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Reflecting on a Year Like No Other

By Will Keyse

Amidst all the uncertainty that has followed us into 2021 from the tumultuousness that was 2020, one thing everyone can agree on is that we would like to take a break from words like “pivot” and “unprecedented” for a while. Though, of course, pivot we did, and unprecedented it was.

Like nonprofits and foundations the world over, El Pomar had to rapidly shift from running its operations, events and meetings on the beautiful grounds at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain to the virtual squares of Zoom and Microsoft Teams to which we’ve all become accustomed. Despite the adversity and lack of in-person connection, we at the Foundation were extremely proud of our staff’s resilience and adaptability throughout the many shifts in public health guidelines and COVID-19 case number reports.

As we reflected back on 2020 and set out to craft the annual report to summarize a year truly like no other, we thought long and hard about how to encapsulate such a profoundly unique experience. How would we highlight this resilience amongst all the canceled celebrations and time-bending awkwardness of countless video calls? How could we depict “social distancing” and programs that weren’t to be? How would we represent the connections we were still making despite the world-altering dynamics taking place? Although we were collaborating from home offices and makeshift desks at kitchen tables instead of boardroom tables, we came to realize that what was universally true was that we really were “Staying Connected,” the theme of our 2020 report.

Colorado’s highways and scenic roads were central to our 2019 report as an ode to El Pomar’s emphasis on being a funding partner with all regions and communities of this beautiful state. In 2020, though recently upgraded WiFi connections shared by husbands, wives, children, cousins and stepmothers-in-law replaced combustion engines (or EVs) as the vehicle for maintaining statewide relationships, the philanthropic dollars of Spencer and Julie Penrose still made it to every corner of the state in a time of great need.

Despite Zoom lags, misplaced links and a decided reduction in formal ambience, the staff, regional council members and Trustees of the Foundation stepped up to make a crucial difference amidst the different stages of the pandemic. The Trustees approved three separate rounds of the Colorado Assistance Fund, three premier nonprofit organizations were honored with Awards for Excellence and the Empty Stocking Fund raised a record $1.7 million dollars in its annual campaign. Masks were donned and merit grants were delivered, our competitive grant program provided nearly 1,600 grants, the Julie Penrose Award was launched on our co-founder’s 150th birthday and the yearly Statewide Meeting was delivered in spotless fashion to the comfort of attendees’ living room sofas.

We welcomed new leadership Fellows, launched a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee and said a fond farewell to several longstanding difference-makers on our staff. Relief funds for the intense wildfire season, homebound, at-risk youth and food insecurity exacerbated by the pandemic all left our doors at a critical juncture for the state. All of these things and more were accomplished, and all the while we stayed meaningfully connected with our stakeholders and got to know one another on a more human level by seeing home spaces, family members and pets through our windows on the screen.

As you reflect along with us on the unimaginable events of the past year, we hope you find value in the many highlights we feel fortunate to share in our 2020 annual report.

To view the report, please visit

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