Colorado’s nonprofits: “You inspire us all to make America kind again”

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams is flanked by two award winners, Bruce Deboskey and Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, at the Colorado Nonprofit Association lunch today. (SOS )

By Lynn Bartels
and Julia Sunny

One of the most touching events every year is the Colorado Nonprofit Association lunch and awards ceremony, where it becomes evident the kind of impact nonprofit groups make in our state.

“They truly help us remember what is important in the community,” Treasurer Walker Stapleton said.

He handed out one of the awards recognizing nonprofit work. Several recipients, including Nancy Sundeen, the director of the Pitkin County Health and Human Services, choked up when accepting their honors. Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams presented Sundeen with the Public Service Lifetime Achievement Award.

Renny Fagan, the president and CEO of the Colorado Nonprofit Association, before the start of today’s award ceremony. (SOS photo)

Today’s lunch kicked off Colorado NonProfit Week. The agenda includes a day at the legislature, trips to the Western Slope and “Pay it Forward Friday.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former brewpub owner, said when he ran for Denver mayor in 2003 he didn’t have any “traditional constituencies” but he had served on 42 nonprofit boards and committees in the previous 12 years. Members often met in a room at the brewery, he said.

“I think that constituency is amazingly powerful and I think all of you need to recognize that with social media you do have a voice,” the governor said. “We are in tumultuous times but you inspire us all to make America kind again.”

Hickenlooper also said nonprofit revenues are five times greater than the ski industry.

Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Gov. John Hickenlooper at the Colorado Nonprofit Association awards ceremony today. (SOS )

“I think it’s absolutely vital that we do everything we can to make those numbers larger,” he said. “I think progress is based on what I always think of as a three-legged stool, kind of the holy golden trinity, which is nonprofits, business and government.”

Williams, whose office oversees charities and nonprofits, said there are 48,232 nonprofits in this state, and last year more than $4.3 billion was donated through charitable solicitations. All that information is online, he noted.

Williams then turned his attention to the award he was handing out.

“The toughest thing you have to do in government is make the decision as to what to do when there is an allegation of abuse in a home. Do you take that child out of that home, in which case you risk disrupting the family and destroying it? Do you leave that child in the home and risk severe consequences and even death?

Nancy Sundeen, the director of the Pitkin County Health and Human Services for the past 25 years, receives a lifetime achievement award from Secretary of State Wayne Williams. (SOS photo)

“The fact that someone could do this in her daily life and have the time to do all the wonderful things that Nan Sundeen has done is what makes her our next award winner,” Williams said.

Like many of the recipients, Sundeen gave credit to the people she worked with and her family. She has been the Pitkin director for the past 25, and served on former Gov. Bill Ritter’s Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Also receiving awards today:

Excellence in Media awards: Bruce DeBoskey of The DeBoskey Group writes a column on philanthropy that appears in The Denver Post  and other publications. The Valley Courier and its publisher, Keith Cerny, are credited with getting “the word out” on what nonprofits  need. There are more than 400 nonprofits in a six-county area in the San Luis Valley.

Legislator of the Year awards: Reps. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Juntion, and Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada.

Willet said when he was a lawyer and young professional, he served on boards or worked pro bono to help set them up.

“But I really didn’t know the importance or power of nonprofits until I got to the Capitol,” he said. “Should government do more or people in communities? People in communities really get things done.”

Edie Busam, the lobbyist for the Colorado nonprofit association, Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, one of two lawmakers honored Monday. (SOS photo)

Kraft-Tharp has spent three decades working in the nonprofit sector, as a social worker, nonprofit manager, consultant, lobbyist and board member.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in,” she said, quoting a Greek proverb. “Nonprofits sow the seeds for strong communities in the future and support us today.”

William Funk Award for Building Stronger Communities awards: Mary Beth Swanson, the executive director of the Voices Carry Child Advocacy Center, and Robin Wise,  president and CEO of Junior Achievement-Rocky Mountain.

Steve Graham Award for Building Nonprofit Capacity: Sheila Bugdanowitz, the president and CEO of Rose Community Foundation, who unexpectedly died Dec. 4. Hickenlooper proclaimed Feb. 20 as “Sheila Bugdanowitz Day.”

Julia Sunny is the social media coordinator for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.