The winding road ahead lay empty as the wide eyed seventeen year-old traversed the rugged mountainside, dropping into the high altitude mountain town once booming with the prospect of silver. A quick right and then left unveils the historic landscape, brick and wood separating underneath the aluminum clad steeple that mimics the Collegiates behind. Ancient mills and bars are now mountaineering storefronts, signaling the changing landscape of modern day Colorado. Buildings begin to fade and grass begins to grow, the rural beauty of Lake County now dominates. The winding road resumes and toward the next adventure the boy departs, marveling at the roundabout path his perspective of this land and its people have traversed over just the last few years.
My first true engagement with philanthropy was during high school through the El Pomar Youth in Community Service (EPYCS) program. This program taught the fundamentals of the nonprofit and foundation sector to high school students across the state. It allowed them to put theory into practice by making grants to local nonprofits, and played an integral role in my career development as it spurred my interest in philanthropy and service to the people of Colorado. Through my two years of involvement with EPYCS and, later, my two years chairing the Fountain Valley Youth Philanthropy Club, I was inspired to learn more about the issues facing the most vulnerable individuals in our state and to pursue philanthropic work on my own.
Thus, as a capstone to my high school experience, I embarked on a nonprofit tour of Colorado. Over the course of two months between my junior and senior year, I traveled from the western slope to the eastern plains, interviewing nonprofit leaders in Leadville, participating in rural initiatives in Bent and Las Animas Counties, and helped film a documentary about a land easement in Elbert County. My goal for the trip was to meet a wide array of impactful organizations and people from many corners of the state. I did just that, and I became entranced with the nonprofit sector along the way. I came away from this experience with not only an understanding of the variety of issues present throughout Colorado, but also an appreciation for the people who have devoted their entire life to finding cures, ending cycles of poverty, and preserving ecosystems. It is these people that make the whole scheme successful.
Now a Fellow at El Pomar, I recently realized that I have come full circle. What started out as an interest in high school has since bloomed into a postgraduate career. Looking back on my excursions through rural Colorado, it is understandable why I value El Pomar’s statewide focus. While the major populations in Colorado are found along the Front Range, some of the most committed individuals live where nobody is looking. Over the next year, I will continue observing, assisting, and learning about the rural communities that make our state flourish, all while embodying my interpretation of the Foundation’s motto as “a foundation for [all of] Colorado.”