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By Lynne Bridges and Mary Jo Coulehan
Special to The PREVIEW
Over 120 community leaders from five Southwest Colorado counties including Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan, along with two tribal nations, the Southern Ute and the Ute Mountain Ute, convened with the executive staff of 10 foundations on a regional listening tour Feb. 5-7.
Attending foundations included: Adolph Coors Foundation, Anschutz Family Foundation, Ballantine Family Fund, Caring for Colorado Foundation, Community Foundation serving Southwest Colorado, Gates Family Foundation, Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation, the Colorado Health Foundation and The Colorado Trust. Staff from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, Serve Colorado — the Governor’s Commission on Community Service, Colorado Health Institute and the Community Resource Center also attended.
This delegation was convened by the Community Resource Center and the Southwest Rural Philanthropy Days (RPD) steering committee to better inform government and funder engagement during the upcoming Southwest RPD conference, which will take place June 11-13 in Pagosa Springs.
Chris Wiant, president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation, and Gay Cook, vice president of strategy and philanthropic relations of The Colorado Trust, co-chaired the tour. The delegation heard from high-level community leaders, in open discussions, about the character of the Southwest region, existing needs and current actions to address them.
Two primary questions were asked: 1) How would you describe the personality and culture of your community? and, 2) What do you see as a key issue or need in your community?
The tour stopped in Ignacio, Durango, Mancos and Cortez. The Archuleta County meeting took place in Ignacio. The Dolores and Montezuma County meetings were combined.
On Wednesday, Feb. 5, the delegation met with representatives of Archuleta County at the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum in Ignacio. Topics that emerged as major concerns for Archuleta County residents included transportation, early childhood education and daycare, senior services and economic diversity.
Government officials, nonprofit executives and business leaders discussed the capital and infrastructure obstacles that were preventing the community from fully addressing these issues. The group also considered how it might better address these needs collectively as a region.
David Mitchem, Pagosa Springs town manager, indicated that he is very supportive of the listening tour and the engagement of local government in the RPD program. Local Southwest RPD steering committee members will address the Pagosa Springs Town Council at an upcoming meeting to further educate community leaders on the benefits of hosting and supporting the upcoming RPD conference.
At the tour’s conclusion, several regional issues had emerged, including: early childhood education and care, access to health and dental care, transportation, affordable housing and economic diversity. On Friday, Feb. 7, the listening tour delegation was invited to debrief with the Southwest Council of Governments (COG). The COG hosted their annual retreat that day and identified similar regional issues that included: transportation, the “Silver Tsunami” — addressing the substantial increase in demand for senior care services, early childhood education and childcare, and economic development.
“Now we just need to know how to fund all these things,” commented Shane Hale, city manager from Cortez.
Michael Whiting, chair of the COG and an Archuleta County Commissioner, stated, “We are a start-up COG. We started up for the broadband issue and now we are deciding what we want to be when we grow up. We are trying to figure out the issues as a region and economic development is an underpinning to all of that.”
The Southwest RPD steering committee will continue to work in partnership with COG to explore potential community-based solutions to these needs.
The listening tour findings will be summarized into a comprehensive report and used to structure the Southwest RPD conference in Pagosa Springs. A “Community Solutions Workshop” will be held on Thursday, June 12. Its purpose is to generate actionable solutions through collaborative dialogue to the most pressing regional challenges, as identified during the tour. At the conference, funders, government leaders, nonprofit executives and topic experts will seek to develop long-term strategies to address these county-specific and regional needs, including identification of the required infrastructure and funding streams to support implementation.
Southwest RPD is a three-day conference where nonprofit professionals, public agencies, elected officials, business leaders and funders learn from one another and collaborate on projects and funding opportunities. Networking opportunities encourage relationships that lead to mutual understanding, successful grant proposals and more resources for rural Colorado. The conference is designed, organized, funded and planned by community volunteers from the southwest region of Colorado. Residents from the five-county region are invited to attend. Registration opens on April 15. For more information about the RPD conference on June 11-13, visit www.southwestrpd.org.