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Returning Home for Southwest Rural Philanthropy Days

By Coya Pair

Some people move to a new place to attend college or university and, after graduation, never look back. Others develop a deep connection for their college town, always referring to it in high regard or yearning to visit. Having gone to Fort Lewis College in the beautiful mountain town of Durango, it’s no surprise I identify with the latter. Nestled at the foot of the La Plata and San Juan Mountains, with the Animas River flowing through downtown, it is easy to fall in love with Durango. But after four years there, I found the magic of Durango has every bit as much, if not more, to do with the people who call it home as the gorgeous landscape.

A primary reason why I applied to the Fellowship is El Pomar Foundation’s Regional Partnership program, which allows Fellows the opportunity to support one or two of our 11 Regional Councils across the state. I was able to preference supporting the Southwest Regional Council, allowing me to stay connected to the region I refer to as my “heart home.” In early June, I had the opportunity to travel to Durango for nearly a week for Rural Philanthropy Days (RPD), a conference put on twice-annually by Community Resource Center. I was blown away by how strong the community has remained, and even more so, how much I had learned since departing.

The value and mission of El Pomar Foundation and the Fellowship became even more tangible to me as I met people who lead or have been helped by nonprofits in the Southwest. Watching organizations and funders come together for RPD was incredibly valuable, as we all intently worked to better gauge and understand the needs of the Southwest, whether that be through language and food equity, or through one-time versus multi-year grants.

I was familiar with the nonprofit landscape of the Southwest before I left. I interned and volunteered with the Four Corners’ Immigrant Resource Center, donated time and food to Fort Lewis College’s Grub Hub food pantry and Manna Soup Kitchen, and participated in events put on by organizations such as iAmMusic and The Hive. However, I never fully understood the work that went into securing funding for these events and services. Since I started the Fellowship nearly a year ago, I have managed communications and logistics for many events and reviewed countless grant applications to present to our Board of Trustees. This has opened my eyes to the invaluable work done behind the scenes to drive the engines of these important organizations. At RPD, I was able to connect with many nonprofit leaders whom I have known for years, in a far more meaningful and thoughtful way.

Returning to the Southwest provided me the opportunity to foster valuable conversations, and pause to reflect on who I was during college, who I am now, and where I am going in the future. As I continue to grow as a young professional in Colorado, I am honored to acknowledge all I’ve learned already, especially in the last few years, thanks to my experience as a student in Durango, and as a Fellow with El Pomar Foundation. I look forward to the learning and growth that is yet to come as I continue making connections in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector.

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