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Gauging Community Impact

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Stephanie South

 

A long drive and short meetings can make a huge difference. Ride along with me on an El Pomar Community Impact Visit trip to Hayden to see how.

As a first-year fellow just learning the ropes at El Pomar Foundation, it did not make sense to me why I might have to drive to the northwest region—generally at least a five-hour trip in the best weather—to conduct only a few hour-long site visits with grantees. It seemed inefficient. However, well into my second year in the fellowship, I have come to understand the importance of the community impact visit (CIV), and more than that, I have come to love going on them.

One CIV I did in my hometown showed me how filling up a gas tank can be a step to preventing poverty; it allowed me to produce a memo for the Northwest Regional Council about the lack of funding for gas cards and car insurance assistance. Another CIV, conducted this summer, showed me what a single site visit can do for an organization and even an entire community in rural Colorado; this is the story I would like to share.

Setting the Scene
Hayden is a small town. It is exactly the kind of small town you see in movies where the diner waitress always knows your order, and everyone in the pews knows exactly whom the pastor is talking to on Sunday. I was born and raised not far from Hayden and had never heard of it, let alone been there. Fortunately for me, in April of this year, I was sent there for a visit with Michael Luppes, superintendent of Hayden School District RE-1; and Kevin Klecker, Career and Technical Education Center director at the Babson-Carpenter Career and Technical Education Center. El Pomar made a $15,000 capital grant to support construction efforts of the center in April 2009.

Finding a Champion
After arriving at the school and introducing myself, I was immediately taken across the parking lot and into the building Spencer Penrose’s money helped to build. It was at this point that I was introduced to Kleckler. One thing was instantly clear: Kleckler is a man who absolutely loves what he does and is committed to preparing the next generation of students for success in Hayden and the surrounding areas. I began to understand all of this even before one of his former students stopped by. This student had already graduated from high school, and credited Kleckler and the center for the fact that he had a job offer before he even turned his tassel. In addition to being the first one to ever “ma’am” me, this student was the first to start making me realize that the work Kleckler does at Babson-Carpenter is something worth noticing.

Building a Workforce
Cities in the northwest region of Colorado, like Hayden, have great need for new blood in fields like welding and auto body collision and refinishing. Kleckler and his students told me how many of the current professionals are aging and looking to retire, and, in today’s high schools, college is a more popular choice than vocational training. This leaves a void in the local workforce that needs to be filled. Through the Hayden School District, Kleckler is offering technical classes that teach students the skills they need to fill that gap and prepare them to have successful careers. Prior to the new facility, classes included: welding, auto body, automotive mechanics, and cabinet making. As a result of the new career and technical education building, the curriculum continues to expand and now includes: building trades (framing, electrical, plumbing, and masonry), diesel mechanics and heavy equipment operations, architecture, mechanical drafting, and computer-aided design. Classes and certifications are offered not only to high school students from Hayden and the surrounding areas, but also to adults through evening and summer classes.

The Need
Very quickly, I was personally impressed with Kleckler and what was happening in Hayden, but more important than that, I was absolutely certain that the Northwest Regional Council would also be impressed. So I started asking Kleckler more about what the Center’s budget was and what he needed to make the computer-aided design classes he was nearly glowing about a reality. As it turns out, the Babson-Carpenter Career and Technical Education Center’s programs run on only $6,000 a year, excluding the director’s salary, and classes are offered at minimal cost to students. Because things were tight, the school district was in need of funding to purchase computers and software in order to get the computer-aided design program up and running. Additional money was also necessary to expand the building trades curriculum. The number: $50,000.

On the Road Again
Despite how many site visits I conducted during that two-day stint in the region and the large amount of coffee consumed to keep me awake on the very, very long drive, I could not get the young man I had met out of my mind. His goals and the goals of the Northwest Regional Council—to impact workforce development—seemed aligned but, to that point, unconnected. So when I got back to Colorado Springs, I set about researching vocational/technical education centers and how they contributed to workforce development. During the next few weeks, I read a lot, including a very well-written and intriguing report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education that spoke about the need for varied paths of secondary and post-secondary education. I also began sifting through all the Northwest Regional Council’s previous findings and assembled a presentation about where the Council had been, where it was going, and what it was the Council seemed to be looking for—organizations that had four things in common: a plan, a champion, collaboration, and sustainability.

A Happy Ending
The Northwest Regional Council was inspired, and over the coming weeks, the Council members went hunting. By early fall, the Council had identified six organizations throughout northwest Colorado that aligned with their focus area, as well as the four characteristics. Babson-Carpenter was in that group, and at the beginning of November, Kleckler was handed a $50,000 check to buy those computers he needed. In the end, the Council made an impact, six entities had their organizational futures changed, and I learned exactly why that 60 minutes is so important to El Pomar’s trustees.