Emotional secretary of state knows nonprofits make a difference

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, center, with Michelle Majeune, who works with people with developmental disabilities, and Linda Childears, the Daniels Fund president and CEO, at the Colorado Nonprofit Association lunch today. (SOS photo)

The Colorado Nonprofit Association’s annual award lunch has produced its fair share of tears over the years as the community thanks those who make a difference in so many ways, and this year’s catalyst for catharsis was Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

Usually, it’s the award recipient who is weepy.

In this case it was Williams, set to hand out an award to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who became so emotional when  praising nonprofit groups that he had to pause for several seconds before he could continue.

“For those who don’t know my two daughters, we learned as they grew that they had significant speech deficiencies,” Williams told a ballroom full of people at the Hilton Denver City Center. “So we worked with The Resource Exchange, one of our great nonprofits in the Colorado Springs area, to provide services for them.”

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams became emotional today when talking about the impact of a nonprofit on his family. (SOS photo)

Williams paused, and when he could resume speaking, his voice was thick with emotion.

“In 2013 I had the opportunity to hear the youngest of those daughters give the salutorian address at Rampart High School,” he said, to applause.

“Folks,” Williams said, struggling to continue, “the work that you do makes a real difference in the lives of everyone.”

After the lunch, Williams talked with the Gerry Rasel, director of membership services for the Colorado Nonprofit Association, who told him she cried during his speech.

The Colorado Nonprofit Association exists to strengthen nonprofits. Today was its 23rd annual awards lunch, capping a week of highlighting nonprofit agencies.

Renny Fagan, president and CEO of the Colorado Nonprofit Association, talks at a reception before today’s awards lunch. (SOS photo)

“Colorado Nonprofit Week is one of our favorite times of the year because it brings all of us together and truly shines a light on the important contributions that happen everyday in communities,” said Renny Fagan, president and CEO of the Colorado Nonprofit Association.

Speakers included Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. “A big part of my role is making sure government is a partner with you,” Lynne said.

Here are this year’s award winners:

Christine Marquez-Hudson, president and CEO of the Denver Foundation, and Cile Chavez with the Boettcher Foundation at the Colorado Nonprofit Association lunch. (SOS photo)

Inclusiveness and Racial Equality Award to RISE Colorado, an Aurora-based nonprofit committed to supporting families of color, low-income families and refugee and immigrant families. The award was presented by Christine Marquez-Hudson, president and CEO of The Denver Foundation.

Bill Daniels Ethical Leadership Award to Community Shares of Colorado, which connects residents to the charities and causes they care about most. Community Shares has raised millions for Colorado nonprofits through their workplace giving programs. Linda Childears, president and CEO of the Daniels Fund, presented the award.

Legislator of the Year Award to Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs:  The nonprofit association lauded Lee for his “exceptional level of support for Colorado’s nonprofits — particularly those working in criminal and juvenile justice reform.” The award is given for demonstrating an “extraordinary level of commitment” to the association’s goals during the 2017 session.

The lieutenant governor joked the award was going to be renamed to the “Most Persistent Legislator Ever Award.”

State Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams at the nonprofit lunch where Lee was named Legislator of the Year. (Photo provided by Julianna Smolka)

“When I see Pete he generally doesn’t start with hello. He’s already got an issue in his head and he is going to get that to you,” Lynne said.

“It has been my honor because of Pete’s passion — in particular about our young people who are in some of our facilities in the state —  that they get out as soon as they can, that we give them an environment that allows them not to be punished, not be incarcerated, but to give some of the love, skills and education that they perhaps didn’t get along the way.”

Katie Kramer, president and CEO of the Boetcher Foundation, presented the following  awards:

Emerging Leader Award to Sean Meyerhoff  with the Brent Eley Foundation. He began his nonprofit career as the community relationship manager at the American Cancer Society in Denver in 20014, and over the years has provided “counsel, connections and support” for those interested in nonprofit careers.

William Fund Award for Building Stronger Communities to Laurie Harvey and Kaye Hotenspiller.

Througout Harvey’s 40-year career pioneering social justice for women, she has worked on helping low-income families to become self-supporting. She has been at the helm of the Center for Work Education and Employment, Denver’s leading anti-poverty program, since 1988. Harvey, who will retire at the end of the month, was emotional when she accepted the award.

Hotenspiller has been designing and implementing Hilltop Community Resources’ youth, family and adult programs since 1994.  Her focus has been to ensure the Western Slope has a voice in conversations and decisions.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, right, prepares to present an award to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on behalf of the Treasury Division for its innovation with nonprofits. (SOS photo)

The Nonprofit Impact Award went to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on behalf of Denver’s treasury division, and was presented by Secretary Williams.  The treasury division’s decision to define charity as any 501(c)(3) organization for the purpose of exemption from sales, use, lodger’s and employer’s occupational privilege tax allowed more nonprofits to use their resources to help the community.

“The government actually gave up revenue, which is not usual,” Williams said, to laughter.

Hancock said that fewer than half of Denver’s nonprofits qualified for the exemption under the city’s previous standard, and he individually thanked those at the city behind the idea for the designation change.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams with folks from the Food Bank of the Rockies, left to right, Stephanie Manley, Cathy Sears, Kim Ruotsala  and Phoebe Chidley. Williams has an affinity for the organization after collecting goods for it as part of friendly sports wagers with elected officials in other states during championship games. (SOS photo)

“A few dedicated employees can enact a lot of positive change when given the room to innovate and improve processes,” Hancock said, also paying tribute to the Denver City Council for signing off on the idea, which is expected to save Denver’s nonprofit community between $11 to $14 million annually.

“That’s a lot of additional good that can happen because of this change to our tax code — more health care services, more advocacy, more food and clothing, and more after-school programming to help people in our community,” the mayor said.

Steve Graham Award for Building Nonprofit Capacity to Tim Schultz, who served as president and executive director of the Boettcher Foundation from 1996 until his retirement in 2017. The Grand Junction native started his career in public service as a commissioner in Rio Blanco County  for two terms before moving to Denver in 1982 to become the agriculture commissioner.

“The greatest reward in my career has come from working with the diverse group of nonprofits that helped move the state forward,” Schultz said.

He also said he was “hijacking the meeting” to lead the group in singing “Happy Birthday” to his 9-year-old grandaughter, Sophie.