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Year In Review 2021


Changemaker students explore the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Changemaker students explore the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

As Cottonwood Institute (CI) wraps up its 17th year of operation, I wanted to take a moment to reflect about the challenges and successes of this past year. We are now highly skilled at being flexible, designing creative back up to the back up plans, and are ready to tackle any challenges and opportunities that come our way. Here are a few highlights from 2021:


Roasting marshmallows during a snow storm

Roasting marshmallows during a snow storm

Operating a nonprofit during a global pandemic that has been raging for almost 20 months now has certainly presented challenges at every turn.

  • Our program partners had to cancel programs, we had to pivot our programs online and in a hybrid online/in person formats, which was incredibly difficult for our instructors.
  • We experienced staff turnover and had trouble finding instructors to lead our summer programs.
  • We all struggled with stress and anxiety and had to find ways to disconnect, decompress, and reconnect with nature, our friends and families, and the things we love.

While it is easy to complain and get sucked into the negativity of the challenges we are all facing personally and professionally, for those of you who know me well, I am a raging optimist and prefer to walk on the sunny side of life.


Students from STRIVE Prep - Federal Explore White Ranch

Students from STRIVE Prep – Federal Explore White Ranch

Despite these challenges, the CI team, including Board Members, Staff, and Instructors pulled together and we found new ways to thrive!

  • During the 2020 – 2021 programming year we served over 451 participants growing 10% from the previous year.
  • CI donors, sponsors, and funders showed up in force and we grew our overall revenue 20% from the previous year to help support our students and programs. We actually raise more than we have ever raised during our 17 year history.
  • We piloted new programs, including our new Changemaker Program, which was a huge hit, and we will be working with a new cohort of amazing high school students again this school year.
  • We welcomed 4 new staff members, including: Dru Falco, CI’s Logistics Coordinator, Teagan Papke, CI’s Program Relationship Manager, Carly Winner, CI’s Full-Time CAP Instructor, and Alison Kraner, CAP Instructor.
  • We recruited 3 new board members, including: D’Andre Curtis, Coordinator of Culture and Climate at William Smith High School, Amy Rosenblum, Senior Managing Director, Development Partner at Teach For America, and Sarah Whitson, Principal at Whitson Strategies.
  • We deepened our partnership with We Ride 4, who showed up big for our 2021 Move-A-Thon event raising over $27,000 for CI.

CI values what students say about its programs more than program metrics. For example, Anayansi Martinez, a CI CAP student at Centaurus High School in Lafayette, CO, CI’s 2020 Ripple Effect Award winner, and current 2021 Changemaker student had this to share:

“I had a great experience in CAP class because I had never gone camping before. I learned to coexist better with nature and how to take care of it. CI taught us to protect animal habitats, how to keep a safe distance, and how to do first aid, and that was something great I believe everyone ought to know. This is an experience I’m never going to forget, because I learned a lot of things that I will always carry with me. I hope that every student who takes this class will enjoy it as much as I did, because this is a great class that has great opportunities to see nature in a different way.”


Longs Peak Mike Wilson

Longs Peak by Mike Wilson

One of the coolest new opportunities, which you will hear more about in the next few months, is that CI is lucky and honored to be the beneficiary of a beautiful collection of 53 watercolors of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks from local artist Mike Wilson. CI will have an opportunity to sell the entire collection as well as digital reprints for your home, apartment, or office, to help provide long-term sustainable revenue for our programs into the future. Click here to buy high quality, framed 14er reprints and help get more kids outdoors in 2022!

So whatever comes our way in 2022, let’s be positive, optimistic, and handle the challenges with patience, grace, and humility. 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.

Keep livin’ the dream y’all,

Ford Church, Founder and Executive Director

Cottonwood Institute

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