Giving Thought: Collaboration key for our community
“How long have you been in the valley?” This question (or some variation) is inevitable in most introductory conversations in our region.
Whether your answer reveals you are a third-generation Aspenite, you came for “one ski season in the ’70s,” or perhaps you are a recent transplant who decided to ride out the pandemic in the mountains, you likely have a sense that this place is not quite like the rest of the world.
Living in this rural mountain region comes with unique benefits, including countless awe-inspiring spots, access to world-class outdoor recreation, cultural events, and institutions to name just a few.
However, on the other side of those benefits are struggles and unique challenges, including lack of affordable housing, infrastructures that have not quite caught up to the population growth, challenging postal delivery services, weather-related travel difficulties, and general lack of access to certain amenities that are easily accessed in urban areas.
Regardless of one’s socioeconomic or “local” status, rural living has a bit more friction than urban lifestyles. Resources are more scarce and logistics can be challenging to navigate given our geographic location and weather patterns.
For many, if not all, who call our region home, there have been times when they have needed support. This could include sleeping on a friend’s couch, asking a friend to pick up a child from school after getting stuck on the other side of the valley in a pop-up snowstorm, needing to borrow an item that was unavailable in a local store from a neighbor, or unexpectedly needing a ride from Denver (or Rifle) because a flight was diverted.
While we have many incredible resources and assets here, only some things are at our fingertips in the same ways as they might be in other parts of the country. Mountain living requires a bit more planning and also flexibility.
As we look back on the history of our region, this is not a contemporary development but a part of the unique nature of living in a remote location. In the most recent Aspen election, this history was referenced numerous times by candidates hoping to bring awareness to the fact that this place was founded through collaboration and bringing people from all walks of life together to support a vision where everyone was able to thrive.
It is not a secret that the pandemic shook the world up. Some might say as the dust is settling, it is clear our rural home has changed. What has not changed is the continued need for collaboration and connection. Living in a place with the unique quirks of our region does not lend itself to thriving in a silo.
Thankfully, many in our region are aware of the tensions and frictions that arise from living in a place like ours and leaning into the spirit of collaboration for the greater good of our community.
Food insecurity was highlighted during the pandemic as a struggle for many in our region. As a result, a coalition of more than 10 regional organizations (including both funders and non-profits) has come together “to formalize and implement a data-driven and sustainable strategic plan to effectively and efficiently achieve nutrition security through the uncompromising pursuit of food security across Pitkin, Eagle, and Garfield counties,” according to their mission. Together, these organizations of varying sizes are combining their unique strengths to help our community thrive.
Housing struggles are highlighted almost daily in local media. Local and national non-profits have partnered with our local county governments to form the Valley Alliance to End Homelessness.
“Through the development of a regional Homeless Services system, guided by a community-driven strategic plan, the region will deliver a robust array of services such as Coordinated Entry, Homeless Outreach & Diversion, Emergency Shelter, Rapid Re-Housing, and Permanent Supportive Housing. Each strategy will be informed by regional data that ensures the right service in the right place delivered in the right way. Together, these best-practice interventions, supported by our Built for Zero approach, will be transformative in our efforts to end homelessness in the Valley,” according to their mission.
While organizational alliances are critical for creating systems changes, collaboration among funders is also critical for long-term shifts and community change. Across our region, conversations are happening among funders to begin to explore shifting granting applications to reduce burdens on nonprofits through the creation of more universal applications.
Philanthropists are also coming together in groups, like the Cradle to Career Giving Network at Aspen Community Foundation, to pool funding from individuals to enable larger grants to be made to organizations. Research suggests that these larger gifts and collective efforts create more sustainability for nonprofits and ultimately for the community.
There are countless other examples of ways our region has come together to support each other in both our distant past and recent history. While collaboration might be nice to have in other parts of the country and world, in a rural mountain region, it is essential.
No matter how long you have called this special part of the world home, you are invited to recognize that our futures are all connected. In a rural community, each of us has a part to play and something to offer our neighbors.
Allison Alexander is the director of strategic partnerships and communications for the Aspen Community Foundation, which with the support of its donors, works with non-profits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.