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Council Member Reflections: Dee Williams

By Seth Lindsey

Dee Williams, Retired Swap Coordinator, UnBOCES

San Juan Regional Council member since 2012

Dee Williams joined the San Juan Regional Council in October 2012. Dee originally learned of El Pomar Foundation while studying at Colorado College. Dee’s background with Uncompahgre Board of Cooperative Educational Services (UnBOCES) drew the Council’s attention due to its new focus area in early childhood development. As Dee put it, “that focus was just right up my alley.”

As Dee joined the Council, it took initial interest in two programs related to early childhood education: the Parents as Teachers (PAT) program and the Pyramid Model program. PAT trains parents through a home visitation model, whereas the Pyramid Model is a school-based model that trains teachers. Both programs provide support regarding a child’s social and emotional development. The two champions who encouraged the Council to support the Pyramid Model in particular were Virgina Kile, a trainer of the Pyramid Model with the Colorado Department of Education, and Kathleen Merritt, the Executive Director of Bright Futures, an early childhood education provider in the region. As Dee described them, they were champions “not just because they were enthusiastic, but they also had the experience, wherewithal, education, and follow-through to see things to the end.” Beginning with these two leaders, the Council developed a plan to support effective implementation of the Pyramid Model in all six counties in the San Juan region. In 2013, the Council recommended three grants totaling $190,000 to Hilltop Health Services, Gunnison Watershed School District RE1J, and Bright Futures, to support the organizations’ operations of PAT and the Pyramid Model.

In 2015, the Council encouraged four organizations from across the region, including Bright Futures, to create a proposal that established the Early Childhood Development Collaborative (ECDC). Although the initial proposal was too large for the Council to support, it recommended a grant to hire professional consultant, Kurt Wilson (1992 Fellowship alumnus) to help the ECDC refine its plan. With Kurt’s assistance, the ECDC submitted a $350,000 proposal which included monthly check-ins and clear objectives over a three-year period. The Council recommended the grant in its entirety. “We were really interested in their progress,” Dee shared, “it was always an uplifting experience after checking in because we knew things were going the way we had hoped.” By 2019, the ECDC continued to be a success, accomplishing its outreach and capacity goals, attracting a diverse stream of funders, and expanding its capacity to help more youth.

In May 2019, the Council transitioned to a new focus area. As Dee put it, “we wanted to move off of early childhood [education] because our efforts were successful and there were a lot of other areas that needed help.” The Council’s discussion led to a focus on youth mental health. Currently, the Council is conducting research on mental health providers and searching for more “champions” the Council can partner with to be impactful. As she looks to the San Juan Regional Council’s future, Dee hopes it continues to maintain its ties with the community and support meaningful projects in its focus area. Grants to local libraries and the Wright Opera House are recent recommendations she is particularly proud of and hopes to continue.

Dee’s advice for new council members is to engage in the learning process when it comes to El Pomar’s grant making programs, “ask when the Trustees meet, how long it takes to process grants, and don’t be afraid to ask for help to stay informed.”

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