| Teagan Papke

Building Community Through Engagement

How cultivating connections has strengthened our collective impact. Written by Director of Strategic Partnerships, Teagan Papke.

Cottonwood Institute Founder and ED participates in an ELK community eventAt Cottonwood Institute, our passion goes beyond our core mission. We’re dedicated to weaving a tapestry of strong, authentic relationships within our community. This means proactively seeking volunteer opportunities, attending community events, supporting current collaborations and initiating new ones, engaging community leaders in shaping our curriculum, and soliciting input on program needs. Our goal is to cultivate responsive, mutually beneficial partnerships that allow us to work together toward the shared goals of expanding outdoor access and education.

The Casa de la Esperanza community gathers for a Halloween celebrationThis past year and a half has been a vibrant journey in this realm of connection and collaboration. We’ve been actively involved in over 20 community events, ranging from joyous neighborhood celebrations to insightful outdoor industry conferences. We volunteered at various partner events, including a Halloween party hosted by Casa de la Esperanza. There, we had the chance to interact meaningfully with students and families. Carving jack-o-lanterns and sharing conversations not only brought us closer to the community but also provided us with valuable insights into their needs and aspirations. Stay tuned for more information about an exciting new endeavor we’ll be embarking on together this summer!

Community members from Cottonwood Institute and ELK connect with one anotherWe also shared several standout experiences with our long-term collaborator, Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), such as a Latino Conservation Week event and their First Friday events. Our interactions at these gatherings opened doors to various community organizations and led to discussions about more volunteer projects and program collaborations. This led to the discovery of new potential partners who share our commitment to outdoor access and education.

Finally, we had valuable opportunities to attend conferences and workshops that allowed us to involve community leaders in shaping our curriculum. These events also provided professional development for our teams to continually acquire new skills and knowledge. A particularly memorable training we attended focused on Native American culture and awareness at the Longmont Museum, which enhanced our instructors’ cultural competency. We also hosted engaging workshops of our own, including a gear repair clinic with Patagonia Boulder. At this clinic, we shared valuable skills and laid plans for future endeavors.

Cottonwood Institute and Patagonia collaborate to host a gear repair workshopLooking ahead, we plan to continue our community engagement efforts and work to integrate community leaders’ guidance into developing initiatives. We have designed surveys and started utilizing feedback data to refine programming based on partner and community input. Moving forward, we intend to maintain involvement in cooperative partnerships aligned with our mission while constructing new coalitions to widen our reach.

The highlights from this year have underscored the immense value of community engagement. These experiences have reaffirmed a crucial truth: strong communities uplift everyone involved. The connections we’ve forged have not only enhanced our current programs but also promise to increase access and engagement for youth in outdoor activities in the years ahead. We are excited to nurture these relationships and explore new collaborations, continuing our journey of community engagement and enrichment.

Categories: Community & Education Resources, JEDI, Updates

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