Guest column: Summer is Aspen’s season of generosity
August 18, 2015
Summer means a lot of things in Aspen. It's concert season, hiking and biking season and time for farmers markets and rodeos, among other things.
When Independence Pass opens, we move from a box-canyon existence to a mountain valley with portals on both east and west. Our towns' populations swell with the arrival of seasonal residents and visitors, many of whom feel strongly about supporting the communities they call home for part of the year.
For local nonprofits, summer also is the season of giving. It's when many if not most of the region's nonprofits hold their annual parties and events, and the leaders of these organizations spend long days educating and entertaining donors, explaining their missions and touting their results.
The society-page pictures of smiling partygoers, wineglasses in hand, are a familiar staple of local newspapers and magazines.
The truth is that summer socials are a vital part of the engine that powers Aspen's nonprofit sector. The events come in all shapes and sizes. Connections can be forged at a retail store, during a day when the shop donates a portion of its sales to a particular nonprofit. Or sometimes a restaurateur will host a cocktail hour before the dinner rush, giving a nonprofit a chance to spotlight its work.
Curt Strand, a philanthropist, says he gets at least two invitations per day during this busy season, but he appreciates the opportunities to connect personally with staff members and volunteers at the various organizations.
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"I like to thank the people who do this work," he said. "To have them feel they're personally supported."
He also says there's no better way to understand a nonprofit's work than to speak directly with the staff and, when possible, to glimpse the work as it occurs. Recently, he toured the Aspen Community Foundation's Preschools on Wheels, in which school buses, retrofitted as state-of-the-art classrooms, drive to underserved neighborhoods and bring early-childhood education to children who wouldn't have it otherwise.
"I was impressed," Strand said. "I had to be there to see them; there's no other way."
From large galas to smaller, backyard gatherings to golf tournaments, summer is when nonprofit leaders meet prospective donors, conversations are started, questions are asked and connections are made. The nonprofits showcase their work, attendees learn about the work and relationships are born.
"I recently attended English in Action's reception," said Tony DiLucia, general manager of the Hotel Jerome. "I was blown away by the work the tutors are doing to help adult English-language learners connect with our community.
"As the manager of the Jerome, it's important for me to keep balance across all of the nonprofits — not just human services but also the arts organizations, which are important to keep our community lively and to attract businesses and guests to come here."
DiLucia currently sits on the boards of two nonprofits. When he sees an organization doing good work, he spreads the word to friends, fellow board members and Jerome employees to help build support.
Aspen's season of generosity kicks off in June with occasions such as YouthEntity's Pig Roast and wraps up later this month with events such as the Roaring Fork Conservancy Golf Classic. The schedule is beginning to taper off, but there's plenty of summer yet to come.
The next time you enjoy a Theatre Aspen performance, or if you participate in this weekend's Hike Hope Heal event for the Aspen Strong Foundation, remember the importance of summer fundraising to these and other local organizations working to improve the quality of life in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.
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