Who We Are: Passion drives dedicated volunteer
Ryan Summerlin November 25, 2012
At The Summit Foundation’s 22nd Annual Philanthropy Awards last Friday, Jen Cawley didn’t notice anything unusual. While sitting among the people gathered to celebrate exceptional community members, she didn’t realize that the crowd of friends and family members had come together specifically for her. Then her name was called.”There were so many people there that were there because of me, and I didn’t know it,” Cawley said afterward. “We all have so many connections, I didn’t realize they where there for me.”The Summit Foundation presented Cawley with the Outstanding Board Member award, for her dedication to volunteer work throughout the county, particularly her role as operations director of the Breckenridge Local Organizing Committee for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. To those who know Cawley, the award came as no surprise.”She’s the hardest working person I know,” said Anna Jones, manager of 129 South Activewear in Breckenridge, and a good friend of Cawley’s.Others who know her agree, and it’s easy to find someone to speak warmly of her, either as a diligent worker, a dedicated volunteer or a good friend.
Cawley, who has been living in Summit County for 18 years, hails from New Jersey. After receiving an undergraduate degree in accounting, she earned a master’s degree in business from the University of Vermont. The summer after graduate school, Cawley returned to New Jersey where she started work at a restaurant and met the man who was to be her husband, Chris Cawley. She was a waitress, he was a chef, and both were planning to move to Colorado. In a leap-of-faith-type maneuver, they moved together, having known each other for only a few monthsThough initially she had thought to live in Aspen, Cawley ended up in Breckenridge instead, much to the benefit of Summit County. The duo arrived in 1994 and married in 2000. They now live with their two Chesapeake retrievers, enjoying the recreational options available in Summit County.Though Cawley still has family living on the East Coast, her mother eventually followed her out to the mountains, and works at the Welcome Center in Breckenridge. Having her mother close means meeting up daily, volunteering together and having a dog-sitter on hand.”It’s great,” Cawley said, smiling.
Cawley’s first job in Summit County was with Hearthstone Catering. When the company sold, Cawley stayed on with the restaurants doing special events. Now she is the director of operations for Storm Restaurants, which includes Mi Casa Mexican & Cantina and Hearthstone Restaurant. This means she plays a number of roles, including event organizer and new-hire trainer, among others. She also ties her work into her personal interests, particularly environmentally friendly practices.”I am a huge conservationist, and big into composting and recycling,” Cawley said. “I’m always trying to figure out what else we can recycle at the restaurants.”Now both Mi Casa and Hearthstone Restaurant have composting programs to manage and minimize waste. Cawley estimates they compost at least 75 percent of waste at Mi Casa. Her passion for the environment can be found in her volunteer work as well. As a board member of the High Country Conservation Center (HC3), Cawley works on projects for conserving energy, reducing waste and sustainable gardening, among others.It’s even spilled over into her work with the annual Friends of the CAIC Benefit Bash. The charitable event to raise money for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center offers food, beer and door prizes. Local restaurants donate the food, and Cawley uses her catering skills to organize the delivery, the food and the other volunteers.”This is the second year that we’ve made it a zero-waste event,” she said. “It’s a 95 percent diversion rate, which means out of all the waste, 95 percent of the waste goes into compost or recycling. Literally, we had less than two bags of trash from an event that was 1,200 people.”Another large aspect of her volunteering is her position on the Breckenridge Local Organizing Committee for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, in which her efforts won her The Summit Foundation’s philanthropy award. Breckenridge has hosted the bike race for the past two years, and Cawley hopes they can get it for a third. Although the event happens in August, Cawley and the rest of the organization spend the months ahead of time in a flurry of organization and planning.”It takes a lot of my time, [but] I love it. It’s super fun,” Cawley said. “It’s amazing to see when 20 to 50,000 people come into town, you’re like, holy cow, I helped. … We helped create the atmosphere.”Though it certainly keeps her busy, Cawley doesn’t see her volunteering as work.”There’s tons of opportunity [to volunteer]. I think the tricky part is to learn what you want to do,” she said. “So, I feel like, recently, with High Country Conservation and the Restaurant Association and CAIC, I really have found the organizations that I truly have passion for.”For example?”You don’t mind rooting through people’s garbage at Oktoberfest when it’s for HC3,” she said, laughing.
“I don’t know if there is such a thing,” Cawley joked, when asked what her typical day would look like. Ever environmentally conscious, she says she often takes the bus or rides her bike to work. Morning is a time for tea, conversation and walks with the dogs or with friends. Her day is a mix of her job with the restaurants and meetings and planning with the various volunteer organizations. Most nights, she comes home to dinner cooked by her husband the chef.”I feel like I try to have a positive attitude about things,” Cawley said. “I love my friends and I love my family and I love my husband, and I feel really fortunate that I have a really good life. I hear people complaining about things and … I’m happy that I don’t have that.”