Giving Thought: Investing in our future
Countless community conversations and letters to the editor have highlighted the growing sense that our region “changed.” Yes, the region has changed, and in many ways, the changes in our region parallels the changes we see across Colorado and nationally. Cost of living has increased, people are moving out of cities with remote working options, community culture is shifting, and local businesses are closing due to increasing costs and competing interests. Numerous other changes have unfolded with perhaps increased fervor since the pandemic. Some might even argue that change is integral to our region’s character.
At the same time, some things have remained the same. Thankfully, our community is home to numerous non-profit organizations doing critical work for decades, steadfastly showing up to improve the lives of our neighbors in times of crisis and beyond.
These organizations have weathered financial crises, shifting demographics, and a pandemic. As a result of the most recent shifts across our region, many local non-profits have seen an increased demand for their services. While the initial impacts are in the rearview, the long standing impacts of COVID have caused organizations to consider what is necessary now to grow their capacity and meet the needs of our community.
For several organizations, the answer is embarking on capital campaigns to scale their services to meet needs in the post-pandemic world. These projects are emerging from organizations who have proven their viability and necessity in the community over the years through what can often be characterized by “being scrappy.”
English in Action began 30 years ago in the Basalt Library. Its mission is to help immigrants learn to read, write, and speak English, so they can improve their opportunities while building cross-cultural connections between students and volunteer tutors.
The organization emerged in 1994 in response to an increasing number of immigrants, mainly from Mexico and Central America, settling in the Roaring Fork Valley and needing language support. The Basalt Library created an adult literacy program to bridge the communication gap. Volunteer tutors were paired with immigrants for one-on-one education sessions. According to English in Action’s website, “By 2005, the number of pairs had grown to more than 60, and the program could no longer be housed at the library.” In 2008, it became an independent non-profit.
Like many regional non-profits, it has seen an increase in demand since the pandemic. It has served 370 students and had 280 volunteer tutors in its 2021-22 fiscal year. According to its website, that was up over 21% from the previous year.
To meet the growing need and community wishes, it is embarking on a campaign to build a 6,000 square foot, one-story Center for Communication. The center will be built on the site of its current 1,800 square feet space. This space has been their home for 18 years and no longer meets their current needs adequately or those they anticipate.
Aspen Film, another non-profit, has brought film and community engagement to the Roaring Fork Valley for 44 years through its Aspen Filmfest, Academy Screenings, Aspen Shortsfest, Indie Showcases, FilmEducates, and collaborative partnerships. It is now embarking on a campaign to re-imagine what might be possible at the iconic Isis Theater through much needed renovation to meet community needs and standards.
This project seeks to transform the current space into a film-centric community arts center. Its efforts endeavor to create space for youth filmmaking and education, and community gathering. Over the years, Aspen Film has seen increased engagement and recognition of its efforts. It is seeking to provide a space to the community that has grown increasingly difficult to access since the pandemic shifted real estate in our community.
For more than 40 years, LIFT-UP has served as a leader in providing equitable food access to thousands of individuals and families and has worked to end hunger in the Aspen to Parachute corridor. It is now in the midst of a $2 million capital campaign to secure the purchase and renovation of an 11,000-square-foot, multi-use warehouse in Glenwood Springs, the geographic center of its service area.
Finally, another non-profit, Response, has spent the last 40 years working with our community to end domestic and sexual abuse and to support survivors in achieving safety and empowerment. Due in part to the growing housing crisis in the region, they are now in the midst of a campaign to build their first shelter to offer victims a housing solution that will provide a safe place to stay after leaving abusers.
These organizations are just a sampling of those currently working to ensure the sustainability of our community as we all adjust to changes and shifts that continue to evolve. With decades long histories, they have proven their roles and value in the community and have made due with what the resources available.
Each holds a vital place in our ecosystem and has done valuable work. We are now being summoned as a community to not only recognize their contributions, but also to invest in their future. As we move forward, we are all invited to consider showing our support to those who have shown up for us and our neighbors, playing a part in supporting the community network that evolves with our needs.
Allison Alexander is the Director Strategic Partnerships and Communication at Aspen Community Foundation. ACF with the support of its donors works with a number of nonprofits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. Throughout the year, we will work to highlight nonprofits in the region.