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.
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.
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