Two weeks ago I found myself in a car not registered in my name with $61,500 in the trunk. I whipped through the winding roads of Custer, Fremont, Chaffee, and Park counties of Colorado with my Ray-Bans on singing along to, “Take the Money and Run” by the Steve Miller Band.
Now is probably the time to tell you that the car was a rental; the $61,500 was in the form of grant checks; the sunglasses are Ray-Ban knock-offs; and this storyline, which sounds like it was ripped from the nightly news and every kids’ cops and robbers dream, is actually one of the greatest parts of my job as a Fellow at El Pomar Foundation.
Through El Pomar’s Regional Partnerships program, I have had the opportunity to work with the Central Peaks Regional Council. This council of community leaders from Custer, Chaffee, Fremont, and Park counties provides El Pomar Foundation with firsthand information about the needs in these communities. Additionally, each year, this Council can provide up to $200,000 in grant recommendations to the trustees of El Pomar.
Currently, due to the economic downturn, El Pomar Foundation is distributing $1,000,000 through its Colorado Assistance Fund (CAF) to more than 150 health and human service organizations in Colorado, including 12 that were recommended by the Central Peaks Regional Council. This is the fifth year El Pomar has provided CAF funding.
That is why I recently found myself in that car with El Pomar’s Lisa Carlson, traveling for two days through the Central Peaks Region to distribute CAF V grants. We wanted to say thank you to the nonprofits firsthand and get a better feel for their day-to-day experiences.
As Lisa and I passed through the rural towns of Canon City, Westcliffe, Salida, Hartsel, Fairplay, and Harris Park, we observed the true impact of the economic crisis. At some of these organizations, the need for food, shelter and clothing has doubled or even tripled within the last year. Witnessing the hardships of the people that passed through the doors of these nonprofits was heartbreaking; single mothers, unemployed fathers, young children, and the elderly. However, that feeling of helplessness was soon replaced by optimism. At every stop, we met inspiring nonprofit leaders.
I was struck by the passion from people like Bonnie McDonald, the executive director of New Caring and Sharing in Salida, and Dr. Jon Wallestad, the president of Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church in Westcliffe. Community support and long, tiring hours of volunteer work at these organizations have guaranteed that no one will go hungry, sleep in the cold, or lack sufficient clothing in these communities. I personally have never witnessed such a commitment to the concept community responsibility.
As I turn on my evening news tonight and look at all of the turmoil that seems to engulf the world, I will see the faces of the people who need help and hear the voices of those we met offering a hand.
Colorado Assistance Fund V grant recipients in the Central Peaks Region of Colorado include: Manna House $3,000 (Fremont County); Loaves and Fishes $7,500 (Fremont County); the Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments$15,000 (Fremont County); Chafee County Department of Health and Human Services $5,000 (Chaffee County); New Caring and Sharing $2,000 (Chaffee County); Society of First Presbyterian Church of Salida $7,500 (Chaffee County); Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church $5,000 (Custer County); A Hand-Up, Not A Handout $2,000 (Park County); South Park Food Bank $3,000 (Park County); Rocky Mountain Rural Health $5,000 (Park County); Park County Department of Human Services $5,000 (Park County); and Harris Park Bible Church $1,500 (Park County). In the Central Peaks Region of Colorado, nonprofits have received a combined total of $246,500 from CAF I-V.