The number of children under the age of 18 who live below the poverty line in the United States increased by 9% between 2000 and 2006. In Colorado, the number of children living in poverty grew by 72%, the highest rate increase in the nation. These are the stories of some of those children. This Denver Post documentary project provides a window into the lives of eight families living below the poverty line. To see more photos and videos of the families, visit the multimedia project on denverpost.com.
The Atencio Family, Photos by Reza Marvashti
Ron and Vickie Atencio’s modest Grand Junction house and an adjacent RV are home to 27 people, including 13 children. The Atencios’ three sons – victims of layoffs in the energy industry – and their families comprise most of the household. The living room transforms into a bedroom at night for many of the children, and fixing meals is an adventure. Alicia Atencio, the wife of one of the sons, said it’s like cooking for an army.
Nevaeh Atencio, 5, plays on the living room of the family home in Grand Junction. With 27 people residing on the property, the house's living room doubles as a sleeping area.
Orlando Atencio, 26, holds his daughter Santiana, 2, outside the family home in Grand Junction. The dedicated father and husband, who was laid off, spends most of his time at home with his seven children.
Orlando Atencio, right, directs his children and other relatives in front of the family home. With no vehicle of his own, Atencio, 26, hopes to one day replace the fuel pump in the Jeep sitting in the yard.
Ron Atencio plays with his grandson Fai'zon Mitchell between Atencio's doctor appointments. The grandfather, who suffers from chronic diabetes and other severe health problems, and his wife, Vickie, are the patriarch and matriarch of the Atencio family.
While preparing tostadas for lunch, Alicia Atencio talks with her daughter Nevaeh, 5, following an incident in the backyard with a cousin. Meanwhile, 2-year-old Santiana keeps herself busy. Cooking for a household of 27 can take hours, Atencio said, but "we eat very well."
From left, Jamarion Atencio, Fai'zon Mitchell, Nia Atencio, Santiana Atencio and Nevaeh Atencio wake from their afternoon naps on the living room floor of the family home. The living room serves as the sitting room during the day and a bedroom at night.
Orlando Atencio, center, walks his 5-year-old daughter, Nevaeh, home from half-day kindergarten at Pear Park Elementary School. Atencio's younger brother Patrick accompanied them. The afternoon walk home is a ritual for the family.
Nevaeh Atencio looks toward her teacher during writing exercises at Pear Park Elementary School in Grand Junction.
Kyeran Daniels pulls his sister Nevaeh Atencio through the snow on a shovel during a cold spell. Lacking sleds and skis, the kids use anything they get their hands on to have fun in the snow.
Orlando and Alicia Atencio have fun on the couch with some of their children and Orlando's mother, Vickie, at the family home in Grand Junction. The children, from left, are Santiana, Fai'zon Mitchell, Nevaeh, Orlando Jr. and Nia.
The Razey Family, Photos by RJ Sangosti
Michelle Razey, 28, has been married and divorced twice where she grew up in Lamar, a Colorado farming town. She has two children: 8-year-old Michael, who needs oxygen at night, and 3-year-old Misti, who has asthma. Razey worries that her past drug use caused her kids’ lung problems. She lives with her unemployed mother, and the household survives on welfare checks. Razey, who has come out that she is gay and whose girlfriend now lives with the family, is taking college classes. She hopes to get a degree in social work.
Michael Jennings Jr., 8, plays in a tree near his home in Lamar. Michael, who plays alone most of the time, said other kids at his school make fun of him because of his size.
Ken Neugebauer leads his granddaughter Misti Razey, 3, around on his horse as his grandson Michael Jennings Jr., 8, waits for his turn to ride.
Michael Jennings Jr., 8, helps feed and water his grandfather's horses. Michael spent last summer helping his grandfather, Ken Neugebauer, on his farm where the horses are boarded, about 15 miles from Michael's home in Lamar. Michael's grandmother, Shirley Razey, said, "I wish he could come out here more often. Out here, he is active."
Michael Jennings Jr., 8, pretends to decapitate his 3-year-old half sister, Misti Razey, in the parking lot at Wal-Mart in Lamar. Having received her unemployment check, their grandmother, Shirley Razey, took the children to the store to get Halloween costumes. The sword was part of Michael's Grim Reaper costume.
Michelle Razey, 28, and her girlfriend, Candy Hollenbeck, 25, hunt for clothes that will fit Razey's 8-year-old son, Michael Jennings Jr. They were looking in the children's section at Mary and Martha's Food Pantry. The food pantry helps Lamar residents who need clothing and food. The family also receives welfare assistance and food stamps.
In his room, Michael Jennings Jr., 8, dons his best rodeo clothes and pretends he is a professional bull rider. He wants to ride a steer next summer when the fair and rodeo come to Lamar.
Eight-year-old Michael Jennings Jr., center, towers over classmates while in line for lunch at Washington Elementary School in Lamar.
Michael Jennings Jr., 8, kicks back in his room and watches his favorite wrestler, known as The Big Show. Michael studies wrestling moves and tries them out on his half sister, 3-year-old Misti Razey.
Michelle Razey, 28, hangs out as her 3-year-old daughter, Misti, plays atop a broken-down car outside their home in Lamar. Misti lives with her mother and sees her father on weekends.
The Razey household joins hands in prayer before dinner. Seated at the table are Michelle Razey, 28, center; her mother, Shirley, 49, left; her girlfriend, Candy Hollenbeck, 25; and Razey's two children, 3-year-old Misti and 8-year-old Michael Jennings Jr. The family prays before every meal.
The Martinez Family, Photos by Judy DeHaas
Sherry and Eli Martinez, ages 40 and 39, are raising eight of their nine children in an adobe home and an adjacent building on their property. The adobe house was built by Eli’s father more than 75 years ago. Sherry earns $21,000 a year at a hospital nine miles away, but Eli, a war veteran, is unable to hold a job. Poverty has been a way of life for generations in this part of the San Luis Valley. But Eli is too proud to accept food stamps. Instead, he spends time with the children, hunts for meat and takes seasonal jobs in nearby potato farms. All the kids pitch in to fix meals, feed the animals and gather firewood for the stoves.
Jozif Martinez, 4, drinks Kool-Aid at the dining room table in his family's home in Capulin. He had tortillas and ham for dinner in the bowl.
Eli Martinez, 39, holds his 6-month-old son, Adrian, while another son, 3-year-old Michael, watches TV at their home in Capulin. Martinez stays home with his three youngest children while his wife, Sherry, works at a hospital in La Jara.
Eli Martinez Jr. loads a wheelbarrow with wood that his family will burn in their two iron stoves which heat their house in Capulin.
Michael Martinez, 3, reaches for the hand of his cousin Kayla Martinez on the slide that sits on the land that their families share in Capulin.
Joaquine Martinez, 10, scans an advertising flier for specials at Jack's Super Market in La Jara, while brother Eli Jr., 11, compares prices for bacon.
Heather Martinez, 16, prepares homemade tortillas for her family in the kitchen as 3-year-old Michael watches. She makes the tortillas every day.
Michael and Jozif Martinez bathe in a metal tub in the only shower in the Martinez home.
Jasmine Martinez, 14, applies lip gloss in her bedroom before catching the bus for Centauri Middle School.
Sherry Martinez and daughter Jasmine, 14, wait in the kitchen for their green chile and potatoes to finish cooking.
Joaquine Martinez, 10, sleeps in the bed he shares with his 11-year-old brother, Eli Jr. Their adobe home, located in Capulin, was built by the boys' grandfather, Senon, more than 75 years ago.
The Cook Family, Photos by Joe Amon
Eight people, including three children, live in Rodney and Kalin Cook’s two trailers, which are boarded together with plywood near the tiny town of Hooper in Saguache County, the poorest in the state. They use an old truck to generate electricity for the property, and they haul water – for drinking, bathing and cooking, and for the animals – from a neighbor’s well and an artesian well. They live off welfare, unemployment and disability checks. But they’re happy. The children play with the 10 dogs, two cats, four horses and other assorted animals on the Cooks’ 40-acre property. “We like it out here,” Rodney Cook says.
Three-year-old Wyatt Motter tries to Ð in spades Ñ with the yardwork.
Rodney Cook 45, works on a generator that he hopes will replace the Chevy S-10 that currently supplies electricity to the two trailers in which his family lives.
Rodney Cook keeps an eye on 2-year-old granddaughter Sheyenne Motter, atop the family mule Uncle Buck, while his other granddaughter, 3-year-old Lakota Vanessa Rene Douglas, leads the way. Their early-morning walk took place on Cook's 40 acres in Saguache County in the San Luis Valley. "We're happy," Cook said. "We like it out here. It's tough. You have to really work to live. We're happy."
Three-year-old Lakota Vanessa Rene Douglas plays with some of the 10 dogs that live on her grandfather's 40 acres in the San Luis Valley.
Rodney Cook helps grandson Wyatt Motter, 3, take aim at a target near Cook's 40-acre property in Saguache County in the San Luis Valley.
Rodney Cook makes eggs and sausage for the family.
Wyatt Motter, 3, is the son of Brandy and Kevin Motter.
Two of Rodney Cook's grandchildren watch television at the end of the day inside one of the trailers.
Charina Cook bathes her unwilling daughter, 3-year-old Lakota Vanessa Rene Douglas, in the kitchen sink. Cook and her children moved back in with her parents after her husband left them.
Lakota Vanessa Rene Douglas, 3, stands next to a wood-burning stove to warm up after her nightly bath in the kitchen sink. Her mother, Charina Cook, sits in the foreground.
The Archuleta Family, Photos by Hyoung Chang
Patsy Archuleta, 56, is raising two grandchildren by herself while battling cancer in her left arm. The mother of 5-year-old Alexander and 10-year-old Lillian is somewhere in Colorado Springs, a fugitive wanted on drug charges. Alexander’s dad is a fugitive too, and Lillian’s father died three years ago of complications from drug addiction. Grandmother and the two kids live in a double-wide trailer in Pueblo and survive on $1,300 a month in Social Security. She wants to adopt both children so they can inherit her trailer and car.
Patsy Archuleta, 56, and grandson Alexander Vigil share a hug before he and his cousin David Siguenza, 7, left, go outside to play.
A toy truck provides some entertainment for Alexander Vigil outside his family's trailer in Pueblo.
Lillian Anceno, 10, left, and her cousin Shelby Vialpando, 10, play in the alley behind Lillian's home in Pueblo.
Alexander Vigil surprises his grandmother, Patsy Archuleta, with a face decorated with icing from his birthday cake. He turned 5 that day.
Lillian Anceno, 10, helps her half brother, Alexander Vigil, change clothes after school.
Patsy Archuleta, 56, walks her 5-year-old grandson, Alexander Vigil, home from school.
Lillian Anceno, 10, right, shares a laugh with Lovae Castillo, 9, left, and Kayla Prien, 10, during their fourth-grade reading class at Irving Elementary School in Pueblo.
Patsy Archuleta, 56, makes cookies for Thanksgiving as her grandson, Alexander Vigil, passes the time in the kitchen of their double-wide trailer in Pueblo. Archuleta -- a single grandparent of two, Alexander and his half sister, 10-year-old Lillian Anceno -- has already raised a third grandchild. Archuleta lives on what she receives from social services and on her monthly Social Security income of $1,300.
Patsy Archuleta, 56, attends a child-adoption clinic in Pueblo. She wants to adopt 5-year-old Alexander Vigil and 10-year-old Lillian Anceno, the two grandchildren she has raised since they were each 1 year old. Their mother is somewhere in Colorado Springs.
Lillian Anceno, 10, and her half brother, Alexander Vigil, play on a couch in their house. The two have been raised by their maternal grandmother, Patsy Archuleta, 56, who hopes to eventually adopt them.
The Dorsey Family, Photos by Craig F. Walker
Denver’s Sun Valley, the poorest neighborhood in Colorado, is a welcome shelter for Shawnette Dorsey, 32, and her three children, ages 13 months, 8 and 13. The family, who had bounced from apartment to shelter to friends’ homes, finally landed an apartment at Decatur Place for single parents willing to enter a two-year program to get back on their feet. She and the kids say grace and go to church on Sunday. Still, life isn’t easy. Both of her sons have been in and out of trouble at school. In September, she lost her job, so now the family lives off unemployment checks, food stamps and Medicaid.
Shawnwunz'a Smith, 8, lies under his bed. He said that's where he goes when he's in trouble. Shawnwunz'a was home from school after being given a three-day suspension for having hit another student. He was spending the majority of the day in his room. Earlier he ventured into the living room and went unnoticed for a few minutes. But then his mother yelled, "I told you to get out of my living room." He bowed his head and returned to his room, where he retreated under the bed and banged on the metal frame. Dorsey, who could hear the noise, said, "He's mad and pouting." She then shouted to her son, "I know you mad, but that's too bad."
His old belt broken, Shawnwunz'a Smith, 8, watches his mother, Shawnette Dorsey, use a knife to cut a new hole in the leather belt belonging to his half brother, Shonquez Dorsey, 13. Dorsey discovered that Shonquez's belt was too long and needed another hole.
Eight-year-old Shawnwunz'a Smith tries to keep schoolmates in line, literally, after lunch at Fairview Elementary School. Principal Norma Giron said that despite Shawnwunz'a's behaviorial issues, he is intelligent. "(But he) never learned any kind of boundaries," she said. "He's verbally aggressive and inappropriate. Academically, he could do the work. That shouldn't be an issue, because he has the intelligence to do it."
Shawnwunz'a Smith, 8, sits quietly during a short bus ride home from Sun Valley Youth Center's after-school program at Fairview Elementary School. His mother didn't pick him up that day, so he needed to take the bus instead of walking the two blocks home.
Shawnette Dorsey, 32, helps her son Shawnwunz'a Smith with his homework in the living room of their apartment. Shawnwunz'a, 8, wasn't at school because he had been suspended for three days for hitting another student. So he's in trouble at home as well.
Shawnwunz'a Smith, 8, races through the living room with his half sister, 13-month-old Shalisiana Fenwick. His mother, Shawnette Dorsey, says her son is at his best when he's with Shalisiana. "He likes to hold her," Dorsey said. "If she's around, then he's so fine."
Before Thanksgiving dinner, Shawnette Dorsey, 32, takes the hand of her son Shawnwunz'a Smith, 8, who takes the hand of his half brother, Shonquez Dorsey, 13, who takes the hand of his half sister, Shalisiana Fenwick, 13 months. Dorsey leads the family in the saying of grace. "Most Heavenly Father, you are the Lord, our God. Thank you for the food that we have."
Shalisiana Fenwick, 13 months, sits quietly with her eyes closed as her mother, Shawnette Dorsey, 32, does her hair before church. Dorsey was singing along to gospel music on TV. The song was fast and upbeat, repeating: "I'll get by with what I got, I'll get by with what I got, I'll get by with what I got." Dorsey added, "Amen to that."
With the glow of downtown Denver providing the backdrop, 8-year-old Shawnwunz'a Smith follows his mother, Shawnette Dorsey, 32, left, and Lestina Anderson as they roll their babies home from the Family Dollar store on Federal Boulevard.
Shawnette Dorsey and her children excitedly decorate their Christmas tree. Thirteen-month-old Shalisiana Fenwick and Shonquez Dorsey, 13, watch their mother help Shawnwunz'a Smith, 8, place the star atop the tree. The family lives on unemployment, food stamps and Medicaid. "It's enough to do what I gotta do, enough that I do for paying my bills," Dorsey said. "I maintain. You know what I'm sayin'? If I ain't got it, I ain't got it. If I got it, I got it."
The Hessling Family, Photos by Joe Amon
Roy Hessling’s world crashed down around him in January 2007, when his wife, Jill, a working mom, died at 29 after heart surgery. He now raises their three children, ages 8 to 11, in the suburbs while working as a mechanic at a Brakes Plus shop. The children go to his in-laws’ home after school and wait for their father to pick them up after work. They usually stay at his in-laws’ house and eat dinner as a family. ‘We’re just basic people trying to get by,’ he says.
Frosty the dog keeps an eye on Kalvin Hessling, 11, who is up early playing video games on his first day of Thanksgiving vacation.
Elizabeth "Missy" Hessling waits patiently as her father, Roy, quickly brushes her hair before school.
Elizabeth "Missy" Hessling, 8, races to the front door of her home in Broomfield.
Austin Hessling, 9, defends an answer on his homework to leader Crescensio Padilla at the Salvation Army's after-school drop-in program in Broomfield.
Roy Hessling, 32, performs an oil change at his job with Brakes Plus in Boulder. He works there Monday through Saturday.
Sharon Bosman and her grandchildren eat dinner together almost nightly during the week because her house is right across from the Salvation Army where the kids take part in the agency's after-school drop-in program.
Elizabeth "Missy" Hessling, 8, sweeps the basement of her father's parents. Her grandparents' basement has become the play area for her and her two brothers every other Saturday while their dad, Roy, works.
Elizabeth "Missy" Hessling, 8, gives her father, Roy, "the face" for picking on her during dinner.
Elizabeth "Missy" Hessling, 8, plays by herself as her brothers build Lego ships for a battle in the boys' bedroom.
With the family Christmas tree providing a bright backdrop, Roy Hessling relaxes on the couch for a moment as his children play Yu-Gi-Oh, a card game, on the stairs in their Broomfield home.
The Guernsey Family, Photos by Andy Cross
Patricia Guernsey, 35, lives with her three children and 54-year-old mother in an apartment at the Kings Inn Motel on East Colfax Avenue. They live off unemployment checks, food stamps and disability. Linda Starkey, their grandmother, takes 5-year-old Tatiana to school on an RTD bus. The family, which is often behind on its rent, continuously faces eviction.
Tatiana Logan, 5, enters the bedroom she shares with her sisters and her grandmother at the Kings Inn Motel. She was upset with one of her siblings.
Patricia Guernsey, loaded down with bags of gifts, returns to her apartment at the Kings Inn Motel on East Colfax Avenue in Aurora one recent afternoon after going Christmas shopping at Aurora Central High School. The Restoration Outreach Program's Christmas Store is an annual program that allows needy parents to buy two presents per child, up to six kids, at nearly 75 percent to 80 percent off retail. Guernsey's three daughters and mother live with her in the small apartment.
Anhelica Ford, 8, pushes her 3-year-old half sister, Carol, to the floor for simply being too loud inside their apartment at the Kings Inn Motel. Anhelica has anger issues stemming from her mild case of cerebral palsy.
Patricia Guernsey, 34, has a stern talk with her daughter Carol. The mother was trying to get the 3-year-old to come back inside their apartment at the Kings Inn Motel in Aurora. Guernsey's 5-year-old daughter, Tatiana, looks on, listening carefully.
Anhelica Ford, 8, comforts her half sister Carol Logan, 3, while microwaving a bowl of beans next to a sink filled with unwashed dishes.
Patricia Guernsey, 34, raises her hand to her 5-year-old daughter, Tatiana, in an attempt to get her to stop crying. Three-year-old Carol, left, took a soda from Tatiana that Guernsey brought home after returning from a visit with her husband, from whom she is separated.
Carol Logan, 3, wipes tears from her mother's face after she returned home from a visit with her husband, from whom she is separated. When Carol asked whether Daddy was coming back, Patricia Guernsey said, "It doesn't look like it will ever happen, baby."
Tatiana Logan, 5, plays with a toy camera in the doorway of her apartment at the Kings Inn Motel on East Colfax Avenue in Aurora. Tatiana's sister Carol, 3, holds the door open. The children, along with their 8-year-old half sister, Anhelica Ford, live on disability, food stamps and other government assistance.
Carol Logan, 3, hangs on during her bus trip back home. She and her grandmother, Linda Starkey, center, took 5-year-old Tatiana to school.
Carol Logan beams brightly while showing off her tiara in her bedroom at the Kings Inn Motel. Despite the 3-year-old's impoverished childhood, very little seems to faze her.
To see more photos and videos of the families, visit the multimedia project on denverpost.com.