Record-breaking fundraiser ushers in ‘new era’ for Aspen Education Foundation |

Record-breaking fundraiser ushers in ‘new era’ for Aspen Education Foundation

Flamingo event netted nearly $1.5 million this year

Earlier this year, Aspen Education Foundation leaders weren’t even sure if they would host a live version of the annual Flamingo fundraiser amid concerns about gathering hundreds in the St. Regis ballroom during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to longtime event chair Michelle Stiller, who is also the vice president of the foundation’s board.

So organizers tried a new format, dispersing ticket-holders among eight different restaurants (with teachers getting their own festivities at a ninth venue, Mi Chola) for the evening of Dec. 11; an online silent auction ran through Dec. 18.

It didn’t seem to deter folks from the giving spirit as the event netted nearly $1.5 million for the nonprofit that funds a number of programs and services in Aspen’s public schools, according to tallies from the foundation’s executive director, Cynthia Chase.

The bulk of that came from fundraising during the event itself. A live auction garnered roughly $290,000 in funds (more than half of that came from a heated six-figure bidding war for a trip to Moab) and a subsequent paddle-raise for donations brought in about $690,000, Chase said. Other sources of support included the silent auction, event sponsorship, table sales and sponsorship for teachers to attend.

That’s not too shabby for what Stiller said “was pretty much a last-minute effort.”

“We went ahead full steam,” she said, giving kudos to Elizabeth Slossberg and the team at EKS Events for organizing all the logistics of the fundraiser. (Stiller’s work as event chair focuses on overseeing the committee and zeroing in on donations.)

The record-breaking total — nearly a 50% increase over the previous record of $1 million in 2019 — is indicative of what Stiller and the foundation’s board president Paul Sohn both called a “new era” for the Aspen Education Foundation, referring to both the growing community support for the nonprofit and the growing capacity for the nonprofit to in turn support more programs in the school district.

Stiller credits the boom to the willingness of the community to help fund public education, even from stakeholders who don’t have kids in the school district and families whose children are enrolled in private schools here. Families who are new to the area also are “digging in (to public education) and we are really grateful,” Stiller said.

Support from local restaurateurs helped the event “hit a crescendo,” Sohn added.

With more funds in the foundation’s coffers of late, Sohn said the nonprofit is actively working with district officials like Superintendent David Baugh to identify “proactive” and “creative” to fund (like recruiting bonuses to address the current staff shortages) in addition to the existing programs the organization backs, like outdoor education and robotics.

“We’re showing up at his door with a bag of money and (Baugh is) smart enough to open the door,” Sohn said.

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