Committed Philanthropist

Sojourner Salutes: Barbara Gold

Through a generous family scholarship fund, she helps dozens of first-generation college students realize their dreams.

By Bob Ward Photography by Karl Wolfgang December 10, 2019 Published in the Holiday 2019–2020 issue of Aspen Sojourner

When asked about her role with the Roaring Fork School District’s PreCollegiate program, Barbara Gold deflects the attention to the students from Basalt, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs she helps support with college scholarships. “These kids are the heroes,” she says. “They really are.” 

PreCollegiate, as it’s simply called, identifies gifted local students whose parents did not attain a college degree and pairs them with volunteer mentors during 7th through 12th grades, setting them on a trajectory to post-secondary education. 

When Gold’s late husband, John, learned about the program in the early 2000s, he thought it was great, she recalls, but was bothered by a subsequent realization: “‘We get these kids ready for college and then they can’t afford to go,’” she recounts him saying.

Soon afterward, the Golds hosted a fundraiser and, thanks to generous friends, were able to start a scholarship program supporting PreCollegiate students. It was an embodiment, says Barbara, of John’s love for young people.

After years of vacationing in Aspen, the Golds fell in love with an adobe home they noticed while biking on the Rio Grande Trail and moved to Woody Creek in 1995. Both had been successful professionals in New York—John as a wealth manager and Barbara as a fashion industry merchandise coordinator—but they immediately embraced Aspen’s body-mind-spirit ethos. John died in 2011, and the PreCollegiate scholarship was then named in his memory. Barbara has eagerly carried the torch ever since.

In 2019, she says, the scholarship helped a whopping 71 students attend college. Moreover, unlike most partial scholarships, this one is renewable, meaning that students can reapply throughout their college years, if need be. 

Alex Alvarado, a former PreCollegiate scholar who graduated from Roaring Fork High School in 2011, credits the program and the scholarship with changing his life. “I wouldn’t have gotten to college, or even have been prepared, if I hadn’t had the financial support,” he notes. Now a paralegal specializing in immigration law, Alvarado sits on the John Gold scholarship selection committee. “Receiving the scholarship myself really planted a seed of philanthropy,” he says. 

Having a former scholarship recipient help review applications and decide how to deploy funds has brought the program “full circle,” says Gold. And her admiration for the PreCollegiate students is readily apparent to Alvarado. “I felt like the least qualified to be on the committee, but she treats me with the same respect as everyone else,” he says. “She also invests so much time in each application. She really takes them to heart.”

Says Gold, “It’s mind-boggling to me the challenges that these young people have overcome. And the PreCollegiate program is growing, so more and more students are eligible to apply for the scholarship. We need to do more fundraising.” 

Her generosity extends beyond the scholarship, points out David Smith, executive director of PreCollegiate. Gold enjoys hosting students at her home and takes an exceptionally personal interest in their work. “It is wonderful to watch Barbara meet students in person, learn more about their stories, and encourage them,” says Smith. In addition, for the past six years she has chaired the board of directors of the Aspen Community Foundation (ACF), which administers the John Gold scholarship. “Barbara cares deeply about the challenges many of the region’s children and families face,” says ACF Executive Director Tamara Tormohlen. “She takes time to understand the issues first-hand and is profoundly invested in ACF’s work.”

For Gold, the giving goes both ways, and philanthropy enables her to return a favor to the community she’s loved for 24 years. “This community has given so much to me,” she says. “This is how I am able to give back.”

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