full-time jobs each, they should retire from one of them, which they did.
Since then, they have been able to devote their time exclusively to Lago Vista Neighbor, the organization they started. And just this month, they hired Jonah Kunisch, a former student of Duncan’s and a volunteer, to be program director.
Kunisch and his wife, Abby, moved into the Howards’ mobile home last week, and the Howards, after 7½ years in Lago Vista, have moved into a house they bought in Loveland.
1. Tell us about your programs at Lago Vista Mobile Home Park.
The programs we offer through Lago Vista Neighbor have two main areas of focus — the academic achievement and success of the 250 K-12 students in Lago Vista and their character and leadership development.
Our academic programs are done in close partnership with Cottonwood Plains, (Lucile) Erwin Middle School and Loveland High School, where most of the students attend. The academic programs include homework help, art, music and enrichment for the elementary students.
The secondary students can benefit from tutoring/mentoring and credit-recovery programs. Character and leadership programs include an elementary Bible Club and secondary Youth Group and Youth Leadership Team.
2. You could have continued helping those kids without moving in next door. Why did you take that step?
We are so grateful for the opportunity to move into Lago Vista next door to the program trailers we received from the school district. We moved into Lago Vista over seven years ago because we were eager to follow the example of Jesus, who lovingly came into our world to serve others.
Our neighbors in Lago Vista have really become like family to us as we have shared our lives together. Now we are excited to have our new program director, Jonah Kunisch, and his wife, Abby, come to live in Lago Vista so they too can enjoy the full benefits of being a part of the neighborhood.
3. You spent many years doing mission work in other countries. How did that prepare you for what you’re doing at Lago Vista?
God uniquely prepared us for our living and serving in Lago Vista. When serving in a variety of Christian ministries in three Latin American countries, we were able to learn the Spanish language and culture, which has been so helpful in building relationships with many of the Lago Vista residents.
Through our 22 years of teaching experience in Latin America and Loveland, we were able to bring a lot of educational experience and resources to the students in Lago Vista. Forty years of working with children and youth in a variety of capacities has helped us relate to the students in Lago Vista in grades K-12.
4. What motivates you to serve those children and their families?
God is the one who has motivated and inspired us to serve others in Latin America, Loveland and, most recently, in Lago Vista.
When we know that we are unconditionally loved by God, it inspires us to be able to share that same love with others, using the gifts and experiences that He has given us.
Ever since we got married in 1975, our family verse has been Genesis 12:3, that we are blessed by God to bless others. We are so grateful for the opportunity to do that in Lago Vista and other places.
We are eager to help the students and families of Lago Vista to experience their God-given potential in their lives.
5. How has Loveland helped you with your Lago Vista Neighbor program?
Lago Vista Neighbor has not been just our work, but instead the joint effort of many in the Loveland community.
We have been very blessed by our partnerships with the Thompson School District, Food Bank for Larimer County, Loveland Public Library, city of Loveland, Colorado Trust, Faith Church, Foundations Church and other local churches and businesses.
We have had many supportive volunteers, incredible staff members and a dedicated board of directors who have given thousands of hours to help us and our neighbors.
Thank you to all who have joined us in caring for our community.
July 25, 2019
Laney and Duncan Howard don’t make money, but they are some of the richest “grandparents” in Lago Vista Mobile Home Park.
“They love these kids and give them so much,” said Beth Bianco, board member of the Lago Vista Neighbor Board.
The Howards have taken the neighborhood kids under their wings, giving them something that’s hard to find here, a chance.
“Over the last ten years the park has really changed. I think there’s a waiting list to get in here rather than trying to always get out,” Laney Howard said.
Four times a week, the Howards host youth programs and work with the kids on academics, leadership and faith. They’ve also created a leadership program for the community’s middle and high school students.
“It’s about 250 kids we have contact with,” Laney Howard said.
The Howards are dedicated to ensuring each kid in the park has a chance. Since 2014, they’ve worked in partnership with Food Bank of Larimer County to provide Kids Cafe meals and snacks.
“The kids know that they are wanted, they know that they are valued, they know that the Howards love them,” Bianco said.
It all started ten years ago when the now-retired teachers noticed lower-income students in Larimer County slipping behind.
“They weren’t making the same progress on state testing as the general population so we started a one hour a week, kind of enrichment homework club in the clubhouse,” Laney Howard said.
Then, in 2012 they sold their home, moved into the mobile home park in Loveland and took a chance.
“We just really felt like this is what God wanted us to do, that he is the one who gave us the example of moving into our neighborhood, meaning the world, so we wanted to follow his example,” Duncan Howard said.
Their “example” has had a ripple effect. The Howards said crime has gone down and reading levels have gone up. Best of all, the kids know the real riches in life have nothing to do with money.
“They say they’re grandparents to all the kids in the park here, and they are,” Bianco said. “They love these kids.”
October 18, 2018
As a teacher at Loveland’s Cottonwood Elementary School, Laney Howard came to know firsthand the challenges faced by many of the school’s students. But the annual state testing results showed that those students who qualified for free or reduced price lunch tended to make less and slower progress than their peers.
So in 2010, Laney and some other teachers started a Homework Help program at the nearby Lago Vista mobile home park, where many of those students lived. Two years later, Laney and her husband, Duncan, moved into the mobile home park, where their Lago Vista Neighbor program has expanded to include a variety of academic, religious and religious programs for preschool to high school-age residents of the trailer park.
Now the couple is eyeing several next steps for Lago Vista Neighbor, including expanding the program’s recreational and discipleship programs for older students, increasing its after-school offerings for elementary students, expanding its summer programs and increasing the connections between the mobile home park’s families and their schools.
On Thursday, Lago Vista Neighbor received a major boost toward obtaining those goals in the form of a $3,000 grant it was given by Loveland ministry resources publisher Group Publishing during the company’s annual Community Service Awards Luncheon. Lago Vista Neighbor was one of 28 organizations that do work within the Larimer County community that received a grant at the luncheon.
The grant Lago Vista Neighbor received was Group’s faith based-service award which Colorado State Sen. Kevin Lundberg, who presented the grant, is given annually “to a church or parish-based organization for “outstanding ministry related community service.”
“We are thrilled,” Howard said Thursday afternoon. “We now have a board of directors and are trying to get grants to continue to support and expand our program and so we are very thankful for this and to Group for their commitment to encouraging service within our community.”
July 5, 2017
For the last eight years, retired teachers Laney and Duncan Howard have dedicated their time, talents and hearts to the kids at Lago Vista Mobile Home Community in Loveland. What started as a small reading program with 10 or 20 kids has grown into a successful year-round program supporting up to 150 kids each year. The program ramps up in the summer providing a variety of activities three mornings each week, including reading, art, chess and outdoor recreation designed for children ages 5 and up. In addition to the activities designed to support academic, social and emotional success for elementary students, Laney and Duncan developed a leadership program for the community’s middle and high school students. This year, they have 16 kids in the leadership training program— more than ever. They treat it like a job, with an application, an interview and required hours.
“E”, age 13, has been in the leadership program for three years and says, “It’s fun. It’s a great way to learn about being a leader and being responsible. You get to help the [younger] kids with reading and homework and play games.”
The Food Bank for Larimer County is proud to partner with Lago Vista community and has been providing Kids Cafe meals and snacks since 2014. According to Laney, the Kids Cafe food really makes a difference for many of the kids in the community. “When kids come in the morning for a snack, a lot ask if they can take food home for dinner.” She says it makes her feel good to know they are getting one good meal. Tacos are especially popular and almost every child asks for seconds … or thirds. “S”would eat 3rds or 4ths of everything if he could. “He’s hungry all of the time, things are pretty rough at home,” shared Laney.
“I love the food,” shared 17-year-old “L”. “The tacos are really good. That’s my favorite. Or anything with salad, vegetables, fruit—I’m all for it!”
Making a Difference
During their second summer at Lago Vista, Loveland. Police visited the mobile home community manager and said: “What are you doing here?” Lago Vista had been infamous for vandalism, fights and other criminal activity, but that summer there had been only one incident reported. The park manager attributed the change to Laney and Duncan’s investment in the community. And that’s not the only difference they’re seeing. At the end of the 2016-17 school year, the Howards received an email from the Dean of Loveland High School sharing that 15 out of the 16 seniors in the community graduated. In a community where 90+% of the kids qualify for free and reduced lunch, that graduation rate is unheard of – the district and statewide rate is around 67%.
Laney credits their success to creating an atmosphere where it’s ok to learn and study. They’ve also established a program called Graduation and Beyond for high school students. It includes a monthly speaker and a scholarship program that can be used for any continuing education. It’s not restricted to college. She’s really proud of the students they’ve worked with in the community who are now attending the University of Northern Colorado, working on welding certification and going to cosmetology school.
“It’s a small program, but growing and we trust we are making a difference,” said Laney.
“L” is 17 and has been in the leadership program at Lago Vista for several years. She has grown in maturity and social skills to the point that she has been hired as a paid summer staff member, a position usually reserved for college students. She works 13.5 hours per week. Life isn’t easy as her parents are divorced and her dad is a veteran and has cancer, so she’s currently living with an aunt.
“The leadership program, for me, it’s grown me to be a more mature young lady. I like being there for the kids and helping them with school.” Her sister, “used to do this job, but she’s in college now.”