The air was filled with anticipation the night of Nov. 15 at the Blue Sage Center for the Arts in Paonia as 10 local non-profit representatives shared their organization’s vision and goals prior to receiving a portion of the $34,375 grant money from the West Elk Community Fund (WECF).

Elaine Brett, co-chair for WECF, opened the evening with a brief explanation about Western Colorado Community Foundation, the umbrella organization over WECF. Western Colorado Community Foundation (WCCF) serves seven counties in Western Colorado providing funds in health and human services, education, arts, culture, environmental services and others.

“One of the strategies that we put into place while I was on the board was to try and reach out into the communities that the foundation serves. We felt it would be more intimate and successful if we looked at the communities as a community, that people would be more inclined to donate monies for their specific community and we would be able to identify projects that were most important to that community,” Brett said.

WECF, in its second year of funding, was able to provide more money this year with the support of additional founding member, Danni Eckstein and a generous gift from the Ray and Kay Eckstein Charitable Trust.

The local WECF steering committee received 22 applications for the grant funds to be awarded to a variety of projects in the North Fork area. The grant amounts ranged from $2,300 to $10,000 to support various programs, including senior engagement and connection, Poulis Park improvements, the NFV Smithsonian Storytelling Festival and watershed management. The steering committee showed preference for collaborative projects that will maximize community impact.

Western Slope Conservation Center plans to use WECF grant money to improve communication across a variety of water groups in the valley by putting together a North Fork stakeholders’ group which will take a look at the long-range improvements that can be made for agriculture, environmental and recreation.

Mountain Harvest Creative will use grant funds to support a holiday craft fair in December for kids to provide gifts for their parents; a new music project at the Hotchkiss middle school and the mobile mirror project, a snapshot of the North Fork in 2020. The project will involve Paonia Leadership Academy, Paonia High School and Hotchkiss High School.

North Fork Senior Connections, a new organization serving the entire North Fork senior community, will expand individual services by recruiting youthful volunteers to assist seniors with technology challenges. They also plan to create a service to help seniors re-connect with the changing community by creating a video project with local students culminating in a community event.

Friends of the Paradise Theatre will help seniors in the community with a weekly activity, senior movies, exercise movement class and a game day that will include a catered lunch at the Paonia Senior Center. Other plans include hosting a visiting artist who will reach out to the senior population to provide art classes culminating in a public art project. Also, on tap for the long term is a project to make the theatre ADA compliant for seniors and individuals with disabilities.

The Rotary Club of the NFV Foundation is in the midst of renovating Poulos Park built in 2007 as part of a Centennial project. Funds from the WECF grant will allow the organization to complete the renovation including lighting in the back of the park allowing for evening usage; a performance space and conversation nook dedicated to Ed Marston, former publisher of High Country News.

North Fork Valley Public Radio (KVNF) will use grant money to purchase portable audio equipment for capturing outdoor audio to improve the quality of interviews and ambient sounds of the valley.

Blue Sage Center for the Arts will use WECF grant funds to kick off its first annual StoryFest, a one-day event celebrating the literary arts with a writing symposium. The day will include speakers, workshops and panel discussions. In addition, the organization will host the NVF Smithsonian Storytelling Festival slated for January 2021.

The Learning Council will use funds to move forward with its educational services to Delta County Schools by providing comprehensive sex education for students and professional training for teachers in public schools and private settings.

Solar Energy International will continue to serve the North Fork area using WECF funding to host a solar lab program for eighth grade students where students learn about “all things solar.” The grant will be used for equipment and stipends for volunteers.

Citizens for a Healthy Community will use grant funds to create a comprehensive oil and gas survey to determine the local community’s stance on the impact of the industry’s impact on the North Fork ecosystem.

The West Elk Community Fund serves the communities of Paonia, Hotchkiss, Crawford and surrounding areas.

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