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Calling All Grant Recipients (Literally)

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Josie Burke

El Pomar’s Colorado Assistance Fund is designed to get much-needed funds in the hands of nonprofit organizations directly serving those Coloradans most affected by the economic crisis. In order to ensure that these organizations can focus on their important work, the grants are all unsolicited. There is no proposal to write, no paperwork to track down, no budget to design. This makes for an unintended, but thoroughly meaningful, consequence: the phone call.

More than a hundred times over the past week, El Pomar staffers have had the privilege of calling the leader of each nonprofit receiving a CAF IV grant to share the news of the impending arrival. The response from the unsuspecting nonprofit is almost universal: Really? No kidding? Thanks! And, finally, a refrain: this could not come at a better time.

From the El Pomar side, the interaction becomes a precious opportunity to hear firsthand about the work of direct human service providers across the state. We can get caught up in our day-to-day work lives—emails, meetings, emails, more meetings. These phone calls remind us of the purpose behind the work and allow one small glimpse into the lives of the people on the front lines of helping those in need.

So, what have we heard, other than some stunned silence and some gleeful squeals? A lot about the tremendous need that still exists all across Colorado.

Bob Cote, president of Step 13, a Denver program for homeless addicts, says his clientele has changed. He is surprised that 17 of the men he is working with today have never been to jail--they just lost jobs and then fell on hard times. All of this, says Cote, is a result of the economy. The cycle works like this, in his opinion: man has job, man loses job, man starts to drink a little, man loses apartment and starts to drink more, man lives in car, continues to drink and then, terrified of a shelter, he ends up at Step 13.

Steve Brown, executive director of Westside CARES in Colorado Springs, thinks of the third Monday of every month when trying to capture the impact of the downturn on the people that need his organization. On that day a lottery is held to determine which of the very needy clients will actually receive the once-per-lifetime rental assistance of $300 that Westside CARES is able to offer. The demand for this service is where Brown sees the biggest evidence that the economy is still hurting people. He can help 12 per month. And that means that 90 percent of the requests will go unfulfilled.

Every organization shared some story, some statistic to show that the need across Colorado continues to grow:

  • The Aspen Valley Medical Foundation’s direct assistance requests increased by 66 percent between 2008 and 2010.
  • The Vail Valley Salvation Army’s Emergency Financial Assistance Program has served a steadily increasing population – 1,068 in 2008; 2,963 in 2009; and 1,011 in only the first quarter of 2010.
  • Elbert County Coalition for Outreach, a community resource center, assisted 427 people with direct services and many more through discounted or free merchandise from its thrift store in 2009.  In 2010 that number rose to 524.

The stories and numbers paint a picture that is difficult to comprehend. Yet the power of hearing it over and over, from the people who do so much to alter the view, is unmistakable. The nonprofit gets a grant. The phone call is our reward.