YouthZone column: Understanding the value of a living wage

Jami Hayes

YouthZone is a family-first nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering positive youth development for teens and their families. We have been supporting 6- to 18-year-olds in the Western Slope of Colorado for 46 years, specializing in intervention, prevention and volunteerism. Through the dedicated support of our staff, sponsors, volunteers, donors and Board Members, YouthZone helps strengthen communities from Aspen to Parachute.

Our leadership, alongside our Board of Directors, continue to work diligently in efforts to fundraise, invest wisely and grow our endowment. As a financiall-healthy nonprofit, we operate within our approved budget and prioritize additional unanticipated funding towards long-term sustainability through investment and endowment growth.

We also prioritize investing in our current staff by increasing salaries and benefits to a livable wage and maintaining a competitive workplace in the valley. It takes both the professional skills of our internal team, as well as the generous external financial and volunteering contributions of our community to power YouthZone in our capability to unite and serve over 1,000 youth annually.

A continued challenge is providing an ever-increasing adequate income and benefits for our team members, which, in turn, attracts highly-qualified professionals with competitive wages. YouthZone, like many other nonprofits, assiduously explores all opportunities to increase funding and utilize resources so that our professional staff can continue to flourish in our organization, support our community’s youth and families as well as receive a livable wage for their critical work.

Therefore, our board voted to approve a significant raise across the organization in April 2022. This would increase current salaries toward livable wages in the Roaring Fork Valley and begin to attract new highly qualified staff at a competitive wage.

Two of our board members, David Portman and Paula Busk Cross, would like to express their thoughtful consideration on this wage increase, share how YouthZone truly makes a difference and encourage you to become more active in your community, so that we can building a healthier tomorrow for everyone.

“A living wage relieves the stress of looking for a second-income source or finding other ways to support one’s family financially. It gives our staff time to contribute to their community in ways beyond their career at YouthZone. This keeps our staff both living and serving in our community for a longer term,” Cross explains. She continues to clarify that, “Competitive wages and benefits attract and retain highly-skilled professionals to job openings because these things are highly desirable as the cost-of-living increases.

“With a national staffing shortage and the influx of available positions, workers have negotiation power to increase compensation packages. The organizations that cannot keep up with this change will lose their skilled staff and not attract new ones. Those that can keep up will find their teams more productive, engaged and happier, overall. This is the goal of YouthZone’s staffing. We know that, when our team feels financially stable, they are making the largest positive impacts on our community.”

Portman expresses why he voted to increase the wages: “YouthZone is a service-based organization, with our people being our most valuable resource. The impact of the work our team does daily is monumental. In some instances, their commitment to precious humans is the difference between life and death.

“Hiring and retaining the right individuals is essential to carrying out our mission and positively impacting our community. It’s helpful knowing that YouthZone has a loyal and supportive donor base after 46 years that continues to support our mission. Voting in favor of the wage increase felt like the right thing to do.”

Portman continues to explain how this helps our community youth and families: “Mental-health challenges amongst youth in our community are not going away. In fact, YouthZone’s services are in higher demand than ever before. Jami and her team do an excellent job managing an efficient budget and ensuring that we maximize the percentage of every dollar to positively impact our clients. Donor dollars largely fund the talented team that interact with clients daily. Our goal is to never turn anyone away and connect with youth earlier. To do this, we envision increased staffing needs over time.”

At YouthZone, we built a nonprofit that supports parenting figures, families and adolescences. We offer parent counseling and education services, family resources and comprehensive assessment and advocacy to inspire healthy relationships between youth, families and communities. To learn more about how YouthZone can help, please call us at 970-945-9300. Support your community through volunteerism or financial contribution at

Jami Hayes is the Executive Director for YouthZone and has been working with youth and families throughout her career. Jami has spent the last 14 years working with the Roaring Fork School District, leading and working to improve the education experience for local families.

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