Each November in honor of National Philanthropy Day, The Summit Foundation recognizes outstanding community members through its Annual Philanthropy Awards. Modeled after national and state celebrations in which residents are honored for their contributions to their community, Summit County Philanthropy Awards has been celebrated annually since 1991.
For 2020, we are doing things a little different. The Philanthropy Awards is going virtual this year. Instead of our normal format, we will be honoring our community as a whole for their efforts during this pandemic. We will be highlighting inspirational stories of how our community came together to care for each other during this pandemic. We look forward to honoring the community during this special edition of The Philanthropy Awards
Below are the inspiring stories we received that highlight the spirit of caring in our community. Please take some time to read these amazing stories.
Ren Bittner Answers The Call
During the remote learning time in March, Ren Bittner found herself, like other students, home with no clue how to feel about all the time in isolation. Ren, however, used the time to think about what she had and feel gratitude. She became concerned about others in the community without the stable food, shelter, and family she enjoyed; and determined to do what she could to help.
Ren reached out to the Head of the Peak School to ask about having a food drive. She knew with so many people so suddenly out of work there must be need and she was right. During an average week, the FIRC foodbank used to serve about 80 people. In one four day period in March, FIRC served 1100 people according to the Summit Daily.
Ren could feel the need of our community.
It wasn't easy; people were not allowed to congregate in any way and bears were waking up. She didn't let these issues stop her, instead working to find a solution. Her solution was set up a food collection station outside the doors of the school. She created flyers and began spreading the word about what kinds of foods could be collected and where.
The need during this time was so high that while she was diligently checking the food bins, they were constantly empty. Ren would add food into the bins and return to find them gone. We realized she had created a station akin to a Little Free Library but for food. Ren rolled with the community need, changed her flyers and decided to continually attempt to restock the mini food bank station.
Ren changed my feelings about the pandemic with her profoundly generous and energetic response in supporting her community during the most frightening and stressful part of the pandemic. I'm so glad to know her and share how awesome she is.
SOS Outreach: William Shira
Lean on Me: The Bond Between Mentor and Mentee Community and human connection are at the core of our mission at SOS Outreach. When we teach kids to ski, snowboard, backpack and climb in a safe and encouraging environment—we also introduce them to new positive and supportive relationships. Our mentor/mentee relationships are a crucial component of our kids’ success. Many of our kids lack consistent, positive adult role models, and it can be tough to know who to turn to when the terrain gets steep. Now more than ever, these bonds are key in helping our youth persevere. SOS doesn’t push kids to be talented skiers, snowboarders or climbers (although many of our participants naturally develop these skills with practice and dedication). Instead, we focus on building healthy habits, developing leadership skills, and empowering kids to pursue what they want to achieve in life. Although our 19/20 winter season was cut short, there was no shortage of growth in our youth. Last winter season, our mentors witnessed our kids progress in inspiring ways. William Shira, a mentor for our Summit County, CO programs, is proud of the strong bond his group has formed through all four years of the Mentor program. He jokes that their mutual love of the animated Kung Fu Panda films also brings them together. Anthropomorphic animals that practice martial arts aside—William has seen his mentor group’s public speaking abilities, empathy, and confidence blossom both on and off the hill. “It has been truly magical to witness,” shares William. “My goal was to inspire confidence and self-acceptance in each of the crew. Over four years, not only has that been a success for our own team, but the team has gone out to inspire that in others.” When William started mentoring the group during their first year of the program, there was one student in particular who was extremely timid. Although she had a command of both English and Spanish, she was unwilling to speak much to anyone and avoided eye contact as much as possible. But, as the group explored our core values and lifted each other up during the closing “circle of love”, she gradually came out of her shell. “By the end of that first year, she would run up and give me a hug whenever we saw one another, and high five everyone in the group,” reflects William. “By the end of year one, she was the biggest cheerleader for each of the other mentees. The following years at SOS, she continued to run up to me and shout, ‘Shifu!’ (the senior master in Kung Fu Panda, of course) followed by a big embrace before I could even say, ‘good to see you Monkey!’ Even after the program, that same exchange has happened around Summit County. That level of growth in confidence is truly inspiring.” William has explored some tough questions with his group: which jokes are acceptable to make, what is bullying and what is friendship, and how can you assert yourself without hurting others. “Because each mentee is different, when they are brought together something incredible happens,” shares William. “The most powerful thing I have been able to do is inspire each of them to help one another out. I ask them, ‘How do you think you would solve this problem if I wasn’t here?’ Every year the responses get better.” These relationships between mentor and mentee propel our kids to discover their full potential. mentors lead by example and inspire their mentees to explore what’s possible. In turn, our kids discover their true self-worth. “They each have something special to bring to the table, and something unique that they need assistance with,” says William. “The most inspiring thing to me is how often they are willing to push themselves outside of their usual comfort zones, because they understand that SOS is an environment that will accept them no matter what. Their willingness to forgo their own fears and help someone that they know needs it is the most impressive trait of all.” Although our winter season came to a close in March, the powerful connection between mentor and mentee has continued throughout the year, into our summer programming and beyond as we head into the 20/21 winter season. While we’re practicing CDC guidelines, we’re maintaining that connection in creative ways. Our mentors have been reaching out to our kids through calls, text and video chat to reinforce their commitment as a dedicated resource and listening ear during this time. As communities reopened, we recognized that providing connection in a time of physical distancing would have significant positive mental health impacts on our youth, mentors, and staff. We wanted to provide support to our kids and bridge the gap from our shortened winter season. This summer we hosted small gatherings to connect kids with each other and with the outdoors. Emphasis was placed on relating well to others and providing coping skills for managing comfortable and uncomfortable feelings. Our summer activities included day hikes, service projects, yoga, Zoom gatherings and picnics. While the consistent structure that school and extracurricular activities provide looks different, it is more important than ever for our youth to have supportive, positive relationships to help them overcome unexpected obstacles. We believe leaning on community and human connection will not only get us through this challenging time, but challenging times we may face in the future. “As a mentor it is our role to ensure that the students are staying calm and safe,” shares William. “Frankly, we are more important than ever just to give the kids a sense of normalcy and some humor in times that are not the easiest to have a laugh in. And above all, they deserve a laugh. Simply staying in communication and keeping the crew connected is the goal. Looking to the future, our adventures together, and our continuing relationship both one-on-one and as a group have been a source of incredible hope for what happens next. And, that is a pretty wonderful relief.”
Community Comes Together To Support A Local
I suffered a traumatic brain injury in November resulting in a craniotomy in December. I had multiple seizures that caused me to lose the ability to talk and walk. I had been working hard at my recovery when the pandemic hit. Right at the moment that I thought I was turning the corner on my goal of returning to work. Instead I became the stayvatvhime dad taking care of kids, teaching school and feeding my family. It was such a setback! I didn't know what we were going to do. Low and behold the community rallied behind me. I dont know where we would be without this wonderful out pouring of assistance. It was one of the lowest moments in my life. They through me a benefit , started taking donations and even set up a go fund me page. Im not sure how I will ever repay the kindness people of shown me and my family. They all had their own lives but took care of me as well. Friends delivered meals ,money and supplies. I just want people to know how great summit county really is! This is the most loving community I know. Someday I will be able to return the favor! I love you Summit County. With all my heart! Oh man this brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for reading this!
SOS Outreach: Jessica Fernandez
Meet SOS Outreach Recent Program Grad, Jessica Fernandez. Jessica graduated from Summit High School this spring. After 10 transformative years in SOS Outreach’s programs, she’s an inspiring example of what it means to be a leader. Jessica just started her first semester at University of San Diego with the support of a local scholarship from our service partners at Friends of the Dillon Ranger District. This girl is up to big things, and we can't wait to follow along with her journey through college and beyond. “SOS has helped guide me to where I am today in so many ways, the first one being the exposure to the outdoors,” says Jessica. “Having the opportunity to learn how to snowboard helped nurture my passion for winter sports. In the summer, being able to go hiking, climbing and backpacking allowed me to seek relationships with people who enjoy similar hobbies and even invite people to opt outside.” Outdoor exploration inspires exploration of ourselves, of our world, and of our paths. The lifelong skills Jessica developed on and off the mountain, and the sense of belonging to a community she trusts, continue to help her manage stress, stay focused, and make positive choices—which is particularly important during the pandemic. SOS instills skills that help shape the way youth understand themselves and the world around them. Our programs are rooted in outdoor experiences, adult mentorship, service projects and leadership opportunities that empower youth. We use a progressive curriculum that evolves with kids as they advance through our programs, incorporating social and emotional skills to lay the foundation for successful futures for young adults like Jessica. “SOS has been my support system,” shares Jessica. “My junior year was really stressful. I was overwhelmed with applying for college, with school work, all the aspects of your education that start to mean a lot more as you get closer to graduation. Going to SOS was really beneficial for my mental health. Spending those 8 hours with friends on the mountain actually helped me center myself and go home with a better attitude and a more productive work ethic.” That attitude motivated Jessica to seek leadership opportunities at SOS. In doing so, she gained confidence to speak in front of peers and adults at workshops, to guide and mentor younger kids in SOS, to advocate for important causes in her community, and to establish new student groups at school. Jessica set aside her fear of judgement from others. She was able to be her true self. “I have learned what it means to be a leader,” shares Jessica. Fluent in English and Spanish, Jessica took initiative to apply her bi-lingual skills to help others. With a large group of Spanish speakers in the Summit County community, Jessica helped SOS program parents communicate with mentors and staff—providing an important connection and a feeling of inclusivity in the community. “I would go to workshops and do translations,” says Jessica. “Being able to work with SOS, in Summit County where we have a large group of underrepresented students and families, being able to be in a group where parents can communicate with their mentors is huge for them. They don’t feel like they’re left out of anything and their questions get addressed.” Giving back to her SOS family inspired Jessica to explore other opportunities in her life to foster inclusivity. She decided to help start the first multi-cultural group at her high school, where more people could feel connected to a community, discover support, find their voice, and be inspired. “SOS has helped me discover my strengths and passions through so many opportunities,” shares Jessica. “Through all my time with SOS, there has not been a service project or leadership activity that was not worth participating in.” Jessica brings her skills, experiences and memories from a decade in SOS to the University of San Diego to study Environmental Ethics and Spanish. She hopes to go into conservation law, working for our national parks or with an environmental nonprofit that works to preserve lands. “SOS helps positively shape communities,” shares Jessica. “It engages kids, teens and adults to form relationships to help learn and grow from one another, it allows them to spend time together and help give back to the community. SOS supports people from all sorts of backgrounds. It fosters a passion for the outdoors, to not only enjoy it, but to also protect and help preserve it. SOS has been an accumulation of the skills I’ve developed over the years coming together to nurture my passions.”
Just as our 2020 season at The Cycle Effect was getting started in March with seasoned coaches adapting to a new program manager (new in the whole sense of the word), new coaches adapting to our program and new coworkers coming together across the organization, we quickly had to shift into the COVID-19 reality. Only two weeks into our indoor training as we were getting to meet our athletes and beginning to build relationships with our team training in person at our local rec centers our community went into quarantine. At that point, as we were welcoming 20 returning athletes as well as 20 new athletes. Suddenly we went into creative mode, adapting and thinking creatively to continue to serve our athletes while trying to make sense of what was happening around us.
Within that week, we quickly shifted into a virtual indoor season. We went from training twice a week for 2 hours at both the Breck and Silverthorne Rec centers to hosting virtual workouts led by one of our coaches in Eagle, expanding across all of our programs, two times a week in public and then daily for our athletes. Suddenly the Cycle Effect community was working out together across all 3 counties, Summit Eagle and Mesa. Families were doing the workouts together as a unit. LIVE virtual workouts were made accessible to the larger community through Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. The Cycle Effect was uniting people in our community as we were pushed to isolate and we saw the need to support our physical and mental health.
Our Summit Team of coaches was creating athlete treat bags and writing notes for athletes to drive by and pick up to let them know we did not forget about them and were looking forward to seeing them in person. We divided the athletes into groups and kept in touch with them through text and Whatsapp groups in order to continue to build the relationships that were abruptly interrupted. As an organization we were holding coach trainings over zoom, where coaches from all counties came together as well as our full-time staff.
Summer came around and while there were still restrictions in place we began to think creatively about how to ride outside together. We had to quickly shift things to create smaller groups of athletes with enough coaches. At a certain point we were offering three different riding times at different locations to make sure we weren’t gathering in large groups. As the community began to see us out there riding, we were getting more participants into our program. Due to the nature of our sport we were some of the few team sports who could continue to offer programming. We wore face masks, gloves and monitored symptoms before coming to each practice. This summer alone we welcomed over 50 athletes for the first time to the sport of mountain biking, in addition to our returning athletes. We had a strong team of volunteers who filled in for the need of adults riding with the multiple groups we had going on. We offered biking practice to moms of athletes and encouraged them to go outdoors too!
Towards the end of the season we partnered with Summit School District’s Pre-collegiate program. Due to the many restrictions under COVID-19, pre-collegiate was limited to the opportunities it could safely provide for its students. TCE jumped in to provide a week and a half of riding everyday for over 40 Pre-Collegiate Middle School Students.
While we had many challenges with so many changes outside of our control and continuous changes within our program with such a new team of coaches and new managers, we created the best experience possible for our youth. As one of our coaches put it “I cannot stop telling people how much we absolutely kicked butt during this pandemic. Wow. The leadership team is working so hard and it shows.” After this year, we feel more than ready for season 2021 because as our program shows, mountain biking and COVID-19 together have helped us develop grit, perseverance and resilience as we worked through.
Breckenridge Recreation Center: Christian Reyes
The Breckenridge Recreation Center has supplemented the Summit School District with full day childcare options for elementary students weekly for their Wednesday remote learning day. Many of the attendees are new five year old kindergartners whose parents need care so they are able to work.
The Town of Breckenridge has been able to supplement costs for these programs for many families who qualify for free or reduced lunch at their school. Many of these children's primary language is Spanish and their parents speak very limited English.
Christian Reyes is a Youth Recreation Attendant who is employed by the Breckenridge Recreation Department. Christian has been instrumental in providing care for these families. As kindergartners starting organized school for the first time they did not know how to read or write. These children log into their classrooms via zoom and recreation staff assist them with their coursework. Christian has gone above and beyond using his bilingual ability with these students. He has facilitated in their education of learning to read and write in both English and Spanish. He continues his instruction of Spanish and English reading and writing skills long after their zoom sessions have ended. Christian also aids the Recreation Department in their communication with these families so they can understand their child's academic progression and keeps them up to date with current offerings.
Christian Reyes along with the rest of the Programs Team at the Breckenridge Recreation Center has elevated the educational experience of our local youths during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Evin Harris, Carime Lee, and Carol Saade
During this pandemic, it has served as an experience cultivating both sadness for personal losses suffered and inspiration by highlighting the people, perspectives, and possessions that are most valuable. On this journey, I've gained clarity on the importance of community, political knowledge, and equitable activism that has, in turn, aligned me with amazing people. I wish to nominate Evin Harris, Carime Lee, and Carol Saade for the work these women do tirelessly to create a better community, for all people. These women have created various platforms, organizations and community forums designed to uplift and encourage those who feel as if they have no voice and for this reason, I humbly believe they should be recognized for these courageous actions.
Summit Medical Center
I work for the Summit Medical Center Hospital Foundation and it inspired me to see, when the first case of COVID-19 hit our county, how our donors, our hospital associates, our hospital leadership and our community supporters, stepped up to provide emotional, financial, supplies and food support for so many that were affected. It was a testament that show how caring and thoughtful our community in times of need. I'm proud to live and work where I do. Because of community, love and light do still exist!!
Students Rally Around Cristian Santiago
In the early hours of the morning on Sunday, October 18th, Summit High School Pre-Collegiate senior Cristian Santiago was in a car accident on I-70 East of Summit County. As the back seat passenger, Cristian suffered life threatening injuries after the car rolled several times. This tragedy struck Pre-Collegiate students harder than the pandemic ever did. But students stepped up. Pre-Collegiate staff created a Gofundme for Cristian and his family, and before we ever even knew people knew it was live, students were sharing it to their social media. Karen Lozano, Esteban Fernandez, Zayra Martinez, and Alan Ortiz led this charge for donations and within minutes we had two thousand dollars from students alone, within four hours we reached the goal of $20,000 and a few days later we were over $40,000. Zayra also painted a sign for staff and students to sign and hang in Cristian's hospital room and brighten it up with our love and messages. SHS Students Esteban Fernandez, Alan Ortiz, Giovanni Marquez, and Jaden Smith orchestrated a car cruise to drive around the county and sell stickers and donate the proceeds to Cristian's family. This was very successful and had nearly 100 cars drive. Cristian's favorite things is cars, he appreciates them above all else.
Cristian's family have effectively lost their jobs. And these students came together in the midst of a pandemic to raise nearly $50,000 and allow for his parents to stay by his side the entire time. These students know they cannot see Cristian because of the pandemic and currently that is the only reason why since he has moved from ICU. But that has not discouraged them from doing everything they can to support him and his family. These little things make a big deal for Cristian and his family. All of the students I have mentioned have taken time out of their day and work to also see and be with Cristian's brother Anthony and the rest of his family. They have kept him distracted and kept him laughing in the darkest days. All of them have spent a lot of time with the family and making sure everyone is ok. His mother said Alan made him laugh for the first time in weeks. Still feeling a sense of community in this pandemic is essential for us to keep going. Even in tragedy, even in a pandemic, these students rallied the entire Summit County for this student and his family. I am not sure that without the help of these students, we would not have raised as much money and allow his family to remain by his side.
Summit High School Unites
I’m sure I won’t be the only one to submit a story along these lines. However, I believe the sky's the limit on praising the incredible staff of Summit School District and specifically, Summit High School. In early March, you could sense that this pandemic was looming, and within days it crashed down upon us. On a Thursday afternoon, we learned of a plan should we need to switch to remote learning, and by Friday afternoon, the plan was a reality and we were figuring out how to work remotely while engaging students! While it was confusing and scary, it was also inspirational. All members of SHS got on task and conducted their business. Teachers and administrators created a whole new way of teaching-it was messy and difficult at first, but students were learning and teachers were teaching! Custodians got to work deep cleaning the building. Cafeteria staff started making and mobilizing lunches so students wouldn’t go hungry. Buses were outfitted to be WiFi hotspots and parked around the county to boost connectivity for students while they learned online. Staff moved throughout the county to provide technology and device assistance so that every student had opportunities to learn online. And with the realization that this wasn’t going to go away any time soon, staff rolled up their sleeves and began working on next steps. What would a schedule look like at any level of safe learning? If we got to return to the building, what did we need so that facilities were clean and staff and students could stay healthy while in the building? New protocols were adapted for literally every aspect of daily school life. We even found ways to celebrate achievements or moments of joy. Virtual Proms and Graduations were filmed and uploaded for online viewing and participation. And a parade celebration of our Senior Class of 2020 was staged on Main Street in Breckenridge with local police, fire, EMS and even Flight For Life fly-bys! This pandemic, I believe, has shown that our Summit High School staff and Summit School District as a whole is one of the strongest, most resilient, caring, and creative out there! We couldn’t have done it without the support of the community, but when it comes to caring about the needs of the students and families in our community, there isn’t anyone who does it better! It started in March and it hasn’t stopped since then! I’m proud and inspired daily by the commitment, hard work, creativity and care that our staff puts into the education of our students. SHS HOUGH!
I have been inspired by the devotion of two women who have dedicated their volunteer efforts to make sure that no elementary school child goes hungry in Summit County. Margaret Sheehe and Sarah Schmidt have turned Smart Bellies from a fledgling non-profit into a professionally run organization, providing a much needed service in Summit County.
When the Summit County schools closed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemics March, Margaret and Sarah needed to quickly find a way to provide weekend food bags to students. The two women had founded Smart Bellies and started providing weekend food bags to students at one Summit County elementary school in fall 2018. These students were on the federally supported school lunch programs, but the low-income families struggled to feed their children on the weekends. Each Friday, bags of food with breakfast, lunch and snacks, were given to the children to take home. In fall 2019, Smart Bellies expanded its program to students in the other five elementary schools and started recruiting more volunteers to pack food bags and deliver to the schools.
Then the pandemic hit, schools shut down and it looked like students were going to lose access to daily breakfasts and lunches from the federal food program and weekend food provided by Smart Bellies. Then distribution sites were established around the county where parents could pick up food for their children. Smart Bellies was able to piggyback on this distribution process but faced a new challenge. Since the Summit Stage was shut down there were families without cars who were unable to reach the distribution points. So Margaret and Sarah marshaled a cadre of volunteers to deliver weekend food to families's homes.
Smart Bellies saw the number of weekend food bags burgeon from 300 to 550 at the height of the pandemic with close to 150 bags delivered directly to homes. The number of volunteers increased to 45 per week. The organization received money from the Summit Foundation, Mile High United Way, Blueprint to End Hunger, Copper Mountain Play It Forward and Alpine Bank to support the increase in food purchases. They began receiving fresh produce from the USDA, which allowed them to upgrade the quality of the food provided to students.
Since the Summit County Public Schools have resumed in person student learning, Smart Bellies’ volunteers have been packing and delivering food bags directly to students in 103 homes weekly.
Timberline Adult Day Program
Timberline Adult Day Program never closed and continued to serve our adults with dementia & disabilities by delivering over 120 meals and providing socialization and exercise activities both virtually and in person at our facility in Frisco. For National Caregiver Month in November, Timberline delivered care packages and handwritten notes of appreciation to all our caregivers. We were featured on the front page of Summit Daily on Nov. 1st. We are honored to continue to serve all our families in need during this unprecedented time.
Summit Community Care Clinic
Summit Community Care Clinic and its employees were on the front lines of the pandemic from the very beginning, and by March 17 were able to set up a testing tent behind the Medical Office Building in collaboration with Summit County Government. The initial supplies were pulled together rapidly: the tent came from someone’s garage, the heaters from staff porches, supplies from the School Based Health Centers, PPE from the dental clinic, etc. The staff put it all together in short order with the mindset that a lack of perfection would not get in the way of assuring services for patients.
In subsequent weeks, the staff received amazing support from community organizations – lunches, dinners and treats helped kept morale up. Staff huddled daily to try to keep up with the constant changes in medical guidance and internal protocols needed, with a need to constantly adapt to changing needs. Those early days were a hard time for everyone, including staff. As Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kathleen Cowie, said, holding the space for the staff to talk about their own vulnerabilities became – and continues to be - crucial.
The Care Clinic has many amazing stories of patients that they have helped through the pandemic. A few examples are a family of six that all tested positive, a man from Park County who was so grateful to be tested that he yelled “God bless you” and “Thank you” from his car window as he drove away, and an African man who needed services post-hospitalization but whose primary concern was getting back to his 2 jobs so that he could support his family. Multiple patients have been hospitalized for extended periods, only to come back to the Care Clinic with complex care coordination needs. Services ranging from immunizations to family planning have been provided curbside to make them more accessible and telehealth has become a regular part of care.
Chief Executive Officer Helen Royal likes to emphasize the importance of creativity and innovation. Like all organizations, the Care Clinic has been challenged by the pandemic, but it has maintained a constant focus on making service better. The staff has stepped up at every step of the way to meet the changing needs and to ensure that no one goes without needed services.