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West Elk fund distributes $21K to nonprofits

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Photo by Tamie Meck From left, Amanda Meredith, Michelle Pagone and Anna Smith with the Hotchkiss Bambino Baseball wore their brand new uniforms to accept a check from the West Elk Community Fund. The nonprofit was one of 21 to receive a grant from the ne

Twenty one North Fork area non-profits recently became the first to receive grants from the West Elk Community Fund.

At a Nov. 28 celebration at the Blue Sage Center for the Arts, WECF founding members awarded a total of $21,200 in grants, ranging from $500-$1,500, to North Fork area non-profits representing the arts and culture, community, education, the environment, health, and human services.

A local community fund managed by the Western Colorado Community Foundation, WECF awarded grants to A Little Help North Fork, All American Families, Blue Sage Center for the Arts, Creamery Arts Center, Friends of Youth & Nature/Friends of The Nature Connection, Friends of the Paradise Theatre, Hotchkiss Bambino Baseball, Kid's Pasta Project, Lamborn Foundation, Mountain Harvest Creative, Needlerock Family Health Clinic, North Fork Ambulance Association, North Fork Montessori School, North Fork Valley Creative Coalition, KVNF Public Radio, Solar Energy International, The Learning Council, Valley Organic Growers Association, and the Western Slope Conservation Center.

WECF was founded by local community members as an endowed fund to serve nonprofits in Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford. "This is not about us," said David Livingston, one of 11 WECF founding members. "This is a spotlight on the whole community." The fund is "basically an endowment for all the nonprofits in the area," said Livingston. "This is forever, guys."

In its first year, the fund's local steering committee received 26 applications for funding of various projects.

WECF was formed to distribute funds based on community need, said founding member and former WCCF board member, Elaine Brett. The North Fork Valley "runs on volunteer power and on the generousness of the nonprofits," and grants will help take a little bit of pressure off of the recipients.

"This group did not hand these out lightly," said Kristin Lynch with WCCF. There were some hard conversations that took place during the decision process, "And you guys stood out."

Since 1996 the Western Colorado Community Foundation has invested more than $15 million in grants to organizations in seven Western Colorado counties. WCCF manages more than 250 charitable funds totaling $75 million in assets and awards more than $3.4 million in grants and scholarships annually.

"We hope to make this bigger, we hope to make it grow, and we hope have funds for our volunteer organizations and nonprofits for many, many years to come," said Brett.

Brett said there are many ways that people can give, up to and including putting one's community in their estate plans. She shared the story of Evelyn Haley of Grand Junction, who grew up in Paonia, taught school, lived a modest life, and drove the same Toyota Camry for 20 years. Haley passed away in October, leaving almost half of her $3 million estate to the Western Colorado Community Foundation and the remainder to other charitable organizations.

"That kind of stuff happens," said Brett. It's how WCCF has grown to a $75 million foundation over 20 years. "It's just wonderful that we, on a local level, now have a vehicle to continue to do this."

All nonprofits with 501c3 status are eligible to apply for WECF grants in 2019. Those interested in contributing to the fund can contact the WCCF at 970-243-3767.

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