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Council Member Reflections: Larry Zaragoza

By Seth Lindsey

Larry Zaragoza, Town Manager, La Jara

San Luis Valley Regional Council member since 2017

Larry Zaragoza joined the San Luis Valley Regional Council in March 2017. As he joined the Council, it was transitioning its focus area from funding nursing scholarships to supporting youth development. This emerging focus area was very familiar to Larry due to his 45 years coaching youth sports and 32 years teaching. Larry was excited about joining, stating, “I wanted to lend all my experience and background with youth to the Council.”

As the Council began this new focus, Larry shared the path was not straightforward. “We were fairly reluctant at first,” Larry said, “but over time we determined what our genuine concerns were.” By 2018, the Council began researching the Boys and Girls Clubs of the San Luis Valley (BGCSLV), the Center for Restorative Programs, and La Puente Home, which all support youth in various capacities. Larry mentioned his primary concern when evaluating organizations was the number of youth reached by organizations’ programming, saying, “The goal at the time was to serve more youth.” An outcome of this work was the Council supporting the formation of a “Youth Voices Forum” with the Youth Development Coalition (YDC). The forum gathered feedback from youth regarding community centers and workforce readiness programs that would be most impactful to them. The Council later recommended $10,000 to the BGCSLV to increase its capacity to serve as a central hub for youth programming.

In early 2019, the BGCSLV, Youth Development Coalition, and GripTape, a local youth-serving nonprofit, came together to propose funding for the “Grip Tape Community Challenge,” a program that emphasized skill development and youth leadership. A number of council members, including Larry, visited GripTape to experience its programming and by the end of 2019, the Council recommended $133,500 to support its programming.

In early 2020, the Council refined its focus area to support youth mental health. Since then, the Council has recommended 18 grants totaling more than $435,000 to numerous youth-serving organizations across the region. Some grantees have been long time partners like La Puente Home and Center for Restorative Programs, whereas others are new to the Council such as the Center Viking Youth Club. Even after four years of supporting youth mental health, Larry emphasized that the Council still sees immense value in continuing to contribute to local solutions.

Larry hopes the future holds more opportunities for funding in the San Luis Valley. He mentioned his gratitude for the Colorado Assistance Fund and the impact he has seen it bring to the region in challenging times. For new council members, Larry recommends first understanding the needs of one’s community in order to appreciate the heart of the challenges and know their importance to every community. Larry summed this point up with an eloquent reminder, “in La Jara, we are a small community, but there is nothing small about what our challenges are and that is the same everywhere.”

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