“Colorado Giving Voice” Blog

Train of thoughts

James Skay of the Boettcher Foundation reflects on his recent experience in La Junta, where he joined dozens of other funders to network with local nonprofits and government officials to learn about the most pressing needs in the southeastern corner of our state.

James T. Skay, Jr.

On the last morning of my first Rural Philanthropy Days, I woke before the sun, partly because I wanted to read the Pueblo newspaper being offered at the hotel and partially due to the fact that today was Round Table Day, and I was nervous.  I made my way to the lobby for a cup of coffee, and as I looked up from the Pueblo Chieftain, I noticed the sun beginning to rise.  I walked outside and stood along route 50, appreciating the stillness of such a dusty, orange and blue early morning.  That inertness was broken by the arrival of a coal train, eagerly chugging east towards the nascent sun to help provide us with the power we would need to make it through the day.  With another sip of coffee, however, the train’s unselfconscious motion, its determination to do what it does, fit right in with the essence of the plains I was standing on.  I took another sip, breathed the dew-rich air, and headed back in to prepare for the day’s event.

Tangible was the need to improve a town, build a new center, protect the citizens, renovate a facility, provide a better program, construct a library, lift the veil of poverty, purchase a school, beat a rival town in football, find new efficiencies, rehabilitate an historic building, modernize a youth gathering space, expand services, acquire land, channel water, strengthen a community.

Southeast Colorado was determined to utilize each minute of the three hours allotted to the only event of the third day: the Round Table.  Commonly referred to as “speed-dating,” the Round Table consists of one funder at each table and many, many organizations that rotate around in eight-minute intervals, talking to each funder about their respective projects to hopefully get a “green light” for funding.  With each passing minute the conversations became more colorful and the large, wonderful room on the Otero Junior College Campus was barely able to contain the inspired buzz of ideas.  In fact, the only stopping points were when the event conductor blew a train whistle, signifying it was time to move to the next round table, the next chance to see your project get one step closer to reality.

That night, back in Denver, I could not stop thinking how involved in the community everyone was; how they cared about the success of not only their projects, but their neighbors’ as well.  How in the midst of this vast land the people of southeast Colorado have stitched together a common ideal based on values like respect and compassion.  And how intense it all was, a coal-train in its own right, determined to power the community for one more day. — James T. Skay, Jr.

Do you have thoughts to share about your personal experiences with philanthropy? Please leave a comment or let us know if you’d be willing to blog about them here at Colorado Giving Voice.

Bringing it home

Posted by: Joanne Kelley

Everybody has a story waiting to be told.

The word “stories” came up a lot this week at our social media workshop for 300 funders and nonprofits.

As Daniel Weinshenker of the Center for Digital Storytelling told us, the best stories are the ones that only you can tell.

And then he showed us what he meant, with one powerful story montage after another. One in particular, called “Tanya,” showed that stories don’t need to be polished, flashy or long to make a lasting impression – or to get you thinking, “I’ve got a story, too.”

(To find “Tanya,” visit the Center’s online story page and use the horizonal scrollbar at the bottom of the page to move to the right.)

We launched this new Colorado Association of Funders blog last week with a story I wrote about my own personal experience with giving, Moment of a Lifetime.

We encourage you to contribute your own reflections about how giving has touched your life. Can you think of a story you’d like to share?

Let us know how we can help.

Moment of a Lifetime

Posted by: Joanne Kelley

I found a FedEx box waiting on my doorstep when I returned home from my summer vacation last month. In it: a single test tube with two cotton swabs. My younger brother Tom had just been diagnosed with a rare condition that required an urgent bone marrow transplant. His doctors told him that a sibling match would give him his best chance for survival. My two other brothers and I, spread out across the country, sent back our tissue samples and waited.

Tom towered over me by the time we were teenagers, but I could only picture him now as my little brother. I pulled out old photos of us as kids to show my own children while we waited for news.

The day we lost our beach ball, we couldn’t help but wonder whether Tom had swallowed it whole.

A week later my brother got the call. “Well, your brothers aren’t a match, but we think your sister is.” I boarded a flight to New York City for more tests at Sloan-Kettering hospital.

Two weeks would pass before I returned to Manhattan so that doctors could remove some of my bone marrow cells and transfer them to Tom. He, meanwhile, checked into the hospital and passed the time in relative isolation to prepare for the transplant through chemotherapy.

I can’t say I knew what to expect once my part of the procedure was over and the anesthesia began to wear off. I got in a wheelchair and put on a face mask, gloves and special clothing so I could visit my brother in his hospital room.

My brother published this picture of us on his blog about his “summer odyssey at Sloan-Kettering." The title of his update on transplant day was simply, “Wow.” The caption on this photo: “Moment of a lifetime.”

As tears filled his eyes, my brother pointed to a bag of fluid hanging from his IV “tree”. It was a sight I won’t forget — my bone marrow cells slowing moving drop by drop, through a tube and into him.

He thanked me. And there was really only one way to respond – with gratitude, for being able to help out and give our family hope. Back at you brother. Thank you.

I’m grateful to be able to work with people who commit themselves every day to making a difference in the lives of others. Not only the funders, of course, but the many nonprofits whose work they support.

Philanthropy strikes me as intensely personal and tough to pin down with a simple definition. I’m hoping we can start telling more personal stories to help express the meaning of the word, which can be broadly defined as people demonstrating compassion for others.

I s­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­tumbled across this video on the website of our colleagues at the Minnesota Council on Foundations. It summed up what I hear so often from those who make a donation in hopes of making a difference in a community or a life. These are the sound bites that resonated with me: “The more you give, the more you get,” “People don’t know the joy,” and “I’m such a different person than I was.”

We gathered up a handful of stories about the reach and impact of Colorado philanthropy in a report and a short documentary this year.  But in this age of social media, we know we can do far more to spread the word and inspire others to come together and make a difference.

Do you have a story to share? We’d like to hear from you. I invite you to contribute a blog post or add a comment here.

Joanne Kelley is the executive director of the Colorado Association of Funders.