Giving Back

50+ Local Charities to Remember on Colorado Gives Day

A do-gooder’s guide to honoring the work of Vail Valley nonprofits on December 10, Colorado Gives Day.

By Georgia Perry November 12, 2018 Published in the Holiday 2018/2019 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

The volunteer members of Vail Mountain Rescue Group rely on public support to fulfill their mission: responding to backcountry emergencies in Eagle County, and never charging subjects for a rescue.

Image: Ryan Dearth

The Eagle County Gives Coalition traces its origins to a 2010 coffee meeting. At that fortuitous klatch, the leaders of three area nonprofits (Eagle Valley Land Trust, SOS Outreach, and the Vail Valley Charitable Fund) formed a collective to encourage Vail Valley residents and visitors to support local charities on Colorado Gives Day, a statewide online fundraising drive that’s held on a Tuesday every December.

“We realized if we could speak with one voice, we had the potential to expand opportunities,” says Coalition president Emily Sessler. That strategy has paid off: last December, the 51 local nonprofits that pooled their resources to get the word out about the Eagle County Gives collaborative—hosting rallies, blanketing social media, fielding an army of sign-toting “honk and wave” volunteers around roundabouts and intersections from Vail Village to Gypsum—collectively raised over $1.1 million. In anticipation of Colorado Gives Day 2019, we’ve profiled five noteworthy nonprofits doing incredible work in our community, with a thumbnail list of all of the collective’s members. On December 10, we hope you’ll be inspired to pay it forward at


Canine Companions for Independence

Since 2001, teen and adult volunteers from the Vail Valley chapter of Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) have raised awareness (and nearly $3 million) for the national nonprofit, which trains Labrador and golden retrievers to perform a variety of tasks for people with disabilities, from helping load and empty a laundry machine for a disabled veteran to providing emotional support for an autistic child. “One of the biggest things these dogs do is they become a social bridge for people with disabilities,” says Anne Roberts, the Vail chapter’s founder. “There was a little boy in school who didn’t have any friends because nobody knew what to say to him. When he got his CCI dog, he said, ‘My dog makes my wheelchair disappear.’” To that end, CCI also trains facility dogs to motivate and inspire schoolkids with special needs, and provide emotional support to students. In November, Kate Drescher, the staff psychologist at Vail Mountain School, received a CCI facility dog that will serve as a canine ambassador for the school’s humane education program, and support student academic and emotional growth. “Humane education is about thinking outside oneself and demonstrating kindness not only from human to animal but human to human and human to the environment,” says Drescher, who spent two weeks at CCI’s southwest training center in California before bringing the dog to VMS. “When people donate to an organization like this, they are creating opportunities for individuals to live more fulfilled and robust lives.... I get tearful when I think about it: this dog isn’t just a gift to me, it’s a gift to our community.”


Caregiver Connections

When Vail resident Rebecca Kanaly’s 71-year-old father fell and broke his hip not long ago, she became his full-time caregiver. In addition to looking after her father, Kanaly works full time and cares for a young daughter. She quickly realized she needed help.

“Caregiving is a very tiresome job,” says Brenda Reyes, executive director of Caregiver Connections (formerly known as Eagle Valley Senior Life), an Avon-based nonprofit that offers educational and financial support to caregivers and that provides daytime activities for seniors to give their caregivers a respite. “It’s isolating. It’s draining. It’s just hard work, 24-7.”

To that end, the nonprofit pairs seniors with “activity buddies,” volunteers who take seniors on daytime outings to the grocery store, coffee shop, or library to browse the stacks or play board games. Clients enrolled in the nonprofit’s Senior Spot program spend Monday through Wednesday afternoons at the Avon Recreation Center or other venues, playing music, practicing yoga, or just being in the company of friends. Kanaly says that because of Senior Spot, “my father has a place in the community.”

For those without insurance or with limited incomes, Caregiver Connections also subsidizes up to 60 hours of in-home care per year. That’s a godsend for Kanaly, the executive director of the United Way of the Eagle Valley, who couldn’t afford to hire a full-time caregiver on her nonprofit salary, nor could her father, who “would be destitute” if he had to pay for care on his retirement income. The burden of paying for professional caregiving is prohibitive for many, explains Reyes, adding that it’s easy for caregivers to be overwhelmed by taking on the job themselves. For Kanaly, the nonprofit’s support has been crucial. “For me, if I didn’t have that,” she says, “I would not have relief.”

The Literacy Project of Eagle County

The Literacy Project of Eagle County was founded in 1990, when a group of locals wrote a grant for funding to tutor 20 adults who wanted to learn to read so they could help their children with homework. Now headquartered at the Avon Public Library, it’s a nonprofit with a $350,000 budget staffed by 150 volunteers helping 200 adult students acquire basic reading skills, and hundreds of elementary school kids struggling with reading, writing, and arithmetic.

“Because we’re an international resort, we have adult students from all over the world,” says Executive Director Colleen Gray. “Many are Spanish speakers, but we also have students from Nepal, Senegal, and Japan.... People are generally embarrassed. They might have had a bad experience in school, so it’s hard for them to seek help. Sometimes a friend or a spouse makes the call. We’re very supportive, and our tutors are fantastic; they’re very generous with their time.”

Group classes in basic adult literacy meet on Monday evenings and Friday mornings at public libraries in Avon, Eagle, and Gypsum; students as old as 72 may want to attain citizenship (reading at an 8th grade level is required), apply for a job, or take the first step toward attaining a high school equivalency degree. Collaborating with Eagle Valley Library and Eagle County Schools, each week the nonprofit delivers bags stocked with award-winning children’s books to preschoolers from low-income families, pairs students from elementary schools with “reading buddies” from local middle and high schools for hour-long sessions of one-on-one reading time, and coaches bilingual parents on how best to prepare their children for kindergarten.

The goal: setting up families for success.

“Literacy opens doors,” says Gray. “It really is a basic need.”

Mountain Valley Developmental Services

Since 2007, Glenwood Springs-based Mountain Valley Developmental Services has operated a former bank in downtown Minturn as a day program supporting 35 local families who have adult children with developmental or intellectual disabilities. Recently renovated (with materials and labor donated by P Furniture & Design, Rocky Mountain General Contractors, and Select Surfaces), the outpost is a hub of activity on Tuesdays and Fridays, when a dozen clients—with autism, cerebral palsy, or other challenges—spend the day playing board games and cards in the living room, while others chop vegetables and prepare a meal made from ingredients gathered during a group outing to City Market. On other days of the week, clients are out and about, playing hoops at the Avon Recreation Center, bouncing on the tramps at the Edwards fieldhouse, painting pottery at Dewey Dabble in Eagle, or weaving at Art on 8th Gallery in Glenwood Springs, home of Mountain Valley Weavers, a vocational program the nonprofit has run since 1996.

“We’re empowering and enabling parents to work and be a part of the community rather than have to stay home and figure out care for their child,” says Lane Gillespie, who oversees programming at Mountain Valley’s satellite office in Minturn. “It’s also good for the community to see individuals with disabilities doing what everybody else does. It broadens the population, diversifies it.“

Small Champions

During the winter, life in the Vail Valley revolves around its ski resorts. Most kids who grow up skiing and snowboarding here have unlimited opportunities to develop skills on the mountain that translate to many areas of life. For kids with cognitive, physical, and developmental challenges, however, access to these activities is limited or simply nonexistent. It is the mission of local nonprofit Small Champions to change that.

Founded in 1996 as a skiing program for children with disabilities, Small Champions has since expanded to include snowboarding, horseback riding, tennis, swimming, golf and summer camps. The Vail-based organization currently works with 60 kids each year. “We deal with every different type of challenge or disability,” explains Executive Director John Weiss. “We always focus on abilities rather than disabilities.” This might mean using adaptive equipment to help a physically disabled child harness the power of a pair of skis. Or, through “a slow and nurturing process,” helping a cognitively challenged child approach a horse despite fear and trepidation. 

For the kids, the benefits of these activities are not only physical but mental. “It makes them tougher,” says Weiss. “Also, they get to do this in a group of their peers. It gives them a sense of inclusion. They’re a tribe.” Sandy Schroeder, whose son Henry has Down syndrome and participates in the Small Champions ski program, says her son has made “amazing progress” not only as a skier, but as a kid. “He learns how to interact with people, wait his turn, persevere, and love skiing.” Just like everyone else

SpeakUp ReachOut

In 2017, Eagle County lost 11 residents to suicide. Erin Ivie, executive director of SpeakUp ReachOut, aims to reduce that number to zero. Through education, outreach, and increasing public awareness about suicide, this Eagle nonprofit (currently fundraising for a scholarship program that would provide up to 10 complimentary counseling sessions for Eagle County residents in suicidal crisis) connects those who are most at risk to resources that can help save lives.

Representatives from SpeakUp ReachOut conduct one-hour training sessions at local schools, workplaces, and health care facilities throughout Eagle County, teaching children and adults how to spot the warning signs of suicide in friends, relatives, and coworkers. “The more people know, the more likely we as a community are to identify somebody who is struggling,” she says, comparing the nonprofit’s workshops to life-saving CPR classes. The nonprofit also offers more intensive two-day trainings for health care professionals who want to learn how to more effectively interact with a suicidal patient and intervene before it’s too late.

About 10 percent of the 1,500 Eagle County residents who take SpeakUp ReachOut’s trainings each year refer a friend, colleague, or relative who is exhibiting signs of suicidal behavior for help. Ivie recalls a student at a local school who went through a training and later that day noticed a sister was posting concerning messages on social media, and told her parents. “She decided to take action instead of just blow it off,” says Ivie, who adds that the girl’s sister told her parents she was having suicidal thoughts and got the help she needed. “That to me is a life saved.”

Starting Hearts

Eagle County has more publicly accessible Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) per capita than anywhere else in the world; not coincidentally, the survival rate in the Vail Valley for anyone suffering from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA, the nation’s leading cause of unexpected death) is 2.5 times the national average. Much credit for both of those accomplishments goes to Starting Hearts. Since its incorporation in 2010, the nonprofit has increased the number of public defibrillators in Eagle County to more than 400, from the top of Vail Mountain to a mobile unit at Hanging Lake. Through its CALL.PUSH.SHOCK. program (a free 45-minute training in basic CPR and defibrillator administration) and a bus nicknamed “The Heart Rod” (a mobile classroom stocked with practice defibrillators and mannequins), the nonprofit has trained 20,000 residents of Eagle and Summit counties with lifesaving skills to help someone stricken with SCA.

“Sudden cardiac arrest strikes 350,000 people a year, and 90 percent do not survive,” says Starting Hearts founder Lynn Blake, who experienced SCA in 2007 and was resuscitated by a bystander who performed CPR and paramedics who shocked her with a defibrillator. “I looked at those statistics and felt so thankful that my life was saved that I knew it was my responsibility to go out and educate people about SCA to save more lives.”

Swift Eagle Charitable Fund

In 2004, Edwards resident Dave Haakenson had a dream in which his subconscious gave him a mandate “to swiftly help people in Eagle County.” So powerful and compelling was that message that when he told his friends about it, they donated money to build a community fund that could be dispersed via grants to locals who found themselves in a financial pinch. Just like that, the Swift Eagle Charitable Fund was born.

Today, the fund, comprised entirely of private donations, disperses $150,000 annually to 50 local families. The grants, which range from a few hundred dollars up to $5,000, provide emergency relief to Eagle County residents in need, covering rent due to the loss of job or sudden illness, paying for a piece of medical equipment, even funeral expenses for a deceased loved one. “It’s intended to bridge a gap and get somebody through a tough time,” explains Haakenson. “It’s a one-time deal. We will not help somebody a second time.”

Pat Hamilton, Haakenson’s wife and co-founder of Swift Eagle, says some visitors seem surprised that there’s a need for a nonprofit like theirs in a tony resort community, but she says that view is woefully uninformed. “People lose sight of the fact that there are these people here that are providing all the services that people get to enjoy,” she says. “It’s a hard place to make a living.” And sometimes even to survive.

Vail Mountain Rescue Group

When someone dials or texts 911 after getting lost, injured, or ill in the backcountry of Eagle County, it’s Vail Mountain Rescue Group (VMRG) that responds. As of December 10, this self-funded organization with 70+ volunteer members—backpackers, climbers, raft guides, ski patrollers, and outdoor enthusiasts—had logged 155 missions in 2019, rescuing more than 200 people. According to Board President Tom Schlader, members are motivated by one shared cause: to help a stranger in their most urgent time of need. “We all have the same feeling that the job needs to be done, and we’re willing to do that job,” he says. “When the pager goes off at two in the morning, you have to get up.”

And be prepared for almost anything.

“Sometimes we’re hoisting an injured person from the ground into a helicopter,” says Schlader. “The helicopter’s hovering 100 feet over your head and this cable’s swinging down and you hook the person up and send them off. It’s an adrenaline rush.” Other times, the job might be as straightforward as hiking up a trail with a headlamp to help an ill-equipped day hiker back to their car at the trailhead. Every mission is rewarding, yet nobody’s in it for the glory.

“You have to think bigger than yourself, and be bigger than yourself,” says Rob Foster, a VMRG member who served on the SAR team in Larimer County when he lived in that community. “We’re background players. We’re faceless and nameless. We just get out there and get it done.”

Vail Veterans Program

At a cocktail party in Vail in 2003, Cheryl Jensen met Captain Dave Rozelle, an Army officer who had just lost a leg to an IED attack in Iraq. As Rozelle talked about all the wounded soldiers who had been recuperating with him at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Jensen shared her experience as an adaptive ski instructor. Then she had an epiphany, wondering aloud: if she formed a nonprofit, would wounded veterans be interested in coming to Vail to learn to ski?

     “You raise the money,” Rozelle told her, “and I’ll get you wounded soldiers.”

With seed funding from the late H. Ross Perot and Pete Dawkins (a retired brigadier general who, like Perot, owned a vacation home in Vail), comped or discounted ski passes, hotel rooms, equipment rentals, and lessons, plus a corps of paid and volunteer adaptive ski instructors (including Pete Seibert, Jr., son of the resort’s founder), Jensen established the Vail Veterans Program (VVP).

Since then VVP has hosted some 3,000 wounded vets and their families on all-expenses-paid sojourns to Vail (American Airlines even donates a chartered flight) for adaptive skiing in winter and rock climbing and mountain biking in summer, plus support services like financial planning, meditation, and counseling.

 “Vail is this really special place for them,” says Jensen. “It’s where the smile came back to their face, where a wounded vet says, ‘My injury is not going to define me.’ I love that this community has had such an impact on these national heroes. It’s mind-boggling to me.”Other Eagle County Gives Nonprofits


Other Eagle County Gives Coalition Nonprofits


Access Unbound

Connects people with disabilities with world-class recreation and learning, and removes financial barriers to pursuing those goals.

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

Dedicated to promoting conservation of alpine plants and the ecosystem of the mountains.

Bravo! Vail

In addition to running the valley’s signature summer classical music festival, Bravo! Vail offers after-school music education programs for local kids. 

Bright Future Foundation

Serves women and children affected by domestic violence and sexual abuse through counseling services, emergency shelter, and legal representation.

Can Do Multiple Sclerosis

Offers a range of health and wellness education programs for those affected by multiple sclerosis, as well as their families and care partners. Focuses on a holistic, multidimensional view of MS.

Catholic Charities Western Slope

Provides a wide range of support to community members in need, including feeding the hungry and facilitating legal assistance for immigrants.

Children’s Garden of Learning

A West Vail preschool dedicated to nurturing and developing children’s natural interests through self-directed learning. Inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy, emphasizing a learning experience co-created by children and teachers.

Children’s Global Alliance

This year-round mentorship program for children ages 12–16 culminates with service-learning projects for Eagle County teens who travel to poverty-stricken areas throughout the world.

Colorado Mountain College Foundation

Provides funding to support Colorado Mountain College, which offers affordable two-year, four-year, and continuing education programs locally at CMC’s Edwards campus.

Colorado Snowsports Museum & Hall of Fame

Celebrates Colorado ski history through the preservation and display of artifacts, narratives, and film documentaries, as well as honoring individuals who have played a role in shaping the state’s snow sports heritage.

The Cycle Effect

Offers summer and after-school mentorship and leadership training for at-risk girls in Eagle County via a mountain bike racing program that touts the benefits of physical fitness and healthy nutrition.

Eagle County Historical Society

Operates a history museum and archives in Eagle, and offers educational programs and community events to expand public awareness about the area’s history.

Eagle River Watershed Council

Dedicated to protecting the health of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through conservation advocacy, research, and education.

Eagle Valley Child Care Association

Operates early childhood daycare centers in Vail Village and Miller Ranch in Edwards and provides supportive parenting guidance to local families.

Eagle Valley Humane Society

Serves the needs of homeless animals in Eagle County through adoption facilitation and disaster relief services for pets and the people who care for them.

Eagle Valley Land Trust

Promotes conserving natural lands through stewardship, community education, and public policy initiatives.

Early Childhood Partners

A group of child development specialists dedicated to
supporting local children and families while maintaining values of family- and child-centered care, inclusivity, and cultural sensitivity.

Education Foundation of Eagle County

Supports Eagle County public schools by directing grant money and private donations to provide classroom tools, counseling, technology, arts and music programming, and other necessities.

Family Learning Center

Provides early learning and child care to local families of all income levels, supporting a child’s successful transition from preschool to kindergarten.

Foresight Ski Guides

Fields a team of volunteer instructors who make snow sports available to blind and visually impaired skiers and snowboarders.

Girl Scouts of Colorado

Provides opportunities for girls to engage in character-building and leadership development activities via outdoor education and public service programs that build friendships and strengthen community ties.

Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley

This local branch of the national housing nonprofit builds and renovates homes for low-income residents of Eagle and Lake counties. Since 1995, the organization has supported the construction of more than 74 homes in these local areas.

High Five Access Media

A grassroots public access television provider that shares coverage of local news with the community. Also offers media education, equipment, and affordable production services to the public.

Homecare & Hospice  of the Valley

Provides compassionate, dignified home health, palliative, and end-of-life care for patients who cannot afford these services due to lack of insurance or income or other extenuating circumstances.

Mountain Valley Horse Rescue

Rescues, rehabilitates, and finds homes for horses who have been abused or neglected, or are otherwise unwanted, and provides abuse-reduction outreach by networking with Eagle County residents and law enforcement agencies.


A collaboration of Eagle County youth service providers offering programs that emphasize substance abuse reduction and prevention.

The Red Ribbon Project of Eagle County

Provides education and awareness about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases to area youth, while also working to reduce rates of teen pregnancy through education and initiatives promoting healthy living.

Roundup River Ranch

A free summer camp for children with serious illnesses that couples traditional summer camp activities with expert medical care, devoted to the notion that joy and play provide a powerful experience of healing.

Ski & Snowboard Club Vail

Offers aspiring young ski racers (alumna include Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn) training and competition experience in snow sports; provides financial aid for up to 75 percent of program fees to enable children from all backgrounds to participate.

SOS Outreach

A locally founded now-national organization that gives nearly 5,000 underserved youth each year the opportunity to experience and participate in outdoor activities like snowboarding, camping, and hiking, while providing mentorship and leadership skills training.

Students Shoulder to Shoulder

Seeks to inspire and support generations of ethical leaders by enrolling high school students in experiential courses in global citizenship. 

United Way of Eagle River Valley

Funds local charities working to address the most-pressing needs in Eagle County, from reducing local school drop-out rates and improving financial stability for low-income residents to promoting healthy living.

Vail Board of Realtors Foundation

Supports financially challenged Eagle County residents with a scholarship program and need-based assistance and disaster relief.

Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group

Provides financial support for Eagle County residents diagnosed with breast cancer, giving hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of dollars to assist with treatment and care.

Vail Health Foundation

Fosters philanthropy to support Vail Health and its mission to provide state-of-the-art health care for Eagle County residents and visitors.

Vail Jazz

By sponsoring six annual performance series and offering classes to local students throughout the year, this nonprofit trains and inspires young musicians and audiences to embrace, pursue, and appreciate the jazz genre.

Vail Valley Charitable Fund

Distributes funds raised by grants, events, and donations to local residents experiencing financial hardship due to medical crises or long-term illness.

Vail Valley Eagles Basketball Club

Fosters personal development through the game of basketball for Eagle County youth.

Vail Valley Foundation

Develops and produces a wide range of arts, athletic, and educational events with the goal of enhancing and sustaining the quality of life in the Vail Valley.

Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance

Supports the creation and maintenance of a sustainable multiuse soft-surface trail network for nonmotorized recreation connecting communities and neighborhoods from Vail Pass to Basalt

Vail Valley Salvation Army

Delivers food baskets to hungry families at Thanksgiving and distributes toys to children at Christmas; also provides local disaster relief and feeds first responders with the only mobile canteen in the state.

Walking Mountains Science Center

Hosts science, nature, environmental, and outdoor recreation programs at its Avon headquarters and satellite locations on Vail Mountain and in Vail Village.


Provides year-round extended learning programs that educate and empower Eagle County’s young people and their families.

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