Philanthropy tour stops in Summit to discuss key issues with nonprofits, local government
Dynamic, compassionate, collaborative, passionate — these are a few of the words used to describe Summit County during the Mountain Rural Philanthropy Days Listening Tour on Wednesday, Feb. 25.
Representatives from 13 local organizations — including The Summit Foundation, Summit County government and Colorado Mountain College — met with 11 funders from various Colorado foundations, trusts, government entities and nonprofits and six Mountain Rural Philanthropy Days committee members to discuss key issues and needs in the Summit community.
“I think we have a great opportunity to do exciting things in Summit County,” said Jeanne Bistranin, incoming executive director of The Summit Foundation.
Mountain Rural Philanthropy Days will celebrate its 24th anniversary at its conference in Rifle in June. The program works to bring financial support and professional development opportunities to community, arts and environmental organizations in the region, including Eagle, Garfield, Lake, Pitkin and Summit counties. This event, coordinated with the Community Resource Center, allows grant seekers from the region to build partnerships with foundations based on the Front Range.
The Listening Tour brings funders in to hear from high-level community leaders and learn about the character of the region, existing needs, community priorities and current collaborative initiatives.
“Rural Philanthropy Days is an opportunity for funders and grant seekers to have a one-on-one relationship,” said Matt Carpenter, vice president of grants at the El Pomar Foundation. “We as funders get to come and hear from you unique concepts like what is the personality of your community, what are things that you’re trying to address.”
Carpenter led off the discussion with a question — “What do you think are some of the successes that are currently happening in your community?”
Sarah Vaine, CEO of the Summit Community Care Clinic, offered up examples of local efforts to help people understand and apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Leading the way has been the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC), with support from social services, public health, the hospital and the school district, among others.
“I feel that that has been a huge success, with more work to be done,” Vaine said.
EDUCATION A SUCCESS
Education was also held up as an area of success, with mention of the Keystone Science School’s CATCH Afterschool program, a project involving local nonprofits and the school district, and the Pre-Collegiate Program, which supports first-generation college-bound middle and high school students.
“I think a lot of our success goes to the community partners who help us support those students new to the community who face special challenges,” said Julie McCluskie, public information officer for the Summit School District.
Next, the discussion turned to areas that present a challenge to the community. Kathy Davis, program director of Mind Springs Health, brought up the topic of behavioral health.
“The community is really starting to look at that,” she said, citing recent health assessments that have rated the issue at high importance.
And while dealing with the issue is a struggle, Davis was positive about the reactions received from Summit County as a whole.
“Everything we put out there around behavioral health, people want to learn,” she said. “Our community is willing to learn and come up with solutions.”
Another much-discussed topic was affordable housing.
“On an average year, prior to two years ago, we would provide about 700 nights of shelter in a year,” said Amy Jackson, executive director for Advocates for Victims of Assault, a local nonprofit. “In 2013, we jumped up to about 1,200 nights of shelter; 2014 we provided over 2,200 nights of shelter, and that’s because people aren’t able to afford to transition to sustainable housing, particularly victims of domestic violence who are facing other unique challenges. I think it’s indicative of our community that it’s extremely expensive to live here and our pay doesn’t always balance out with what you can afford.”
Tamara Drangstveit, executive director of FIRC, agreed. The families that FIRC works with usually spend at least half of their income on rent, with other percentages going to child care (about 20 percent to 30 percent) and health insurance (around 15 percent), “and that does not work for a budget,” she said. “These are families that, if they lived anywhere else, they would be solidly situated in the middle class.”
One of the difficulties with this issue is that many residents don’t realize the problem exists.
“We do a very good job of hiding our poor in Summit County,” said County Commissioner Thomas Davidson. “We do a very good job of hiding our poor, but they’re here.”
Among the other topics discussed were marijuana education for children, affordable child care, senior citizen needs, immigration, environmental and sustainability issues and youth development, as well as how to engage residents and the business community, including small-business owners and entrepreneurs.
After Summit, the Listening Tour continues on to neighboring counties with the same mission — to understand what issues most need addressing and how that might be done.
The committee will then produce a report summarizing the most pressing challenges across the region. The Philanthropy Days event in June will include one day of community solutions workshops, which will address the report’s results, highlighting the top issues and seeking collaborative solutions.
The theme of the Listening Tour is “bridging the gap,” “which means building relationships, partnerships, crossing professional bridges between industries, if you will, and also through counties,” said Emma Bielski, chairwoman of the Philanthropy Days steering committee, at the conclusion of Wednesday’s event.
“It was really an honor to learn from all of you today.”
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