Sunday profile: Local nonprofit icon Debbie Wilde is pretty wild about helping her community
For decades, Glenwood Springs community activist Debbie Wilde has been wild about bringing all walks of life together for a common good.
Along the way she has helped build YouthZone and its programs for troubled youth in the community from the ground up, and helped the poverty assistance organization Lift-Up find its footing after the death of a previous director.
Just talking about area nonprofit human service organizations in general without Wilde’s name surfacing proves challenging.
Wilde, whose father was a coal miner, wasted no time getting her own hands dirty working as a maid at the Hotel Colorado — one of her first jobs out of school.
“What did you do at college?” Wilde recalled being asked by another maid as they cleaned a bathroom together one day.
After replying that she had studied sociology at Colorado State University, the inquisitive maid inquired further, “What does a sociologist do?”
“Well, apparently, we scrub bathtubs,” Wilde responded. “We do whatever it takes in the community.”
Knowing that she wanted to help children, when Wilde heard that Garfield Youth Services (now known as YouthZone) was in need of volunteers, the Hotel Colorado maid readily applied.
It was not long either before Wilde was able to trade in scrubbing bathtubs for directing a student assistance program.
Wilde recalled the words of the senior board member who interviewed her for the job.
“She said, ‘You were the least qualified but you had the best personality. And, when I found out your dad was a coal miner I thought, ‘now this girl knows how to work hard.’”
Later on, the Garfield Youth Services director paid Wilde a visit before her first day on the job.
“She had her arm full of books and pamphlets and dropped them on my floor and said, ‘Well, this should get you started.’ And, that was my training.” Wilde explained.
While working at Garfield Youth Services and later YouthZone as its longtime executive director, Wilde helped countless children and their families navigate difficult roads.
However, Wilde does not revel in one child’s success story. Instead, she speaks proudly of YouthZone’s overall impact on the community at large.
“Many people focus on this little one or that little one, but I want to say that the value is that there are thousands that have been helped,” Wilde said. “That is what makes me feel good about my time.”
Eventually, Wilde helped transform Garfield Youth Services into YouthZone — a family nonprofit that today helps over 1,000 children and teens annually.
Following her 30 years of work there, she went on to launch a project that used YouthZone as a model for other similar youth services organizations around the country, and to write a book about how to build a sustainable nonprofit organization.
Today, she also leads an effort called “Valley Life for All,” raising awareness about people with disabilities and their contributions to the communities of Garfield County and the Roaring Fork Valley.
Always one to promote bringing community members together, Wilde also recently became president-elect for the Glenwood Noon Rotary Club. She will serve as president for the 2020-21 year.
Additionally, Wilde has recently partnered with the city on matters relating to its homeless population. Her first order of business included meeting with and listening to first responders about their thoughts on, and experiences with the homeless population.
“I started with the police chief and then I went over to the fire department and asked, ‘what are your frustrations and what are your observations?” Wilde explained of what she refers to as the data collection phase. “Part of it is putting a better language around all of this and getting a better understanding because it is not one thing.”
Not one to downplay residents’ concerns such as fire danger from campsites on surrounding hillsides, Wilde looked forward to a community-wide conversation.
Wilde made clear that providing bus tickets or pointing fingers would not solve any issues surrounding homelessness. Instead, Wilde spoke of a community-wide effort, which she believed could bring some solutions to the problems.
“It is really quite challenging and exciting that we can, as a community, look at this,” Wilde said. “Sometimes it has to get bad enough that we are willing to do that.
“Pain is not bad. When we have pain, that is when we are willing to start talking about change.”
Debbie Wilde can be reached at DWilde81601@gmail.com
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