Aspen Skiing Co. workers form new foundation to fund social, health and human services

Matt Hamilton (left) and Auden Schendler head Aspen Skiing Co.'s sustainability department. Hamilton helped create the Community Care Fund that will allow Skico workers to support health and human services.
Aspen Times file photo |

Employees of Aspen Skiing Co. have created a second foundation to provide grants to worthy causes and organizations in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The Caring for Community Fund was modeled after the Aspen Skiing Co. Employee Environment Foundation, which was established in 1998. That foundation has provided nearly $2.9 million in grants to 484 organizations over 18 years. It focuses on grants to environmental groups for general work or specific initiatives.

Matt Hamilton, Skico’s sustainability director, said some employees of the company give a higher priority to donating to health and human services. Skico officials have kicked around the idea of starting a second foundation for more than six months. The initial concern was that it would spread funding too thin and that neither employee-supported foundation would have enough money to be effective. Results of a survey eased those fears.

“For the most part, there wasn’t going to be a lot of cannibalization,” Hamilton said. “It doesn’t have to be an either/or. It can be both/and.”

A foundation is born

The Caring for Community Fund was officially created Oct. 1, but Skico hasn’t really talked much about the new endeavor for a variety of reasons. First, it’s just getting into high gear for the winter. Seasonal employees are just returning to work and some are new to the company. Hamilton said he didn’t want to hit them with a bunch of information on the new foundation right away.

Second, it will take time to get the new foundation functioning. A board of directors of 15 members needs to be appointed. Funds need to be collected. Applications must be collected and assessed. The first grant cycle likely won’t come until early fall 2017, he said.

Any organizations undertaking social, health and human services in the valley will be eligible to apply for grants. There is no shortage of causes. Organizations that work on domestic abuse, substance abuse, day care and education issues, among others, would be targeted, he said.

Hamilton first discussed the new foundation in a regular column by the Aspen Community Foundation that runs in The Aspen Times.

Leverage other dollars

Like the Environment Foundation, the Caring for Community Fund will leverage other dollars. Skico and Aspen Community Foundation provide matching funds, which essentially provide $2 for every $1 raised by Skico employees (the actual formula is a little more complex), Hamilton said.

The matching funds make an effective selling point with Skico employees, he said.

Only time will tell if the new foundation will be as successful as the Environment Foundation. Hamilton noted the initiative was driven by feedback from employees, so that’s a good indication it will be supported.

Skico also is helping create a spin-off foundation away from home. The company owns and will operate a Limelight Hotel that is being constructed in Ketchum, Idaho, and will start serving Sun Valley resort this winter. A foundation has been started for employees there, with the hotel supplying the first $20,000. It will be operated independently from its sister organizations in Aspen. Employees at the Limelight at Ketchum will determine how to spend the funds in its home valley, Hamilton said.

Employee involvement

Employee involvement is also a key ingredient to the Environment Foundation and, Hamilton suspects, it will be critical to Caring For Community Fund.

The 15 members on the Environment Foundation’s guiding board take an active role working with organizations that apply for funds, according to Hamilton. Even after board members are term limited after three years, they often stay involved in working with organizations they supported. He is hoping that proves to be the case with employees interested in the social, health and human services foundation.

Hamilton said supporting environmental, social and human service causes is part of Skico’s broader definition of helping build a sustainable community.

“It what makes the company tick,” he said.