United Way of Garfield County’s executive director started job during fall fundraising campaign | PostIndependent.com

United Way of Garfield County’s executive director started job during fall fundraising campaign

Phillip Yates
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Micaela Folsom

RIFLE, Colorado ” Micaela Folsom started her new job during her employer’s most hectic, important time of the year. And there were no training wheels to help her along.

The new executive director of the United Way of Garfield County had to sink or swim during the organization’s annual fall fundraising campaign, an effort that raises the bulk of the money the chapter later distributes to local nonprofits.

She swam through the experience.

“It is like any job,” Folsom said. “You start to learn the ropes, but sometimes it is easier when you just get thrown into things.”

Folsom, who was born in Aspen and raised in Emma, said she is going to use the insights she gained from last year’s effort to help with future fundraising drives for the United Way of Garfield County.

In the last campaign, her chapter didn’t set a goal. This year, it has a big one: $250,000.

“I am pretty confident that we can reach that,” said Folsom, who became the executive director in September after working as a unit manager with the Salvation Army in Glenwood Springs.

The money the local United Way group raises goes to about 20 nonprofit groups like LIFT-UP, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, Mountain Valley Developmental Services and Literacy Outreach.

But because of a growing population in the county ” much of it spurred by a rapidly growing energy industry ” many of those nonprofits are facing significant challenges, Folsom said.

One trend many local agencies are seeing is that more and more working professionals are seeking assistance.

“It is not just low-income residents,” Folsom said.

Folsom said many professionals who live paycheck to paycheck have run into difficulties paying their rent because of an emergency situation like a broken ankle or a sudden sickness and have sought help to keep a roof over their heads.

And for some agencies like Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army, which both offer rent assistance for people caught in an emergency, there are always “way more requests than they can fulfill,” Folsom said.

“The numbers are going up as far as what people are paying for rent, and so the amount that these agencies are able to offer is helping less and less every year,” Folsom said. “In other words, it used to be that people would pay, say, $700 a month for rent, and the Salvation Army maybe could help with $300. Well now (residents) are paying $1,600 a month for rent, and the (agency) is still only able to offer $300.”

Another issue that agencies are facing is an increase in the numbers of domestic violence and child abuse cases across the county. Those two problems are at levels many local agency officials have not seen before, Folsom said.

All those problems come at a time when local nonprofits are also having difficulty retaining and hiring qualified staff.

“Many of the nonprofits are paying average wages nationwide, but it might not be meeting what the cost of living is here in the area,” Folsom said. “So hiring case workers and management and general staff is really, really tough.”

Folsom said the United Way has “two big functions.” One is to raise money to give to area nonprofits. The other focus is on education, Folsom said.

“What we are trying to do is educate the public about what issues our agencies are facing and what are the problems in the community so (residents) can make more informed decisions on donating,” Folsom said. “I think that everybody looks at this area, and they think it is just such a beautiful, pristine place, and it is. But there are pretty significant stress factors that are affecting our community.”

One challenge that Folsom has faced as the executive director of the United Way of Garfield County is that the organization is “trying to be a community leader, and there is no rule book for that.” So Folsom, who is the United Way local chapter’s only employee, said it is her focus to learn how to communicate with the public and how to get volunteers on board with the group’s effort.

Tom Ziemann, director of Catholic Charities in Glenwood Springs, thinks she will do just fine. He said Folsom is “great, and I can’t say enough good things about her.”

“She did an excellent job with the Salvation Army, and she is going to be a great asset for the United Way,” Ziemann said.

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