Western Colorado Community Foundation Supporting Delta County Through Local Community Funds

The Western Colorado Community Foundation headquartered in Grand Junction knows ‘a thing or two’ about giving where you live. As an umbrella organization, WCCF has invested over $2.4 million in grants and scholarships in Delta County.
Established in 1996 by community leaders who wanted a home-grown foundation to benefit the people of western Colorado, WCCF currently manages over $100 million in net assets through 300 funds in seven counties.
“The goal is to grow the community foundation, both its endowments and investments and be able to grow the work and its impacts on our commu­nities,” said Tedi Gillespie, Grants and Community Outreach Director.

Ouray, Garfield and surrounding coun­ties looking to promote philanthropy by building and managing charitable legacy funds and endowments came together to create WCCF. Their goal was to provide grants and scholarships and other resources to benefit the residents and communities in western Colorado.
Next year WCCF will be celebrating 25 years making a financial impact for communities in Rio Blanco, Garfield, Eagle, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray and Delta counties.
“One of our biggest investments in Delta County is through scholarships to graduating seniors,” said Gilles­pie. “Delta County is one of our most outstanding counties in terms of the number of scholarships we have for students and the number of awards we give.”

WCCF manages 38 scholarship funds across the seven counties and 16 of those funds are specifically for Delta County. In 2021 donors committed $152,000 in scholarship awards to support 30 Delta Coun­ty students to attend four-year universities or vocational training. Over the past five years, WCCF has awarded nearly $800,000 to Delta County students.

“That really shows you the heart of donor intentions in Delta County. Most if not all of those funds were started by Delta Coun­ty residents leaving in their legacies or start­ing while they were still living scholarships to specifically benefit stu­dents,” said Gillespie.

The first WCCF local community fund was the Mt. Callahan Fund to benefit the communities of Parachute and Battle­ment Mesa.
“Today we work with and help manage five other funds including Two Rivers Unrestricted Endowment (T.R .U.E.) in Garfield County, Ouray County Com­munity Fund (OCCF), West Elk Community Fund (WECF), Surface Creek Community Fund (SCCF) and a small fund in San Juan County,” said Gillespie.

The first geograph­ic or local community fund in Delta County established in 2018 was the West Elk Commu­nity Fund. The goal of WECF is to raise funds and make grants to ben­efit Crawford, Hotch­kiss, Paonia and the surrounding areas of the North Fork Valley.

Gillespie said co-chairs Elaine Brett and David Livingston have worked to engage other founding donors, establish the endow­ment, identify the grant-making committee and run a competitive grant application pro­cess annually.
Over the past four years, the West Elk Com­munity Fund has award­ed a total of $121,815 in grant funding.

“We got some fund­ing through the (WCCF) foundation to get our first round of grants off the ground. We’ve had more people join since then and we’re in the process of building an endowment specifically for North Fork Valley needs,” said Brett.
Livingston said the local community funds often provide more than money. They also help guide local non-profits with future plans. Many of WECF members are also serving on nonprofit boards.

“It allows us to have a really rich conversation around where this orga­nization is going and are our dollars being as effective as they can be,” he said.
One grant recipient, the North Fork Senior Connections provides volunteer assistance to help older adults age in place and in community in the North Fork Valley.

“Since we incorporat­ed in 2019, we have been grateful for annual fund­raising help from the West Elk Community Fund. The fund’s grants have allowed us to build the capacity to carry out our mission. Because the fund is composed of our North Fork Valley neigh­bors who know the val­ley’s needs, grants from the West Elk Commu­nity Fund carry special weight,” said Betsy Top­per, North Fork Senior Connections.

The Blue Sage Cen­ter for the Arts in Pao­nia has also benefited from grants provided by WECF. “The Blue Sage is all about bringing the com­munity together through art and cultural events. But we are more than just an art center, we are a community center. so being supported by the WECF is very important to us,” said Debra Muz­ikar, executive director. Muzikar said funds received this year from WECF will help the Blue Sage host the Second Annual Story Share pro­gram. In 2021, the Story Share program featured the founding families in the North Fork Valley including the Berg fami­ly, Park family and Roe­ber family.

“This project’s goal is to bring various seg­ments of the communi­ty together through the power of story. We will be using the videos, written pieces and visual art as part of the Smithsonian exhibit “Crossroads: Change in Rural Amer­ica,” said Muzikar. “The 2021 Story Share was the proudest moment in my professional career. Something totally unex­pected. We have received a lot of feedback and peo­ple wanted this program to continue. We couldn’t do it without the support from the WECF.”
New to the WCCF family, the Surface Creek Community Fund estab­lished in 2020 has grant­ed a total of$27,750 over the past two years. Doris Mcguire has been working with SCCF since its incep­tion. dis­Mcguire covered WCCF and established a scholar­ship fund. From there, her interest grew and expanded into creating a local fund with sev­eral other community members.
“This is our sec­ond year and we were almost able to double what we gave the first year,” Mcguire said. “We did our awards outside at the city park with a small gathering. This time we had at least 50 people.” She said the grant recipients were thrilled and appreciative to receive the funds to he! p further their programs.
Many of the local non­profits in Delta Coun­ty provide services that overlap geographically and can take advantage of both the WECF and SCCF fund source. One example is The Nature Connection.
“The Nature Connec­tion is grateful to the Surface Creek and West Elk Funds for their sup­port of he! ping break down the barriers to get­ting outside for kids and families in our commu­nity,” said Ben Graves, development director.
The Nature Connec­tion received a grant from the West Elk fund in 2021 to develop a new high school job pathway around wilder­ness medicine.
“The Nature Connec­tion will be offering wil­derness first aid courses for local high school­ers this spring to both increase our valley’s local capacity in emer­gency response while also providing a job certificate for students interested in outdoor careers,” he said.

In addition to the WECF grant, the gen­erous contribution made by the Surface Creek Fund will help The Nature Connection with its goal of providing scholarships for 100 kids to attend outdoor sum­mer camp this summer.
“The Surface Creek Fund is matching all donations made to The Nature Connection this holiday season. So far we have met about half of our goal. There is still time to take advantage of this matching contribution by visiting the­natureconnection.net/ support21,” said Graves.
Whether in small ways or in larger ones, Western Colorado Com­munity Foundation con­tinues to meet needs in Delta County through both the West Elk Com­munity Fund and the Surface Creek Commu­nity Fund.

To find out more about WCCF visit: https://wc-cf.org/
Lisa Young is a staff writer for the Delta County Independent.