The giving time of year | AspenTimes.com

The giving time of year

Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Any full-time Aspenite will attest that Aspen is a giving town. For a city of just 6,500-or-so permanent residents, it boasts a staggering number of nonprofits, and it seems just about everyone volunteers in some capacity – for their school, for their favorite charity, or through their church, synagogue or other faith-based organization.

All of this giving – whether of money, time, labor, or anything else – is part of what makes Aspen a desirable place to live. And it goes on day-in and day-out, all year long.

During the holidays, however, the Roaring Fork Valley and arguably our entire culture is focused on giving. It’s the time of year when peace and goodwill are foremost in our minds. For that reason, we’re devoting this pre-Christmas edition of the Aspen Times Weekly to local stories of charity and generosity. Some of these stories involve local organizations that do good work year-round, and others concern spontaneous gestures of kindness that we just learned about.

Whatever your faith and however you’re celebrating this season, we hope you enjoy these examples of holiday spirit.

By Bob Ward

One of Aspen’s truly amazing qualities – and one that you’d never assume based on the town’s glitzy reputation – is the way community members support their friends in need.

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Brad and Jennifer Smith recently learned first-hand just how generous and supportive Aspen can be. When their 8-month-old son, Grady, was diagnosed in late November with Chronic Granulomatous Disease – a rare genetic disorder that hampers his ability to fight certain infections – a call for help went out swiftly, and tens of thousands of dollars were raised for Grady’s treatment and care in two or three weeks.

“There is not a better community in the world,” Brad Smith said this week.

CGD has no known cure. And although Grady should be able to lead a relatively normal life, chances are it will be a life characterized by regular medications, tests and treatments. Still, thanks to quick-acting, generous Aspenites, Brad and Jennifer should not be financially crippled by Grady’s condition.

“I’m fully confident we’ll be able to weather this,” Brad said. “We’re taking care of Grady, which is all I really care about right now.”

As of Dec. 17, an Aspen-based fundraising effort for the Smith family had raised roughly $40,000 and was on track to reach the goal of $50,000 by Christmas Day. Smith said the family will use the money to set up a trust for young Grady, to take care of his medical needs going forward. And that’s a far cry from meeting with a bankruptcy lawyer, which Brad and Jennifer were contemplating in late November.

Much of the credit for the sudden infusion of cash – and, by extension, hope – goes to Aspenite Vince Lahey, manager at CP Burger, who heard about the Smiths’ predicament through a mutual friend and said “it just broke my heart.” After a call to Brad Smith, Lahey set up a website (http://grady.chipin.com/grady-smith) where people can contribute and send their good wishes; he also fired off an e-mail to 900 people with a compelling description of Grady’s situation.

As of Friday, Dec. 16, nearly $14,000 had come through Lahey’s website, but Lahey’s e-mail also triggered donations through other means, including checks mailed to the Smiths’ home and hand-delivered to The Red Onion, where Brad is a bartender.

“It tells you that when you ask for help in this town, you’ve got it,” Lahey said. “Within days, they had thousands of dollars.”

Brad Smith admitted to being “overwhelmed,” not only by the frightening news of Grady’s condition but the outpouring of support.

“I got a donation from someone in Denmark,” he said. “It’s pretty crazy.”

The Smiths have health insurance, and they’re hoping the majority of costs from Grady’s recent stay at Children’s Hospital in Denver will be borne by their insurance carrier. But given the long-term nature of Grady’s illness, the financial demands on the family won’t stop anytime soon.

So friends and acquaintances continue to reach out. On Dec. 9, Brad’s bosses at The Red Onion donated 10 percent of bar sales and special menu items to the Smiths. And on Dec. 17, Jayne Gottlieb Productions donated a portion of the proceeds from its “White Christmas” show at the Wheeler Opera House. The Aspen Elks Lodge (Brad is a member) also kicked in a large donation.

“Somebody told me there was another fundraiser this week and I didn’t even know about it,” Brad said.

For his part, Lahey may have a future in fundraising.

“I feel like I successfully orchestrated a good campaign, and I’ve offered to teach how to do it to other people,” he said.

With Grady safely home from the hospital, the Smiths are planning to celebrate the holidays in Aspen.

By Stewart Oksenhorn

This past June, Paul Frantzich performed about the smallest-scale gig possible: a solo acoustic show at tiny Steve’s Guitars, just around the corner from his Carbondale home. Frantzich took home a few hundred dollars, the venue got a few hundred.

But the more significant, and impressive, tally was this: out of that concert, 2,600 meals were delivered to people in need.

When Frantzich founded the Feed Them With Music Program, he was thinking small. For a guiding philosophy, he borrowed the words of Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a Port-au-Prince pastor sometimes referred to as “the Martin Luther King of Haiti”: “Bit by bit, we arrive,” quoted Frantzich. So Frantzich doesn’t necessarily look for huge donations (he will accept them, though), and doesn’t plan to build a massive organization.

Feed Them With Music (feedthemwithmusic.com), remains a work in progress. Started four years ago, while Frantzich was living in his hometown of Minneapolis, the organization, which enlists musicians to donate a portion of their proceeds from concerts, recordings and merchandise to feeding programs, just received its certification as a not-for-profit two weeks ago. But the program is built on one unwavering rule: Every dollar of income generated by a Feed Them With Music event must deliver at least one meal. That goal isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem; Frantzich’s research shows that, in the impoverished neighborhoods where he has worked – mostly in Haiti, so far – a meal costs between 20 and 55 cents.

Most of Feed Them With Music’s events to date have involved concerts by Frantzich, who records and performs with his brother Tim as The Brothers Frantzich. (Frantzich will appear solo on Jan. 15 at the Wheeler Opera House, in a Feed Them With Music fundraiser that will double as part of the Wintersköl festival.) But he is starting to work his connections with big-name musicians. The former creative director for a company that produces niche recordings to be sold at Target, Frantzich has the ear of Michael Franti, Jason Mraz, Brett Dennen and others. As he points out, even a relatively modest slice of those artists’ income pie can make a difference in the problem of hunger.

For example: Frantzich envisions bringing Mraz to Haiti. The singer-songwriter would participate directly in a feeding program in Haiti, with which Feed Them With Music has a relationship. He would also perform, record a song and make it available for online purchase for a dollar.

“And if just his Facebook friends bought it, it would feed those 80,000 people for 17 years,” said Frantzich, who went to Haiti this past summer to scope out local feeding programs. “There’s the ability for them to do something profound, in a small way, with just one song.”

Frantzich believes he is onto a better way of raising money for charitable purposes, because people feel a bond with musicians that they don’t often have with more bureaucratic bodies. “Corporations and governments don’t have our trust anymore,” said the 44-year-old father of two. “But an artist can have a little niche where people trust you. Michael Franti can say something to an audience, and they will take it in without questioning it. It’s a place where philanthropy can surface.”

Apart from aiding the hungry, Feed Them With Music can also have a positive impact on the music industry, Frantzich thinks. Artists involved with the program can attract an audience that sees itself not only listening to music, but getting involved with a community devoted to a cause.

“When an audience hears the ticket price goes to feed someone, your crowd can double, or quadruple,” he said. “There’s something connected there to service, nourishment and love. And music.”

By Scott Condon

Basalt band boosters wouldn’t let a bandit derail the development of a budding trumpet player this fall.

About two months ago, an unknown person stole the trumpet of David Salguero, a sophomore at Basalt High School. He was at soccer practice and left his prized possession in the same place he always did in the high school. After practice he checked the case and found his instrument missing.

“I felt sad, kind of mad,” Salguero said. “I felt like my heart was kind of gone.”

Salguero started playing trumpet five years ago. He said it’s a great way to express himself.

“I tried a bunch of instruments,” he said. “Once I tried the trumpet, it felt right.”

He caught the attention of his instructors as he advanced through the grades.

“He’s phenomenal,” said Katie Hone Wiltgen, a band instructor at the Basalt public schools along with Rob Merritt. “He’s a great player. He’s a great musician.”

Salguero grabbed regional attention as an eighth grader when he performed with the District Honor Jazz Band, composed of musicians from schools throughout western and central Colorado, Hone Wiltgen said. David is also great at helping the other musicians in his section.

Salguero’s Holton trumpet was valued at $1,600. It was going to be difficult for his family to replace, so Merritt provided David with a temporary replacement and said he would try to find the funds for a new instrument.

“It really made me emotional,” Salguero said. “I don’t even know this guy.”

Merritt enlisted the help of Tad Anderson, the president of the Basalt Band Boosters and a regular coordinator of efforts to strengthen the program. Anderson told the story of the stolen trumpet to hundreds of parents of band members and other music lovers who attended a holiday concert presented by students in fifth through 12th grade earlier this month. Anderson organized an effort to pass several hats in the crowd for donations.

“We were thinking if we got $200 to $300 to help them offset their expenses, that would be great,” Anderson said. The response was overwhelming. He said $1,060 was raised.

“That’s a lot of ones and fives, so that’s really cool,” Hone Wiltgen said. “I was so moved by it. It was really incredible.”

One parent of a band member wrote a $200 check to help with the purchase. Another parent sought out Anderson and Hone Wiltgen after the concert and told them he would contribute whatever amount hadn’t been raised. Anderson said the donor eagerly followed up the next morning, inquiring what was needed, with checkbook in hand. He covered the remaining $540, boosting total contributions to $1,600.

“That covers the entire thing,” Anderson said. “Talk about a Christmas present.”

Merritt is working with Ed Wilson of Roaring Fork Music in Glenwood Springs to buy a new trumpet. Merritt said they are exploring the purchase of a trumpet geared for a player between the student and professional levels, possibly better than the original instrument. The purchase should be completed by the time kids return from Christmas break.

Salguero has been blown away by the generosity of midvalley band supporters. And once the new trumpet is in his hands, expect him to blow away his audiences.

By Andre Salvail

On this sunny December afternoon in front of Clark’s Market, longtime Aspenite Jim Markalunas seems excited to tend the red Salvation Army kettle and ring the bell to draw donations – despite having problems with his clapper.

Markalunas, who turned 80 in May, says he’s been raising money for the nonprofit organization every holiday season for most of the last two decades. It’s one of many charitable activities in which he takes part, including volunteer work on behalf of the area’s homeless, the Aspen Grove Cemetery and other noteworthy causes.

The retired water district employee and city councilman clearly relishes his role as a kettle tender, cracking jokes and talking to anyone within earshot. He speaks of a man who walked past and told him he gave at the office: “I told him, ‘I didn’t know we kept a kettle in your office.’ “

Not only does he work as a substitute kettle tender, he’s also one of the local organizers for the effort. He says he got involved with the seasonal fundraising effort at the behest of the late Karolyn Spencer, a longtime Salvation Army director.

At the time, there were no kettle tenders in Aspen; many people didn’t think it was necessary to raise money for the needy because of the common perception that no poor people lived here. But in time it was proven that Aspen and the rest of Roaring Fork Valley do have many residents in need of help.

Markalunas points to the rising number of homeless people in the area in recent years, especially in light of the economic downturn. He also helps the organization Feed My Sheep, a homeless shelter in Glenwood Springs, and St. Mary Catholic Church, which gives Aspen’s homeless a place to sleep.

“A lot of people are not homeless by choice,” he says. “Yes, for some people it’s a lifestyle. But most people are homeless by circumstance. Not all homeless people are disreputable; some of these people are looking for work. But there’s only so many jobs.

“It’s a growing problem in Aspen and all over the valley.”

And that’s one reason why he volunteers for the Salvation Army: “They help people who are down on their luck.”

His philosophy has apparently rubbed off on others.

“I learned about volunteerism two years ago by reading a newspaper article about Jim,” says fellow Salvation Army kettle tender Pat Newkam, owner of Attic Fantasies/Great Wall of Shirts on East Durant.

“I said, ‘This is my town, I’ve been here 50 years, and I’ve got to do something.’ People think this is hard work. This is fun. This is one of the easiest things you can do,” Newkam said.

Markalunas also volunteers as a sexton for the Aspen Grove Cemetery.

“I handle the maintenance, cutting down trees that are ready to fall over, any burials that need to be taken care of,” he says. “We have a board of volunteers. The cemetery’s budget is under $10,000 a year.”

At this point, Markalunas takes the opportunity to try out another harmless joke.

“In the wintertime, there’s nothing going on up there. One of the things I enjoy about working there is that no one gives me any flak. They don’t talk back.”

The Salvation Army kettle tenders will collect money in front of Clark’s Market and City Market in Aspen from now through Christmas Eve.

“As St. Francis said, it is in giving that we receive,” Markalunas says.

By Jeanne McGovern

On Christmas Day, the pews of Christ Episcopal Church will be filled with happy children who have just spent the morning ripping the wrapping paper off piles of presents.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, however, those pews were filled with bags upon bags of gifts just waiting to be delivered to unknowing children. Though the pews’ primary purpose is to seat the faithful every Sunday, they’re also used every Christmas season as a clearinghouse for the Aspen Interfaith Association’s Holiday Baskets Program, which assembles gifts for some 225 local families in need.

“The generosity of this community never ceases to amaze me,” said Joy Stryker, a member of the Christ Episcopal congregation who helps organize the Holiday Baskets effort. “And now, more than ever, there are families that would not have much of a Christmas without what we are doing here.”

For more than 30 years, local churches, human services agencies, community organizations have joined forces to be sure every family from Aspen to Basalt has a Christmas. Often, the gifts they receive are necessities; sometimes, they are just for fun.

This year, for example, the basement of Christ Episcopal looked like Santa’s workshop – tables filled with everything from coats and clothes to toys and toiletries.

“It’s so cool,” said 10-year-old McKenna Kiker, as she wrapped presents for the baskets with her Aspen Girl Scout troop. “It just makes you feel so good to help out like this.”

The donations are gathered from across town – the Aspen schools’ mitten tree program, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association holiday party and other places – and are delivered to the church for sorting and wrapping by a cadre of volunteers.

Recipients are referred to the program from local human service agencies and churches, with specific needs handwritten on a form.

In Kiker’s hands that recent afternoon was a wish list for a family of five being raised by a single father; his wishes for his children were simple: coats, a few toys, art supplies. All he asked for himself was socks.

“These items seem like so little, but they mean so much,” said Stryker, who is prone to tears when talking about the Holiday Baskets program. “When a family donates to the program, this is what can happen; this is what matters.”

The gift bags – and they are large garbage bags, not baskets these days – are filled to the brim and then distributed back to the referring agencies for delivery to the families.

And, ultimately, they are placed beneath the Christmas trees of families who might otherwise have nothing this year.