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Council Member Spotlight: Gina Cimino and Dana Duran

By Matthew Telles

In early March, Regional Fellows interviewed Southeast Regional Council Member Gina Cimino, Vice Chairman of Mt. Carmel Health, Wellness and Community Center and Northwest Regional Council Member Dana Duran, Executive Director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Colorado to discuss their involvement in youth services and revitalization efforts happening in the cities of Trinidad and Craig, respectively.

Southeast Colorado is home to Mt. Carmel Wellness and Community Center serving the Trinidad community through a variety of youth programming. Gina Cimino, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees, is impassioned to serve disadvantaged youth and shares that rather than catching young people during depression and potential drug use, she likes to think of Mt. Carmel as the “offensive arm fighting youth mental health.” In other words, Mt. Carmel acts on a prevention model by offering diverse programs to keep youth busy and to develop themselves as scholars and leaders in the Trinidad community. For example, Youth Explorer’s Camp provides continued education for grade school students with a focus on building healthy lifestyles through stress management, nutritional courses and wildlife safety. Another program, Leaders of the Future, offers middle and high school students financial literacy and post-secondary preparedness courses aimed at college or trade schools. As a mom herself, Mt. Carmel’s dedication to kids and families in Trinidad strikes a heartfelt chord for Gina because she feels that “kids are our future.”

In the Northwest region, Dana Duran of Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Colorado (BGCNC) began her journey as Executive Director in 2007. Since then, she has expanded the Club’s impact by opening a second location in Steamboat Springs and increasing volunteer numbers by 30 percent. Over the years, however, Dana shares that she has seen the world shift and states that “Boys & Girls Clubs are now needed more than ever” because of the rising mental health issues affecting youth and their families. Like Mt. Carmel in Trinidad, BGCNC acts on a “prevention and upstream model” meaning that for every dollar invested in prevention, the non-profit saves nine dollars on intervention. In 2023, Dana is dedicated to building resiliency by encouraging youth to take risks, be creative and engage with their communities. One lesson learned over the years is the organization’s understanding of the discrepancy of resource availability in urban areas versus rural communities like Craig. To combat this, BGCNC has invested in key partnerships to make its programs accessible to youth across the region. For example, one Friday a month, the Club hosts a mobile dentistry clinic in its parking lot to offer services to their program attendees at no cost to families.

In addition to unique challenges that Craig faces as a rural community, it is also entering a new era with the state-required closure of two coal-fired powerplants and three coal mines by 2030. The Yampa Valley is enduring an economic strain—with the loss of both high paying jobs and a large tax base – as well as a cultural shift. Although this is a major challenge, Dana shares that “Craig, Hayden and Yampa Valley are strong communities that believe in Western values of helping each other, working hard and taking care of the outdoors.” With this optimism in mind, Dana and local community leaders are invested in identifying economic development opportunities, including providing continued education and transferable skills to those who will lose their jobs from the closures. El Pomar’s Northwest Regional Council supported a new Economic Development Manager position for the City of Craig, to identify opportunities and bring in more employers. One such project is the Water Diversion Project on the Yampa River to build whitewater rapids and make the city of Craig more desirable to tourists. As the city continues to develop its downtown and capitalize on the natural assets of the Yampa Valley, Dana is interested in seeing how their local communities persevere and lean into this significant economic shift.

On the other side of the state, Trinidad has “always been a boom bust community.” The town was founded as a trading center on the Santa Fe Trail which was a historical travel route for pioneers and settlers. Trinidad’s 70-year decline in population reversed when in 2017, then Governor Hickenlooper introduced legislation to invest $10 million into developing Trinidad’s downtown as a demonstration project. The funding, which included building 42 artist live and work units, inspired Colorado creatives from around the state to move to Trinidad. Most recently, Gina has been involved in local efforts including construction of Trinidad’s first downtown hotel; acquisition of Fisher’s Peak, now the second largest state park in Colorado; and a new street connection project in the city center. Gina is proud of the city’s holistic approach to revitalization by prioritizing the arts, economic development and outdoor recreation.

Regional Partnership’s impact across the state can only be achieved through the dedication of council members like Gina and Dana. El Pomar Foundation is grateful to leverage the knowledge and engagement of our council members which make our regional councils more effective. Thank you for your investment into your communities and our collective mission to enhance, encourage and promote the current and future well-being of the people of Colorado.

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