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Restored Sense of Connection to Colorado

By Ashley Bryant

Graduating during a pandemic felt like walking off a bridge into murky water: unclear, abrupt and a bit cold. There wasn’t a big graduation to celebrate me and my fellow classmates’ accomplishments nor a sense that we had bright opportunities ahead of us. However, my first year after graduating from CU Boulder restored my sense of connection and commitment to Colorado, which I felt I had partly lost during the pandemic.

As graduation approached, I found an opportunity to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA at an international nonprofit, Amigos de las Américas (AMIGOS). AMIGOS is a youth leadership organization that has facilitated service projects in Latin America for over 55 years and it was looking for someone to support the launch of its first U.S. based program. With Colorado as a backdrop, the program centered on conservation, environmental stewardship and opportunities to learn from the stakeholders who play a role in preserving our beautiful state. I was excited by the opportunity to create a program that allowed young people to connect with the state I call home.

While I gained so much out of the experience, learning from diverse leaders through establishing new partnerships is what I cherish most. I connected with nonprofit, business and local government leaders dedicated to protecting Colorado’s natural environment and the communities within it. One experience that has left a lasting impact on me was an afternoon I spent at a ranch stewarded by the Coldharbour Institute and Mountain Roots Food Project located outside of Gunnison, Colorado. It was clear that for both organizations, the past, current and future condition of the ranch was a main priority. The executive director of Coldharbour explained they use regenerative practices to preserve the land and support the well-being of the community. For them, regenerative, rather than “sustainable,” meant they are not just maintaining the current condition of the land and its natural resources, but improving it for future generations. In addition, Mountain Roots’ farm was not only a space for education about sustainable agriculture, but a place to build resilient food systems and support the Gunnison community in alleviating food insecurity.

Collaborating with these partners allowed me to learn from those who are contributing to the preservation of the environment and well-being of Colorado’s rural communities.  I have become a more empathetic leader through witnessing their place-based and human-centered approach to stewarding change and hope to carry what they’ve taught me throughout my time at El Pomar Foundation.

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