Talking Points

Roaring Fork Leadership Celebrates 30 Years of Making a Difference

The local nonprofit betters community by developing both influencers and projects that positively affect the valley.

By Jessica Cabe May 30, 2018 Published in the Summer 2018 issue of Aspen Sojourner

 These members of RFL’s class of 2017 worked together on a civic project (clockwise from left): Meghan Lutterman, Jim Gohery, Jodi Surfas, Briston Peterson, Meghan Pearlman, Melissa Knight, and Joshua House.

In 1988, a group of local citizens started Leadership Aspen to help build a better community. Thirty years later, the nonprofit, now known as Roaring Fork Leadership (RFL), has trained more than 800 valley residents—most of whom still live here—and offers six programs focused on adults and kids of all leadership levels.

It involves way more than just taking part in work­shops and seminars. As part of RFL’s nine-month Academy, participants work in small teams to gain hands-on, real-world experience as they learn leadership skills and tactics. Each team focuses on developing a civic project pitched by a local nonprofit or other organization; projects have ranged from helping RFL itself go green to helping draft a strategic plan for a therapeutic riding center to recruiting volunteer drivers for local seniors.

Says RFL Executive Director Andrea Palm-Porter, “It’s that social responsibility aspect of making this a great place to live.” Even if you haven’t heard of Roaring Fork Leadership, it’s likely you directly benefit from a project these lead­ers have worked on, as so many continue to impact the community to this day.

Want proof? Consider these three examples.

In-home health care and hospice

In 2007, hospice care through Valley View Hospital was cut. The following year, Reg­istered Nurse Markey Butler headed up the effort to open Homecare and Hospice of the Valley in Glenwood Springs; in 2009, an RFL team helped raise awareness for the new nonprofit.

“Roaring Fork Leadership worked with us to design our first brochure and our marketing strategy, and it was a wonderful relationship,” says Butler, now the hospice’s executive director. “The team provided that communication vehicle that really helped the community know who we are.”

After the project’s completion, adds Butler, some members of the RFL team continued their involvement through volun­teering for the organization and serving on the board of directors.

As the Roaring Fork Valley’s only local in-home health care organization, the nonprofit cared for more than 1,000 home health patients last year, as well as more than 200 people who are terminally ill. “Our overall goal is for people to enjoy living in their homes and to stay out of the hospitals and nursing homes,” Butler says. “Those are values this organization was founded upon.”

Help for kids in crisis

Amber Wissing, a 2016 RFL grad herself, started Project Pack with two friends some four years ago to help children who have to be removed from their homes during fam­ily crises. “We started providing what you would need to get through 24 hours away from home,” explains Wissing. “Our pro­gram provides a backpack and a suggested list of items, and our volunteers fill the pack to whatever degree they can and return it to us. We then pass it on to the crisis workers.”

For the 2016–17 RFL Academy, Wissing proposed a civic project to expand her nonprofit’s work into Pitkin County, and an RFL team took it on. Unlike Garfield County, Pitkin doesn’t have a victim advocacy unit, so the team had to get creative in bringing the service upvalley. “They did a little research and discovered that, through the family resource center [Aspen Family Connections], we could move into more of a school-based program,” Wissing says. Now the resource center has packs in its office that can be distributed to all 11 schools in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Wissing, meanwhile, can’t seem to get enough of RFL; she served as a team coach during the most recent Academy. “It’s re­ally fun to have come at it from almost all angles at this point,” she says, “watching as the teams progress and remembering how our team felt and what we got out of the experience.”

Outreach for local retail

In 2015, Garfield County Libraries, which are funded partially by sales taxes, teamed up with RFL to raise awareness of the advantages of shopping at local, indepen­dently owned businesses.

“The more money we can keep in the county, the better our businesses will do long term,” says Emily Hisel, brand manager for the libraries. Starting in Carbondale, an RFL team helped publicize the campaign through incentives like prize drawings for shoppers who brought local receipts to the library. Since then, the pro­gram, Shop Local, has grown to encompass all of Garfield County.

“The best piece of the pilot project was that it gave us an idea of how to go forward on a larger scale,” she says. “One of the things Roaring Fork Leadership really wanted to do was keep it in Carbondale at the time and run it as a test case. We were able to learn from what we did to make it a county-wide effort.”

Now, through a website, window decals in participating businesses, and outreach through local newspapers and radio stations, the libraries continue to get out the word that shopping close to home has myriad benefits.

Roaring Fork Leadership Programs

Learn more about RFL's programs for kids and adults. 

Academy: Up to 40 accepted applicants participate in the nine-month curriculum of daylong sessions led by various experts. Topics include conscious leadership, emotional intelligence, crucial conversations, conflict, and more. Small teams also work on a civic project.

Spark: Youth program for middle to high schoolers from Glenwood to Aspen

Mastermind: Five-month program facilitated by business strategist Nancy Fredericks to accommodate brainstorming, education, peer accountability, and group support, with a max of 14 participants

CoLab: Customized training and facilitation

Connect: Online matching system for volunteers and organizations

Live: Ongoing speaker series





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