Facebook   Twitter   Instagram
Current Issue   Archive   Archive    

The Heroes: Nonprofits


Donate TodaySUPPORT LOCAL MEDIA-DONATE NOW!

Taking on the most important issues facing our country

From left to right: Tom Mauser, Eileen McCarron, Tim Rakow, Lark Rambo, Gina, Maione-Earles, Cathryn Folkestad, Peter Hoy. Photo by Paul Wedlake

For our penultimate installment in our monthly “Heroes” series, we look to our nonprofits. The year’s end brings a time to reflect: This year has been a daunting one. Massive issues have risen before us like great and terrible mountains, nearly unfathomable in their scale. Innocent people continue to die senselessly to gun violence. A war on women and those able to give birth has been declared. People are still hungry. Rent is going up leading to an increase in homelessness. These are some of the most important yet daunting issues our country, our species, has ever faced. Our nonprofits are the ones that stare down the darkness without flinching. They understand the pain, the fear, the anger that arises from such heavy topics. Yet, they fight on because they know that someone has to, that nothing will change without direct action.

I spoke with representatives from six very different organizations. In spite of the very powerful issues they deal with everyday, each person I spoke with was tender and sincere, their compassion flowing from them like rivers, the kind that, with enough patience and determination, can erode mountains.

I had the opportunity to speak with Tom Mauser and Eileen McCarron of Colorado Ceasefire, the longest-serving grassroots gun violence prevention organization in Colorado. They seek to reduce gun violence through legislation, outreach, and education. Mauser has a tragically personal connection to the issue. He is the father of Daniel Mauser, one of the 13 victims in the Columbine High School shooting that took place in 1999. Mauser speaks about this plainly, the sorrow in his voice tinged with conviction. He told me that his work with Colorado Ceasefire is “how [he] honor[s] his son.” With a background in lobbying, he pivoted to the fight against gun violence in the wake of the tragedy. He highlighted the fact that the conversation against gun violence has been extremely politicized to such an extreme degree that it impedes progress, saying that both sides of the aisle must work together or else innocent citizens will continue to die. He said, “Society and the media too often makes this a pro-gun/anti-gun issue. We’re not anti-gun. We’re anti-gun violence.” Mauser now speaks to the public as the self-described “face of the organization.” He hopes in doing so, in sharing his story, he can touch the hearts of those out there and remind the gun lobby of the brutal toll their inaction continues to take.

“Society and the media too often makes this a pro-gun/anti-gun issue. We’re not anti-gun. We’re anti-gun violence.”

While McCarron hasn’t been affected by gun violence in such a directly personal manner as Mauser, she has been fighting against it since before the Columbine tragedy. Shortly after Columbine, Colorado became something of a hub for the fight, and McCarron wanted to go where she could make the biggest impact. She moved the work against gun violence she’d already been doing in Texas to this state and has been fighting the good fight ever since, beginning with a now-defunct organization called Safe Colorado. Throughout our conversation, she made an incredibly interesting point that also made me quite sad for the people dedicating their lives to the issue: If they are successful, the general public won’t hear about it. Laws can reduce gun violence, which in turn, will reduce reported incidents. We will stop seeing yet another shooting, more dead kids on the news nearly every night, and that is what victory looks like, even if those who worked to achieve it might never quite get the recognition they deserve.

Gina Maione Earles is the executive director of Blue Sky Bridge, an organization dedicated to child abuse intervention and education. Celebrating her 10th year with the organization, Maione Earles breathed passion with each word she spoke. She spoke to me about how Blue Sky Bridge’s main goal is to help these kids come to terms with what has happened to them, empowering them to do what is necessary to move beyond it and live healthy lives. She said, “If [kids] do experience [sexual abuse], they are incredibly resilient, and they have an opportunity to heal and move forward and live their full potential in life. The problem is that most children who experience physical and sexual abuse do not disclose the abuse until they’re adults, if ever. It’s only about 10% of kids that experienced sexual abuse that actually say so.” She went on to say, “Our job here at Blue Sky Bridge is really profound. It’s not just to help kids to stop experiencing abuse, and it’s not just to help prevent this from happening in the first place, though we do a lot of things about that as well. It’s helping these kids tell their story, talk about their experience, move through that process, move on to healing, get the help and recovery they need to reduce their post traumatic symptoms.”

“Our job here at Blue Sky Bridge is really profound. It’s not just to help kids to stop experiencing abuse, and it’s not just to help prevent this from happening in the first place, though we do a lot of things about that as well. It’s helping these kids tell their story, talk about their experience, move through that process, move on to healing, get the help and recovery they need to reduce their post traumatic symptoms.”

Native American Rights Fund is the largest and most visible Indian law firm in the country. Founded in 1970 by John Echohawk, NARF provides legal counsel to Native American individuals, groups, and tribes. Deputy Director Matthew Campbell spoke to me with candor and intelligence, his voice clear and resilient. Many of the issues NARF deals with are not new. Campbell spoke about the importance of the organization and what it is like facing the daunting weight of history saying, “The reason the work is so important is because of the unique history and the unique legal relationship between the United States and tribal nations. There are hundreds of treaties that the United States signed with tribal nations. There is an entire chapter of the United States Code dedicated to Indian law and Native issues. For Native people, it really is one of the most heavily legal-based and regulated fields in the United States, and so much of who we are is tied up into that history and that relationship.” He went on to say, “We’ve worked here at NARF to fight to uphold the treaties, uphold access to sacred places and a right to be able to have religious freedom, to be able to vote in state and federal elections. It’s critical that NARF is here to be able to provide that type of resource for tribal nations and individuals that don’t have the capacity or the resources to afford a private attorney.”

“The reason the work is so important is because of the unique history and the unique legal relationship between the United States and tribal nations. There are hundreds of treaties that the United States signed with tribal nations. There is an entire chapter of the United States Code dedicated to Indian law and Native issues. For Native people, it really is one of the most heavily legal-based and regulated fields in the United States, and so much of who we are is tied up into that history and that relationship.”

I next spoke with Cathryn Folkestad and Peter Hoy, operations director and senior program manager for Conscious Alliance, respectively. These are two deeply passionate and vibrant people, quick with a joke and willing to let their laughter ring loud, yet utterly serious when it comes to their work and the impact they make. Conscious Alliance is an organization dedicated to using art to feed communities that don’t have ready access to food. This includes communities like Pine Ridge Native American Reservation, underprivileged schools, and areas in Boulder County devastated by the Marshall Fire. In addition to partnering with a variety of food makers and distributors, they partner with musicians and artists to run food drives at venues such as Red Rocks, Mission Ballroom, Fox Theater, and hundreds of others across the country. Hoy spoke to the importance of cooperation between organizations in order to accomplish their goals, especially when operating on such a large scale. He said, “We work with any and all food brands that want to work with us. Let’s get food out together. Our No. 1 mission is to feed kids. Same thing goes with food pantries, food banks, and food distribution centers. We’re trying to support as many organizations as we can.” He went on to stress the importance of partners who work within the communities they serve, especially when nearing the holiday season. He said, “We know that we can come and execute a great meal giveaway, but it’s really the partners on the ground that can drive the traffic of people to come there and find the folks that need a hot meal for Thanksgiving and get them out to the site.”

“We work with any and all food brands that want to work with us. Let’s get food out together. Our No. 1 mission is to feed kids. Same thing goes with food pantries, food banks, and food distribution centers. We’re trying to support as many organizations as we can.”

In addition to working with a vast network of partners throughout the country, Folkestad spoke to a smaller but no less important aspect of her and the organization’s work — kindling the little sparks that light fires in the hearts of the young and helping them realize that they can affect this world in a positive way. She said, “We can inspire these people to do something beyond themselves and help these people that are going to the shows realize that they can make an impact on the lives of people in need. We can help them open their minds to the world and their ability to give back and support their communities.”

The Inn Between addresses one of Boulder County’s most compelling and discussed issues: providing affordable housing for the ever-growing unhoused population. I spoke with executive director Tim Rakow, a kind and funny man that understands that, while involvement in nonprofit work begins ideologically, issues must be approached with logic and realism in order to actually accomplish anything. He explained that The Inn Between isn’t merely a place to stay but a program designed to get the unhoused off the streets and employed — and remain that way. As such, residents in their communities must adhere to a certain degree of decorum. They must take the opportunity seriously as there are many others who would gladly take their place. In setting these guidelines, they are able to focus on actual work with a great many other organizations to accomplish their goals. He also described the three focuses of The Inn Between’s work as being “first and foremost, safe support or affordable housing.” He then said, “case management, meaning life skills training — essentially areas for growth.” The third he mentioned was “education and career development to really key in on those who have that potential to move into a different career.”

The Inn Between isn’t merely a place to stay but a program designed to get the unhoused off the streets and employed — and remain that way.

Speaking with Lark Rambo, executive director of Coal Creek Meals on Wheels, through Zoom was interesting in that she radiated such kindness that it felt akin to a warm sunbeam shining through a window on a cold day. Meals on Wheels is a national organization that delivers food to the homes of those who can no longer acquire it without assistance due to disability, lack of transportation, and other factors. Rambo, who told me that she’s “always worked in the nonprofit space,” spoke about how they don’t just provide food to their clients but also, many times, a sort of companion, a way to remind people what being a part of the world is like. She said, “We’re also helping to combat isolation. During the pandemic, that was a huge part of it. Folks were so isolated, especially those that lack transportation and mobility. That’s the biggest part of our program, in addition to getting those meals in the home, making sure that they feel connected to their community.”

“We’re also helping to combat isolation. During the pandemic, that was a huge part of it. Folks were so isolated, especially those that lack transportation and mobility. That’s the biggest part of our program, in addition to getting those meals in the home, making sure that they feel connected to their community.”

Each of these lovely, hard-eyed, yet soft-hearted people are working to better this world. They embody the drive, the dedication, the teeth-gritting, muscle-straining, heart-rending determination it takes to affect real change in our communities and our world as a whole. Let’s hear it for them.

From left to right: Gina Maione-Earles, Lark Rambo, Tim Rakow, Cathryn Folkestad, Peter Hoy, Eileen McCarron. Photo by Paul Wedlake

Leave a Reply

X