Nonprofit Spotlight: Local United Way fills partnership role
Post Independent Correspondent
In a community bursting with hundreds of nonprofits comprising a multimillion dollar, valleywide industry of sorts, it can sometimes be tough for lesser-known groups to stand out.
However, many who are involved with these smaller 501(c)3 organizations assert that this does not indicate that they are any less effective or passionate about their work. Case in point: the busy local United Way of Battlement to the Bells chapter, a veritable one-woman show headed up by Executive Director Amy Barr and her supporting crew of seven volunteer board members.
“According to the IRS, there are something like 600 registered nonprofits and foundations in our area, so it can be difficult to rise above that,” Barr noted. “Make no mistake — to have that many organizations here means that we live in an incredibly remarkable place, but the smaller groups might just have to work a little harder to spread their message. With the United Way specifically, reaching the larger community means helping locals understand exactly what we do, because every single United Way chapter is unique.”
The history of the United Way stretches back nearly 130 years. It began in 1887 as a grassroots initiative here in Colorado, in the very young city of Denver. Together with five local religious leaders, a woman named Frances Wisebart Jacobs founded the Charity Organization Society of Denver, which helped coordinate services and fundraising for other local agencies and aid programs.
After multiple name changes and several decades of growth and expansion, the society spawned something much larger: United Way Worldwide, a movement that now encompasses a network of some 1,800 community-based chapters around the globe.
Glenwood’s United Way of Battlement to the Bells, originally known as United Way of Garfield County, was started by Alpine Bank founder Bob Young and a group of other business leaders in response to the widespread distress after 1982’s Black Sunday.
Longtime residents will recall that on Sunday, May 2, 1982, Exxon executives abruptly pulled the company’s oil shale operation out of the region, pulling the plug on promises of a massive boom — leaving thousands without work overnight. As desperation spread across the community, Young and his team felt the need to take action.
In the nearly 35 years since its founding, the local chapter has served as a crossroads between the public, private, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors — helping coordinate resources for other groups, awarding money through an intensive grant process and monitoring the work of the valley’s abundance of nonprofits, large and small.
“Other United Way chapters around the country might fulfill different roles in their communities, but here in the valley we have so many other highly effective nonprofits that our goal is to ensure we do not duplicate services,” Barr noted. “Our job is to partner with local organizations to essentially help them be the best they can be.”
United Way of Battlement to the Bells is one of 14 chapters statewide. The group adopted its new name in 2015 in order to better reflect its service area.
“We no longer felt United Way of Garfield County represented us, because we now serve an area covering not only Garfield but portions of Pitkin, Eagle and even Gunnison counties,” Barr said. “That’s Battlement Mesa through Glenwood Springs, up the Crystal River valley to Marble, and all along Highway 82 from Carbondale to Aspen. We also work very closely with other regional chapters such as United Way Eagle River Valley.”
Barr wears many hats, and draws upon her multifaceted professional experiences to keep the local chapter running. Operating out of a small office inside Defiance Church, the Nebraska native comes to the job with a background in nonprofit management, journalism, marketing and public relations.
Prior to assuming her current role, Barr led her own firm called Marr Barr Communications, and worked for Boulder-based Horizon Organic Dairy as vice president of corporate communications and investor relations. She also spent much of the 1980s and early ‘90s living in New York City, where she served as director of the Good Housekeeping Institute.
“Also, when I worked at Good Housekeeping, my team got involved with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and we founded the New York Race for the Cure,” recalled Barr, who is a breast cancer survivor. “So I’ve been involved with nonprofit work in some form or fashion for many years.”
Looking ahead, Barr hopes to continue and expand many ongoing United Way projects but also foster a greater spirit of volunteerism within the community. She hosts a monthly program on Carbondale’s KDNK community radio station called “Get Connected,” when she highlights the work of other nonprofits and their available volunteer opportunities.
Barr also is working to bring the Americorps VISTA program to the valley — hopefully by May.
“VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America,” she said. “It’s a federal program that functions kind of like the Peace Corps, except in the U.S. If we’re accepted, I would oversee 10 VISTA volunteers who would commit to a year-long term of service here in the valley by working with our nonprofits. Some of our local organizations don’t even have the budget for a person to answer the phone, so VISTA volunteers could help solve those types of issues for them.”
As the season of charitable holiday giving and fundraising draws near, United Way of Battlement to the Bells is planning to hold its annual fundraiser, Skier Appreciation Day, at Sunlight Mountain Resort. The 2017 event is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 6, and features $20 lift tickets, a costume contest and prize drawings.
Ever passionate about the impact of local organizations and local giving, Barr’s motto is simple: “Money raised here stays here,” she said. “We estimate that local donations have a seven-fold impact within the area — which helps us work toward our mission of changing our community for good.”
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