“We participated as early innovators in a movement that reflects our generation’s desire to give back, but in a more social way,” said co-founder Noah Atencio. “The El Pomar Fellowship provided access to great people who all share a personal commitment to making life better for their communities. The mission of the Pueblo Opportunity Fund is to improve the quality of life for current and future citizens of Pueblo.”
Jeremy Duhon inspired Atencio, Simon Tafoya, and Melanie Bravo—all with ties to Pueblo—to join the Pueblo Opportunity Fund and pool their money to raise an initial investment of $10,000. In the founders’ minds, the Fund’s mission meant not only making financial gifts, but also growing the Fund, and celebrating and promoting philanthropic efforts from the Fund’s trustees and the larger Pueblo community.
This ambitious effort from recent college graduates required dedication.
“We were all pretty aggressive up front contributing to the fund,” said Atencio.
Atencio set aside money out of every paycheck and used his graduate school capstone project to work on a strategic planning process for the Fund.
But the fellows weren’t starting from scratch. They were building on ideas from other groups, many of them also started or led by El Pomar fellows, like the Eagle Fund and the Gordian Fund. They were also building on the Fellowship itself, which had given all these entrepreneurial fellows the tools to turn ideas into action.
“We understand the power of collective giving, investing in high-impact nonprofits, understanding the true needs of a community and partnering with like-minded organizations,” said Duhon. “These components of our culture and vision will allow each of us to have far more impact than we could independently.”
Atencio sees a simple connection between the past and the present.
“I believe we created the Fund to continue the Fellowship experience,” said Noah. “The Fellowship takes talented people and provides the opportunity to develop life-long friendships and networks within the context of real community impact. The Pueblo Opportunity Fund is doing the same.”
In 2011, the Fund made its inaugural grant, to Tom & Louie’s Cupboard Food Drive, which is managed by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Pueblo County.
“This grant was very fitting because we were each incredibly dedicated to [Tom & Louie’s] at some point in our lives,” said Bravo. “When the project first started I was the first youth coordinator [and] we were giving 50 small baskets. The food drive now provides between 500-600 large baskets to Pueblo families during Thanksgiving.”
Where are they now?
Noah Atencio is an assistant vice president at the Daniels Fund. Melanie Bravo is the president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Pueblo County. Jeremy Duhon is a vice president at Denver Investments. Simon Tafoya is a legislative assistant for Senator Mark Udall in Washington, D.C.