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You Start By Cleaning Out the Closet

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1.15.16 Erin Tilmey Eilmes.jpg

Erin Tilney Eilmes, Fellowship class of 2000

“Umm…do you have a change of clothes?” I was asked as I walked into my first day at El Pomar as a summer intern.  I looked down at my business suit and wondered what they were talking about.  I was a poor college student who had just spent more money on this suit and other business attire than ever before in my life!  I thought maybe they were kidding, but quickly learned it was no joke.  Assigned to Dave Palenchar, El Pomar Trustee and former Chief Operating Officer, and the grants office for the summer, I was informed that my first task as an intern was to clean out the large closet in Dave’s office.  I swallowed my pride and replaced my new business suit with a pair of old jeans for an entire week as I completed my first assignment.  I’ve always been a hard worker and I’ve been known as the person to go to if something needs to be done.  That said, I never expected to add closet organizing to my resume after my El Pomar summer internship.

That was 16 and a half years ago, and I still use that as a great life lesson I share with others.  “You start by cleaning out the closet.”  In today’s society, so many people want to start at the top and forgo the grunt work that often propels us to the top.  If I needed any humbling before I began the internship, that first week certainly did the trick.  To this day, I’m grateful for that experience and refer to it with my kids and so many other people.  I was blessed to be under Dave’s supervision that summer, and reaped so much from his wisdom and experience, as well as from Mr. Tutt, the Fellows, and the other interns.

During my time as a summer intern, I realized that El Pomar had so much to offer me and three short months were not enough.  El Pomar fit with who I was and where I wanted to go professionally.  I knew I wanted to enter the nonprofit sector and help make positive changes in my community.  I also recognized the wealth of knowledge El Pomar had to offer and knew I wanted to glean as much as I could.  El Pomar understands the value of the investment in human capital and I was blessed to be one of the recipients, even if that meant doing the grunt work.

Fortunately, I was accepted back the next year as a Fellow.  The opportunities at El Pomar, including leadership development, nonprofit management, public speaking, being forced to face my fears, and working together with colleagues to creatively empower communities around the state of Colorado, helped shape who I am today.  El Pomar gave me the confidence to know I can enter into big conversations about big issues, lead teams of all different types of people, and make significant changes in my community by simply starting the conversation and taking action.

After I left the Fellowship I spent a few more professional years in the nonprofit sector, leading a small foundation and then stewarding large donors in the higher education field.  I no longer have an impressive title or several letters behind my name because of the important role I hold in the community.  My important role now is MOM, and yet I continue to use the skills I developed at El Pomar.  My husband and I started our own property management business 11 years ago.  Running our own business has allowed us the freedom to be involved in the community and in our kids’ lives as much as possible.  Each of us has sat on boards for local nonprofits, held leadership positions at our church, and volunteered with several nonprofits as well as with our kids’ school and sports teams.   Our commitment to philanthropy and being leaders in the community has not waned.

In comparison to many former Fellows, I currently come from a different perspective, one primarily focused on raising our three young children. Nonetheless, I believe the El Pomar Fellowship is better than any training ground for which I could have hoped.  The Fellowship enhanced my passions, strengthened my weaknesses, and exposed me to people and experiences I may never have encountered otherwise.  Most importantly, El Pomar gave me the confidence to see a need and know that I could lead the way to change, even as a volunteer or community member, rather than a paid staff member.  Great opportunities come from being willing to “clean out the closet” and I’m so grateful I had this opportunity.