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Cottonwood Institute State of the Union 2020

Scenic TreesWith the US presidential election less than a week away — don’t worry, this is NOT a political post — I wanted to take an opportunity to share Cottonwood Institute‘s (CI) State of the Union in 2020.

We are now 8 months into the COVID-19 pandemic and like many, CI’s world has turned upside down. Everything we have done the past 16 years from programming to fundraising to operations has changed.

Initially, we dove deep into crisis planning mode. We shored up our finances, cut back on non-essential expenses, and used our quarantine time as an opportunity to create our COVID-19 risk management protocol, revamp our curriculum, create our new Explore Outside Handbook, and send out 150+ Thrival Kits to help students to #ExploreOutside from home.

We also used our quarantine time to reconnect with the communities we serve, listen to how their needs have changed since the pandemic hit, and to cultivate deeper relationships. We confirmed that many students are feeling isolated, alone, are spending a majority of time inside and online, and are craving community and purpose in an ever-changing world. This reaffirmed the importance and need for our CI programs now more than ever because our programs provide students with a fun, supportive, meaningful, and engaging space to connect with each other, build community, explore outside, and make a difference in their community.

Re:Vision No Cost Grocery ProgramOne example of how we have cultivated deeper partnerships has been with Re:Vision in the Westwood community in Denver, CO, which we have been partnering with since around 2013. COVID-19 hit this community hard in terms of the community contracting the virus and economically as many lost their jobs. In partnership with Re:Vision, Lifespan Local, CI staff & instructors, Salesforce, and We Ride 4, CI has coordinated 4 Volunteer Projects in 2020 and helped pack and deliver over 1,800 free grocery boxes through Re:Vision’s No Cost Grocery Program. The need is still high and they need volunteers each week, so please contact Re:Vision directly to sign up.

During the Summer of 2020, we piloted our first ever Explore Outside Program, improved it with Casa de la Esperanza, reconnected with our Alumni, and piloted an Online Leadership and Team Building Program with Breakthrough at Kent Denver.

Our Fall 2020 CAP Programs returned virtually at New Vista High School, Angevine Middle School, and Centaurus High School and briefly in-person at AXL Academy in Aurora. Students were able to create some impressive and impactful Real Action Projects in a Virtual World.

Lafayette Youth Stewardship InternshipWe are also using this pandemic as an opportunity to strengthen community partnerships to develop new programs like the Youth Stewardship Internship in partnership with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers and Entrepreneurial Earth in Lafayette, CO. This project isĀ  funded by Thorne Nature Experience and Great Outdoors Colorado and provides a year-long, paid internship, for Lafayette, CO high school students.

We continued innovating new programs, including our Changemaker Program for CAP Alumni in Boulder to go deeper, build their outdoor skills, and strengthen the skills they need to be better leaders, problem-solvers, and changemakers in their community. This program would not be possible without some seed funding from an anonymous donor through Rose Community Foundation, Thorne Nature Experience, and Great Outdoors Colorado.

The racial and civil unrest over the years and during the pandemic helped CI dig deeper to look at how we are perpetuating systemic racism, explore how we can improve, and how we can be more inclusive. We released our Statement for Black Lives in early June and completed a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Training with CI Board, Staff, and Instructors in September with Parker McMullen Bushman from Ecoinclusive Strategies. We are updating our CI JEDI Plan, have re-established our JEDI Committee, and are meeting next month to continue this important work.

CI Black Lives Matter StatementFinancially, CI is stable for the short-term, but like many nonprofits, we are uncertain about our long-term financial sustainability depending on how long the pandemic draws out. Luckily, CI is small, lean, and mean and we can adapt quickly. We moved our annual in-person Base Camp Bash event online and designed and implemented an entirely new CI Move-A-Thon event in August in partnership with We Ride 4, which were both wildly fun and successful.

With uncertainty about what 2021 will look like, this is a great time to show your love and financial support for CI. Our goal is to raise $75,000 by December 31, 2020 to help set us up for success in 2021 and here are 3 ways you can make a difference right now:

  1. Donate to Cottonwood Institute for Colorado Gives Day between November 1 and December 8, 2020. This will help unlock a $20,000 match from 3 generous families and help CI receive a share of a $1M incentive fund for Colorado Gives Day!
  2. Join CI’s Seedling Monthly Giving Program by setting up a recurring donation monthly to help invest in CI’s long-term sustainability.
  3. Join CI’s new Giving Tree Circle by making an impact gift of $10,000, $5,000, $2,500, or $1,000+, which gives you VIP access to our events, special communication from our Executive Director, and more!

Despite the uncertain times, we are incredibly grateful for our students, families, staff, instructors, volunteers, board members, advisory board members, donors, sponsors, supporters, program partners, and everyone else who has helped us thrive over the years.

Keep in touch, be safe, and please reach out to me personally at 303.447.1076 x700 or via email at ford@cottonwoodinstitute.org if you need anything or just want to chat.

Categories: JEDI, Updates

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