Thirteen men and women from varying ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and histories will decide how to use $230,000 in grant money to help keep Natrona County a safe, prosperous community and reduce homelessness and substance abuse.

“Unless you’ve been in the justice system, you can’t really know how to successfully get out of it,” Kristy Oster, Natrona Collective Health Trust director of community engagement, said.

“The unique expertise that all of these individuals bring to the table is the best way to help their justice-involved peers become healthy, thriving members of society,” Oster said.

After three meetings and several hours of discussions, the group identified four potential funding areas: housing, transportation, peer-to-peer support, and mental health.

“Central Wyoming Counseling Center and Seton House were so helpful to me in my journey,” participant Joanna Clement said. “But Casper has a lot of great resources. It seems like everybody really wants to be on board with people who have addictions and end up in the system.

There’s no judgement. Mental health and addiction go hand-in-hand,” Clement said.

Known as participatory grantmaking, the practice of relying on individuals with lived experience to allocate grant funding is being used by philanthropies nationwide including The Alliance for Safety and Justice and The Public Welfare Foundation.

This is the Trust’s second participatory grantmaking cycle following a youth-focused one that concluded in spring 2023. All participants are compensated for their time and expertise throughout the process.

Currently attending classes at Casper College, Clement plans to pursue a career either in social work or the medical field, where she believes her lived experience will be an advantage.

“I know the barriers and the things that can help. Having that peer-to-peer support means you can’t keep making excuses. It’s easier to be assertive and speak the truth. [Participatory grantmaking] gives me hope that there actually are solutions. It makes my heart beat better,” she said.

From July 29 through August 11, 2024, applications for the justice-involved grants will be open to local nonprofit organizations with proposals in any of the four priority areas through the Trust’s website.

National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois, Wyoming

All photos used with permission from Dan Starks, the founder.

Gallery Credit: Kolby Fedore, Townsquare Media

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Kolby Fedore, TSM

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