LIFT-UP director Carcaterra goes from those in need to those that seed |

LIFT-UP director Carcaterra goes from those in need to those that seed

Around LIFT-UP, the joke is that director Steve Carcaterra is being put out to pasture.

That’s because Carcaterra is about to move on to work as a range management specialist with the White River National Forest.

But for all the attempts to inject levity into the situation, Carcaterra’s departure marks a bit of a sad time for both the nonprofit charitable relief agency and the man who has led it for the last four and a half years.

“He’s been a very capable leader who has guided us through some changing times. We’re going to miss him, without a doubt,” said Randy Whitley, president of LIFT-UP’s board of directors.

For Carcaterra – a former Garfield County Cooperative Extension agent – deciding to leave LIFT-UP and return to his original career has been difficult. Then again, he added, “It’s hard to explain why I left my career of 18 years to go to LIFT-UP.

“Basically I kind of poured my life into LIFT-UP for the last four and a half years,” he said.

In both instances, he felt called by God. LIFT-UP is a Christian-inspired organization and Carcaterra chose to work for it because of his beliefs.

He believes he’s done what he can to advance the organization, and that it’s a good time to let someone else lead LIFT-UP.

He also trusts God to help LIFT-UP find a replacement who will keep the organization going strong. And he points out that LIFT-UP goes a lot deeper than the director, depending on the commitment of its entire staff, its board of directors, and its many volunteers.

“Those are the things that make LIFT-UP strong. It’s not necessarily the person sitting in the director’s chair,” he said.

“Steve is such a man of humility,” said Whitley.

Carcaterra served at a time when the demand for LIFT-UP’s services grew like never before, said Whitley.

“Steve, I think, truly was the man of the hour who was needed. I’m not sure there’s anybody out there who could have done what he has done,” Whitley said.

He said Carcaterra was the kind of leader people were happy to follow.

“Steve has been a great asset. He’s offered vision. He’s brought to us just a sense of stability.”

Beyond directing LIFT-UP’s day-to-day activities, Carcaterra introduced special projects, including the Pedal Up for LIFT-UP and Moonlight in the Canyon bike ride fund-raisers.

“He was great at coming up with ideas like that, and he wasn’t afraid to take up new challenges,” said Whitley.

Carcaterra grew up in Maryland and earned his master’s degree at West Virginia University. He worked as an extension agent for 18 years in West Virginia and Colorado, moving to Glenwood Springs in 1988, lured like so many others by the beauty and adventure of Colorado.

Still, there was his faith to consider. As a teenager, Carcaterra had become a Christian. He spent a lot of time studying and wrestling with philosophical and theological issues, he said.

“While there’s a lot I don’t understand, it seems to me one thing is very clear, that’s that Jesus taught us, even commanded us, to take care of the least powerful among us,” he said. “I figured if I’m not going to get anything else right I’ll try to get that one right.”

One way has been by helping start the Extended Table soup kitchen in Glenwood Springs seven years ago.

Under the auspices of LIFT-UP, he and other organizers worked with churchgoers and others in the community to arrange volunteers to run the nightly operation.

Volunteers now serve 5,000-6,000 meals a year, and many others in town donate leftover food from weddings, office parties and other sources.

“It’s really become something of the town of Glenwood Springs. Its success is dependent on the goodwill of all the people who support it,” Carcaterra said.

When Carcaterra was hired to head LIFT-UP, it was in keeping with a promise he had made in front of his church at about the age of 17. He vowed to God that he would spend a significant part of his life helping people in need.

He had long thought that would happen overseas – perhaps by doing some kind of mission work in agricultural development.

But then he fell in love with Glenwood, and with his future wife, Rachael, and they were married and had a daughter. It became apparent the service he envisioned would have to take a different form.

“When the opportunity came to work for LIFT-UP, I figured I could complete that promise I had made,” he said.

He came to LIFT-UP at a time when it was in for some big new demands on its services.

“The need and the demand is just growing at actually kind of alarming rates,” he said.

He is reminded of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” Like California, western Colorado is seen as a land of economic opportunity, but as people flood local communities, many find themselves in trouble.

LIFT-UP also has been flooded by immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

“I wish I would have taken Spanish in high school instead of French,” said Carcaterra.

By every measure, from clients served, to bags of food being donated, to housing funds being distributed, LIFT-UP’s output continues to grow with the demand.

It now relies on about 200 volunteers, some of whom have served as long as 10 or 15 years, and gets help from many more over the holidays. The Extended Table relies on a few hundred more.

The terrorist attacks and worsening economy since then have hit LIFT-UP hard.

“Our world really did change on 9/11 last year,” said Whitley.

He’s served on LIFT-UP’s board for six years and never has seen a demand for services like the first three months of this year.

“There’s just a lot of need right now,” he said.

Carcaterra said the demands on LIFT-UP have increased probably 20 percent since the recession began a year ago.

That’s no different from the rest of the country, and things are probably worse elsewhere, he said. Still, LIFT-UP is now giving away about 700 to 800 bags of food a month.

The welfare-to-work program is contributing to demand as well, he said. People are being forced off welfare and into jobs that don’t pay enough for them to support their families, in what Carcaterra calls a “shortsighted answer” to a problem that he concedes has no obvious solution.

Fortunately, said Carcaterra, donations to LIFT-UP have increased in tandem with the growing need.

“LIFT-UP has developed such a positive reputation in the community with our donors. We basically put the word out that we need help meeting the needs of people and the donations have come in,” he said. “We’re not turning people away, saying we don’t have any food to give you.”

LIFT-UP has long been seen as a place where donations aren’t wasted, but go to those in need.

“I guess if there’s anything I’m proud of that I did, it’s that I didn’t do anything to mess that up while I was director,” Carcaterra said of LIFT-UP’s reputation.

In the last few years, LIFT-UP also has opened thrift stores in Rifle and Parachute, after the success of the opening of the Defiance Thrift Store in Glenwood Springs, which benefits LIFT-UP and the Family Visitor Program.

LIFT-UP doesn’t currently envision any major new undertakings, given the current strain on its resources.

“Most of our discussion lately is about trying to keep up with what we’re doing now,” said Carcaterra.

LIFT-UP is looking hard at setting priorities and confronting a challenging future, made all the more difficult by the loss of Carcaterra. But he and Whitley note that LIFT-UP went through this once before.

The previous director, Jacki Allen, had been in the job for 15 years.

“For many people, LIFT-UP was known by Jacki Allen,” said Carcaterra.

She did “an incredible” job, growing the operation from one small office in Rifle, to five from Parachute to Carbondale, and her departure left people concerned, he said.

“We faced the same (thing), `What’s going to happen, how are we going to handle this transition?’. What came out of that was Steve. Never in our wildest dreams did we expect to find someone as capable,” Whitley said.

To Carcaterra, LIFT-UP’s ability to endure leadership transitions shows that “this organization is much more than the people employed by it.” It is, at its core, volunteers serving others.

Carcaterra, who will continue to live in Glenwood Springs, hopes to continue helping LIFT-UP himself, as much as time allows. He envisions helping out with food drives and advising on the bike events.

“For the rest of my life I’ll continue to do what I can to help people who are disadvantaged and in need,” he said. “That’s a big part of my personality and my faith.”

Time allowing, Carcaterra also hopes to continue coaching field events with the Glenwood Springs High School track teams.

“I think it’s real important to stay involved in young people’s lives,” he said.

Carcaterra said his LIFT-UP experience has made him appreciate what he has, after serving so many people whose lives had fallen apart for whatever reasons. It’s also showed him “the best of human nature,” as exemplified by the many who have given time and money to the needy.

These people, he said, have learned the biblical lesson that happiness comes from living for others rather than yourself.

Then Carcaterra smiles the smile of a happy man.

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