Giving Thought: Building a resilient community through philanthropy

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen
Steve Mundinger

Depending on how you look at it, the Aspen-to-Parachute region is home to between 400 and 1,000 tax-exempt organizations. Included in these numbers are a range of organizations such as sports clubs, religious groups, fraternal societies and private foundations.

At Aspen Community Foundation, we are often asked for “the” list of nonprofits serving the region.

Through our lens of supporting children and families and strengthening community, we regularly identify about 100 core nonprofit organizations. These include organizations delivering after-school and enrichment programs, K-12 and early-childhood education and interventions for youth as well as those supporting individuals and families during crisis, providing physical and behavioral health services, and caring for the environment and animals.

Each year, through individual contributions, Aspen Community Foundation is able to support 35 to 40 nonprofit organizations through our community grant-making process. These nonprofits support children, students and families, help individuals access health services, assist those who experience financial hardship and aid those who seek safety and justice. This year, 38 nonprofits received funding through this competitive process.

These organizations are all providing programs and services that are important to the community. And some are providing what we call essential services, services that help people in crisis and help them seek professional help whether its medical or psychological or legal advice.

Response, for example, helps domestic violence victims to end the abuse and find their way to a safer, better place. Planned Parenthood in Glenwood Springs specializes in sexual and reproductive health care and education. Alpine Legal Services provides civil legal services at little or no cost. Helping individuals to solve problems and improve their lives makes for a healthier and more resilient community, and we want to ensure that these services are accessible to everyone who needs them.

Accordingly, when ACF makes “essential services” grants, we typically provide general operating support, which gives the recipient organizations flexibility to choose where and how they spend the money. Shannon Meyer, executive director of Response, says this kind of funding is “crucial for us” because it enables the organization to fill budget gaps and react to circumstances in the moment — whether it’s providing temporary housing to a domestic violence victim or accompanying a victim to a medical appointment. We trust these partners to decide where the funding is most needed and most effective.

For the past few years, Aspen-based Response has moved beyond simply helping and treating survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. The organization now provides age-appropriate classes for youth and community members about everything from bullying to sexual harassment to body image and teen-dating violence. The idea is to reduce or eliminate the root causes of the problem.

“We would like not to have people out there in need of our services,” Meyer explained. “You might say we want to work ourselves out of business.”

At Planned Parenthood in Glenwood Springs, Health Center Manager Rebecca Binion says 60% of the patients who enter the door lack health insurance or Medicaid coverage, so ACF’s grants and other unrestricted donations enable the organization to serve their “patients in need.” Whether a patient seeks family planning options, a test for a sexually transmitted disease or a wellness check, this money helps them to get what they need.

“This allows patients to access any services we provide without finances being a barrier,” Binion said. “The majority of patients we see don’t have any other means of payment.”

Similarly, Alpine Legal Services offers legal help to those who might not otherwise be able to afford an attorney. Imagine, for example, a 70-year-old on a fixed income who has been subjected to some form of elder abuse, whether it be financial exploitation or manipulation by caregivers. That person should be able to seek protection under the law, regardless of ability to pay.

As charitable organizations, our local nonprofits rely on philanthropy — contributions from individuals, businesses, government and foundations — to deliver programs and services that cultivate resiliency and help individuals and families thrive. We are all fortunate to live in a community where help is almost always available. The Roaring Fork Valley may be a semi-rural region, but there is a stunning network of resources available to those in need. Charitable giving is a huge part of the reason for that.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.