When Tamara Drangstveit was a kid, she wanted to be an astronaut. She even wrote a letter to NASA.
Now, as a mother of a 3-year-old daughter and a woman with a career spanning government campaign management and nonprofit organizations, Drangstveit chuckles at the memory. The draw, she recalls, was the opportunity to travel and see new places.
Although she never ended up leaving the planet, Drangstveit certainly has done some traveling. Born in Connecticut, she attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, earning her bachelor’s degree in theater and rhetoric, which she classifies as “basically a communications degree.” Later, she received her master’s degree in nonprofit management from Regis College.
Drangstveit was part of the college parliamentary debate team, which allowed her to travel both nationally and internationally. Her favorite place to visit, she said, was England, her mother’s home country.
“It’s a great way to get through college,” she said.
As opposed to policy debate, which allows research ahead of time, parliamentary debate is extemporaneous, with a topic assigned on the spot.
“To me, and I’m biased, it is much more reflective to what happens in real life,” she said. “You need to be well read and be able to understand how to construct an argument and see both sides of an issue, which has definitely been a skill that has stood me well throughout my career.”
Although her parents both worked in the government, Drangstveit had not planned to follow the same path, but somehow, that’s what happened.
“I really kind of fell into politics,” she said with a smile. “It was never what I wanted to do when I grew up, but that was what I ended up doing, and it was interesting.”
Right out of college, Drangstveit found herself working, not for a union, as she had planned, but instead as a campaign manager for the state senate races in Maine. The work was hard and the hours long, but she was able to travel all over the country and work closely with interesting and influential people.
“I think I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had some fantastic mentors along the way,” she said, “a lot of different people, and people who took the time to see I had the support and the skills I needed to be successful.”
One of the most memorable mentors she worked with was Howard Dean, during his 2004 presidential campaign.
“He’s definitely an interesting guy,” she said.
Making a change
Drangstveit met her husband, Russell, while in Wisconsin. She quit her campaign job and started working in the nonprofit circuit, first for America Coming Together and later for Wisconsin Citizen Action and other advocacy nonprofits.
However, the two decided that Wisconsin wasn’t the place they wanted to settle down.
“So we packed all our stuff and moved out (to Colorado),” said Drangstveit. “(We) drove the U-Haul through the tunnel, said, ‘Huh, this looks OK,’ so we stopped and both got jobs at Vail Resorts.”
That was 10 years ago. Drangstveit spent four years with Vail Resorts, where she met Luke Slottow, board member of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center. When the executive director position opened up, Slottow encouraged Drangstveit to apply.
She did, and has held the position for the last six years.
Working for nonprofits suits Drangstveit, and she enjoys her work.
“The idea that you can have a job that helps make a community better was ingrained in me from a young age,” she said, “and I like nonprofits because I think there’s more flexibility and room for creativity than there sometimes is in government. ... I like how you can concretely affect people’s lives in nonprofits.”
Connecting to the community
Working for a Summit County nonprofit has been a positive experience for Drangstveit.
“It’s a great community to work in, particularly in nonprofits. People are incredibly generous, incredibly giving of their time. It makes it a lot easier,” she said. “I’m not sure I could handle a nonprofit in a metro area. There are no turf wars up here. It really is about figuring out what people need and figuring out solutions.”
Throughout her time with FIRC, Drangstveit can look back on many accomplishments, some small, some big.
“The biggest overall thing,” she said, “as a human service organization, FIRC made the transition from your run-of-the-mill organization to a place that recognized that every family has strength, and our goal is to support those strengths so those families can support Summit County. I think, philosophically, that’s something that’s a big accomplishment.”
She’s also proud of the annual Summit County Cares fundraiser, the proceeds of which benefit FIRC’s emergency assistance fund. The fund helps locals who are facing difficulties paying for utilities, rent or medical bills.
Having worked in Summit County before being part of FIRC has helped her perspective, she said.
“I think that going to work for Vail Resorts and having that typical Summit County experience first was really important. It’s shaped my thinking about what it takes to raise your family here.”
Mostly, Drangstveit said, she is impressed with the people she meets through her job, who are doing the best they can during difficult and stressful times.
“(Some) people who just had … the worst luck you could possibly imagine, and managed to keep pulling it together, day after day. They’re just impressive,” she said. “I think of the single dad who’s taking care of his 2-year-old and doing the best he can. … I think a lot of times the people that get hit with an unexpected medical bill stick in my head a lot, that just seems incredibly unfair. The people who work two or three jobs to make everything work and something goes wrong, and then the parents that, their child has a special need or developmental delay, and they’re working a lot, they’re doing amazing things with their kid and doing everything right.”
Drangstveit especially remembers what it was like during the recession around and after 2008.
“Everybody has strengths; it’s just sometimes people forget what they are and just need some help thinking that through, and thinking how they can use their strengths to get themselves out of the problem. Sometimes that’s all they need,” she said. “The recession was really interesting because so many of the people I worked with never expected to be in the situation they were in. They did just need that reminder that they had resilience and they could figure it out. It would be difficult but they could make it.”
Hard work and a little luck
When she’s not working, Drangstveit spends time with her daughter, Aila, husband Russell and yellow Labrador retriever Fischer. They ski and snowmobile in the wintertime, and go dirt biking and hunting in the summer and fall.
Although she does miss the Atlantic Ocean from time to time, Drangstveit enjoys spending time outdoors in Summit County.
And of course, she’s happy to be working in a job she finds fulfilling.
“You find what you want to do and you do it,” she said, “with a little luck and a lot of support along the way.”