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Reflections from Statewide

Tags: Awards for Excellence Regional Partnerships

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Mari Tanabe

As we the El Pomar Fellows anxiously prepared for the annual Statewide meeting—our heads buried in details of meeting agendas, speaking points, and schedules—the director of Regional Partnerships, Cathy Robbins, helped us see the bigger picture. “There’s a moment when I stand on the stage and I look at the Regional Council Members, the statewide funders, and the El Pomar staff members all sitting in one room,” she said, “and it takes my breath away.”

Held at the beginning of October, El Pomar Foundation’s annual Statewide meeting is a culmination of the work El Pomar does year-round, wrapped into a jam-packed three day conference. At its core, Statewide brings together the individuals who make El Pomar’s Regional Partnerships program successful.  Regional Partnerships, established in 2003 to expand grantmaking beyond the Front Range, now consists of eleven regions throughout the state. In each region, a council made up of local leaders directs $200,000 of funding into their region based on their understanding of needs and assets. In 2015, Regional Partnerships consists of eleven regions, more than 70 Council Members, and $2.2 million dollars in grants throughout the state.

Statewide also convenes other leaders from across the state, including state legislators, funders, and nonprofit sector changemakers. We listened as Senator Cory Gardner and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman described pivotal moments in their careers which led them to their current profession. Tim Schultz of Boettcher Foundation and Margaret Hunt of Colorado Creative Industries presented their vision for Space to Create Colorado: building affordable housing for artists in Colorado’s eight rural regions to stimulate economic development. Expert panelists in the areas of early childhood education, middle school, and sustainable rural economies discussed potential challenges and solutions for each issue in breakout sessions. The content of these sessions carried into Regional Council meetings where Council Members brainstormed new multi-year grants to support their communities or evaluated the success of current grants.

Being in the same room with community leaders from across the state was inspiring. As a Fellow, it was a delight to be seated next to Benita Fitzgerald Mosely (Pikes Peak Council), a gold medal Olympian and leader for the United States Olympic Committee; to listen to Kim White (Southwest Council), superintendent of San Juan County School District #1, as she shared her understanding of her students’ needs and vision for their future; and to chat with Tom Gilmore (San Luis Valley Council), former Adams State University president who helped establish a scholarship for nurses in the San Luis Valley. These conversations will stay with me; indeed, they pushed me to look at ways that I can contribute to my community in the future.

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On the final night of the conference, Statewide was also a time of celebration. El Pomar honored the state’s highest performing nonprofit organizations and outstanding community leaders with Awards for Excellence.  As El Pomar’s first program, Awards for Excellence began as a modest luncheon in 1989 and has since grown to a large dinner with over one hundred attendees.  This year, El Pomar recognized two nonprofits and three community leaders.

Bright Future Foundation for Eagle County, which empowers individuals and families affected by domestic violence and assault, and Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, which operates an innovative residential community at Fort Lyon for individuals experiencing homelessness, were recognized as Awards for Excellence nonprofit winners for 2015. Each received a $25,000 grant for their commitment to bettering the lives of Coloradans. Upon accepting the award, both Sheri Mintz, Executive Director of Bright Future Foundation, and John Parvensky, President and CEO of Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, received standing ovations.

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The presentation of awards to the outstanding community leaders also brought the audience to their feet.  Dr. Pamela Shockley-Zalabak, Chancellor of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, was awarded the Russell T. Tutt Award for her lifetime of dedicated leadership and continued effort in improving the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.Ceil Folz, former President of Vail Valley Foundation, received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Sport for her promotion of Vail, Colorado as a hub for international sports. Finally, United States Senator Cory Gardner received the Ben S. Wendelken Special Trustees Award for his spirit of service, giving, and commitment demonstrated though his work in local, state, and national government.

Statewide is over, and I am back in my office in Colorado Springs. I’m doing the same work I did before Statewide, but it feels different now. Having attended the annual Statewide meeting, I understand I am a part of a vast network—made up of El Pomar staff and trustees, statewide funders, legislators, county commissioners, university presidents, and exceptional nonprofit leaders—all working to make Colorado a better place.