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Building Strong Communities with United Way and Zebulon Miracle on Koolers Lifestyle Podcast – Episode 11

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00:00:00 Zebulon Miracle
Here in Western Colorado we really bend nature to do what we hope that it’ll do for us. And so even though we don’t get rain but we’ll move water out of the rivers, we we see that time and time again. We we try modifying our environment to, to suit our needs to to. We try to have the this attempt of having Mother Nature submit to what we want it to be if it’s not exactly what it was. And sometimes that can be very successful and sometimes it’s it’s a disaster, right. Kind of the mantra is that Mother Nature always bats last. So with all of our efforts that we do, Mother Nature will have the final say. But that definitely is a hallmark of the West and and that Taft quote I think really matches that and I just love that Taft quote about how we truly are a paradise once we add water and we can truly make our community a paradise.

00:00:51 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Welcome to the Kooler Lifestyle podcast. I’m your host, Matt Kuehlhorn, and I’m excited to have you join me as I interview community members and business leaders from the communities. In which I lived, work and serve through my business cooler garage doors. We’re going to bring you highlights on characters in our communities. Why? Because Community matters, and I want to know more about who is behind our business and leadership in order to understand and support the Community fabric that our relationships make up. And collectively, we can build stronger communities that support our lifestyles, our youth, and our health. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Kooler Lifestyle Podcast. I’m your host, Matt Kuehlhorn. And today I have Zebulon Miracle, the executive director of the United Way of Mesa County, joining us. Zebulon, thank you so much for joining us today.

00:01:43 Zebulon Miracle
Hey, good morning. Thank you so much for having me. It’s a it’s a real pleasure to be here.

00:01:48 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I’m really excited to talk to you. You know, I’ve done a little bit of. Research on yet and you sound like a historian. You’ve grown up on the western slope. I’m really interested in getting to know your story and what drives you and where exactly did you grow U?

00:02:04 Zebulon Miracle
OI was born and raised here in Grand Junction. Been a a born just up the road in Saint Mary’s Hospital. Went to high school here, but then went away for college. I I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder for my undergrad degrees. Really enjoyed it over there. Really enjoyed being on the Front Range, and thought that that’s might be where I where it’s staying. But then I had a tremendous opportunity right out of college. A museum that I’d been doing some volunteer work for and an internship for offered me a position. They basically. Called saying we’re putting together next year’s budget would you like to be in it or not and coming right out of school that was just such a great opportunity. So I spent almost a dozen years that at the museums of Western Colorado kind of worked my way up through the ranks there if you will and and became a curator there and and oversaw our collections and some of our policies and since then I’ve just been able to really establish some roots here in Grand Junction of a family here my family. Lives here. My wife’s family still lives here, so it’s very much home. It’s very much part of that, the DNA.

00:03:17 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That’s awesome. What did you study in Boulder?

00:03:20 Zebulon Miracle
I studied history and anthropology.

00:03:23 Matthew Kuehlhorn
OK. So that’s that’s pretty aligned with curator work and yeah, what, so tell me a little bit more about the museum, you said that. History of the West.

00:03:38 Zebulon Miracle
Yeah. And so the the museums of Western Colorado here in Grand Junction is a three-part museum. So there’s a history and anthropology museum in downtown Grand Junction. There’s also a historic Apple orchard, cross orchards, historic sites out on the eastern side of the valley. And then on the western side of the valley in Fruita, Co is the dinosaur Journey Museum. So I was based at the History Museum. And again, I’m really enjoyed just being able to dive into to what makes Grand Junction, what makes Western Colorado, what makes Colorado, what makes the West the West, right, what are the the people, the characters, the conditions, the landscapes, the stories that contribute to its identity today. So I really enjoyed my time there. I was there for, again, almost a dozen years and just had a tremendous opportunity to to meet some great, interesting people to really dive into. Stories to really research. And then what my true passion was there was to share all those findings. And so to be able to either put together an exhibit or write an article or write a paper or present a lecture talking about it, having people have that aha moment or that spark was relevant. After that, I went down to Gateway, Colorado. I’m not sure if you better, but it’s a, it’s a very beautiful one. It’s a beautiful drive down no matter which direction you come from. Yeah. And two, it’s just a beautiful facility. It was started by the founder of the Discovery Channel. And I went down there and I oversaw the auto museum and also started offering educational programming there. And so I was able to take people from all over the world to this little tiny corner in western Colorado and really. Show them what makes this so world class. And now I’ve been here at a United Way, Mesa County for about 2 1/2 years now. So another way to get back to the community, but still I’m able to keep my heart in history but also able to to build up some of the building blocks of what makes our community.

00:05:42 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I love that. I love. OK. So I Love Actually knowing that the different museums are actually tied in together. That’s, yeah, that’s, that’s pretty cool. And I could imagine that the collective share of resources just gives it that much. Month. Um. And then in my you know. Tiny, tiny, tiny bit of research history. Like I can just imagine. You know, the Grand Junction playing such a pivotal role with the the junction of Gunnison and Colorado Rivers.

00:06:14 Zebulon Miracle

00:06:15 Matthew Kuehlhorn
What are some things that stand out as far as like that story, the the history and and what makes? The West, the West, and in Grand Junction specifically.

00:06:26 Zebulon Miracle
I’m glad that you brought up the the two rivers coming together here, right. That’s where Grand Junction gets its name. The Colorado River used to be known as the Grand River, and so we were the junction of the grand and the Gunnison. So here we are at the Grand Junction. And if it were not for those two rivers, virtually every blade of grass, every tree that you see out here, that’s not a Cottonwood tree. Every building, every orchard, every vineyard that were known for today really shouldn’t exist here. Or couldn’t exist, I should say. Without those two rivers coming together, President Taft came out here. He spoke in September of 1909. He was out in western Colorado, or first president to visit the area, and he was out in western Colorado to open the Gunnison Tunnel, a big irrigation project outside of Montrose. And he has a favorite quote of mine. He said that you look at the country in some places and it would seem it was the most godforsaken spot there was on Earth. Then you progress a mile or two and you see the influence of water and it seems at Paradise. It’s magic is rubbing Aladdin’s lamp, and for me, that really captures what Grand Junction, what western Colorado and what a lot of the West is. Here in the West, water is just so vital, and if it were not for those two rivers coming through, we would not have the Community that we have today. Here in the West, here in Western Colorado, we really bend nature to do what we hope that it’ll do for us and so even though we don’t get rain but we’ll move water out of the rivers, we we see that time and time again we we try and modifying our environment to to suit our needs to to. We try to have the this attempt of having Mother Nature submit to what we want it to be. If it’s not exactly we want it was and sometimes that can be very successful and sometimes it’s it’s a disaster. Right now kind of the mantra is that Mother Nature always bats last. So with all of our efforts that we do, Mother Nature will have the final say. But that definitely is a hallmark of the West and and that Taft quote I think really matches that. And I just love that Taft quote about how we truly are a paradise once we add water and we can truly make our community a paradise.

00:08:37 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, water is critical.

00:08:41 Zebulon Miracle
Ohh yeah, you’re like this year I think we’re all really seeing that and and that’s a story that is we trace through through archaeology as we study the the peoples that have made-up the West. We can see when when droughts really wreak havoc on an area and can can bring civilization down quite quickly, at least hamper civilization or culture or community quite quickly.

00:09:06 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah. Yeah. And certainly all along the West, we’re dealing with some significant multiple years of drought. And my understanding and I can’t remember where I’ve heard this from, but is our water for Grand Junction, is that coming from the Grand Mesa as far as like Town municipality water, drinking water?

00:09:24 Zebulon Miracle
Yeah. So there is a several different fresh water suppliers in Grand Junction, so for like drinking water for domestic use. And I believe the city of Grand Junction and the you water one of our bigger water. Utilities out here get their water from Grant Mesa. I believe Clifton Pools there’s from the Colorado River, but on occasion the others also have to pull from the Colorado Ridge Ridge run off off the grant mesas. There’s light.

00:09:57 Matthew Kuehlhorn
And yeah, awesome. Our relative gears a little bit, Zebulon and your work with the United Way. So you mentioned you’ve been there for a couple of years, 2 1/2 years. Yeah, I primarily know of United Way through commercials, right, it’s a larger. Um, national and likely international, yes. And and how does this play on the local level in in Grand Junction?

00:10:22 Zebulon Miracle
Yeah, you know, when I when I applied for this job because I I I some background working with nonprofits and and some background working with some nonprofits in the Health and Human service industry. But but like you, United Way was one of those things that that I had always heard of. I donated to United Way in the past I I helped our workplace have a workplace campaign. But I I guess I didn’t realize just how complex and how large United Way was until I applied for this job. And so I’m, I’m always always excited to share some of those findings. As you mentioned United Way is an international organization now there’s, there’s chapters all over the world by many measures it’s the world’s largest nonprofit you know depending on what matrix you want to use to line that up. But all that being said, it’s still very localized. And one of the things that I was staggered to learn is that there are over 1100 United Way chapters within the United States, 1100 just within the US and the reason for that is that each chapter is is extremely independent. We, we all create our own budgets, we all make our own hiring decisions. We’ll determine where the the monies and resources that we raise go. It’s not United Way worldwide, it’s it’s us. The reason why there’s 1100 chapters is. The needs of Mesa County are different than the needs. Which are different than the needs of Pittsburgh, which are different than the needs in Tulsa. OK, right. Each community is a little bit different, and nobody knows our communities like like us. And So what I what I truly love about the United Way model, which gets me so excited, is that it is the local community. It’s us right here, that determines what our community needs are right now. What are the biggest needs facing Mesa County? And then it’s this community that rallies together to find the resources, whether that be financial. Volunteer advocacy work to help fight those problems and then it’s this community that determines how we take those funds that we raise, how we take those resources that we raise and who are the best partners to give those to. So everything is community driven and a very sincere in that money does not go back up to the mothership. And then they tell us here you have to fund this person or that person instead. Every dollar we raise your stains here, every funding decision as far as what programs are we going to help provide grants. Adding to this decided right here, and that’s because our community knows our issues, so I love just how localized it is. And that was one of the things that I was most surprised about when I was researching this show.

00:12:59 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I love that. What are some of the? I’m sure you’ve got multitudes, but some of the priority projects that are on the plate right now.

00:13:09 Zebulon Miracle
Yeah. So we currently provide grant funding to 33 different nonprofits that are running 43 different programs. All of our programs that we help fund are related to health, education and self-reliance. In addition, we’ve launched a county wide Imagination Library project, so that is books, free books of new book each month. In the mail for children under the age of five, no strings attached, no cost at all to the parents, just go on to our website, register, and you can get a free book in the mail. That’s part of the Dolly Parton imagination library. We’re doing a lot of work right now with volunteerism. We’re about to launch a big volunteer hub. We listened to the community, we listened to our stakeholders, we listened to our partners. And there are so many people that want to give back their time, so many people that want to volunteer. But if you want to volunteer, you’re stuck. Going through Google, researching every nonprofit, hoping that you call the right telephone number. What we want to do is create a centralized hub to where we’re matching people that have time to give with organizations that have a need for volunteers. And then the other two projects that we’re really focused on right now is childcare issue within our community where some 4000 slots short of the number of childcare enrollment spots that we have in our community. Not to mention it’s extremely expensive. Yeah. And then the issue of homelessness in our community, we’re trying to rally our stakeholders together to talk to the Community about what are the causes of homelessness, what are possible solutions, how can you go from somebody going, wow, somebody should do something about this problem that we all see to having people go to. I know what to do about this. I know how I. So those are our biggest programs right now. It’s, it’s a lot going on, but it’s also very, very exciting. It’s, it’s a fun time to be here for sure.

00:15:04 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, no, I love it. And a what I’m hearing is, is community coalition work and would you say that the United Way of Mesa is? More or less a hub resource for nonprofits and you know really a leader in that Community coalition because some of the things that you’re speaking about whether it’s. Homelessness, I mean that’s that’s huge in itself. Child care, all these aren’t anyone entity. Like we don’t have. Not one entity can solve it, right? So it’s a collaborative effort. And that’s the that’s the Community coalition piece, yeah.

00:15:45 Zebulon Miracle
Exactly. You hit it right on the head there when we talk about trying to help with the homelessness issue and in Mesa County United Way isn’t going to open up an emergency housing or an emergency food program ourselves. Instead what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk to those programs that are in place, that infrastructure that’s in place and say how can we come back to the community with the unified message or unified. Voice or unified goal that highlights the outstanding boots on the ground work that those agencies are already doing. Same thing with volunteerism, right? We’re not going to replace every nonprofits volunteer coordinator. Instead, what we want to do is just make it easier for the Community to get in touch with those volunteer coordinators. So you’re right, we we are trying to position ourselves as a hub to where if you want to be part of the solution, if you want to get back, if you want to know more about the local nonprofits and the great work being done, we can offer that for you. So yes, we are trying to. See that? That hub for Health and Human service work being done in Mesa County.

00:16:44 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, a bit of an amplifier too. Yeah, exactly.

00:16:47 Zebulon Miracle
Because of other organizations, there’s just so much great work going on. You can’t expect them to do that work in addition to the great work that they’re already doing. So so yeah, that’s that’s exactly aiming for right now.

00:17:00 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I love it. What you know, so from your perspective, you grew up in this area, historian. Community coalition leader facilitator.

00:17:13 Zebulon Miracle

00:17:14 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Know that there’s a significant shift happening on the Western slope. Umm. There’s an influx of folks leaving the Front Range, other cities coming into these smaller towns and. Changes, changes happening like what have you noted change wise and then the follow up question is like for the future, you know looking at the crystal ball. What are we excited about?

00:17:44 Zebulon Miracle
Well, I need to to your point, there’s no doubt change is happening in our communities, right? And and. Also as a historian though that’s that’s not a new story right there, this, this, these communities here in Western Colorado now, the most of our communities, most of our towns now are approaching 130 years old and and every decade brought change and has brought something new. So well, we all look around and see massive changes. We see different people moving in. We see traditional industries maybe leaving but new industries replacing that. There there are times that you can look at that change and and those issues taking place in our communities today and justice substitute a couple of words and you’d be reading an article from 1950 right. So. So I guess in some ways. Reflecting on the history of our communities shows that our communities change quite a bit and our communities have adapted over 130 years and sometimes we adapt well and we’ve either embraced that change or we’ve prepared for that change and sometimes change coming to our Community has has led to bus, right. It’s it’s that whole boom bust cycle of of who we are. So I guess that’s my long way of saying absolutely change is happening but changes happen for 130 years. It’s just. Part of part of our cultures identities too is is this influx of different industries, different different ideas, different commercial industries, different demographics, all coming and leaving in areas. Yeah.

00:19:23 Matthew Kuehlhorn
But can I jump in real quick, zebulon on that? And I just wanted to recognize, you know, that historic perspective is is really refreshing. I feel like certainly myself and I can see it, you know, we’ll get caught up in today’s drama.

00:19:37 Zebulon Miracle

00:19:39 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Another historian, I don’t know if you follow Ray Dalio at all.

00:19:42 Zebulon Miracle

00:19:43 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I love his books and he’s a historian on a on a macro level and certainly focused economically. But it’s interesting just to get this per step perspective because yes, change is actually the only constant and when we go through influx of change. It. It is pretty much a repetition of a cycle that has happened at some point in the past, even if it hasn’t happened in our lifetime or. You know, I talk with business owners right now and somebody that’s been in business for 5060 years has not seen the environment that’s at play today, right? But it’s happened. Prior to lifetime, but it’s. So I just wanted to recognize that like it’s really refreshing and I think in that bigger picture looking at this, it’s like, OK. What’s happening is actually somewhat normal, and now we just get to navigate it on his different plane.

00:20:45 Zebulon Miracle
Right. And so I think our responsibility is to to navigate that responsibly, right. It’s one thing to say, yeah, change happens, right. It’s just part of a natural, natural progression of of of a community. But what we need to do is we need to reflect back on those lessons that history taught. This is change. Faces are right. We’ve learned some lessons in the past. We’ve seen some things that have worked. We’ve seen some things that haven’t worked. And so using that lens of history to one recognize changes as a constant. But also 2GO hey Once Upon a time our community faced a similar issue. This worked but this did not work is is very beneficial for sure.

00:21:27 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yes, absolutely. Beautiful. Alright. Now for the historian, what’s, uh, what’s exciting in the future? What do you see at play either for United Way, the community at large, wherever you want to kind of aim, point and shoot. But what? What excites you?

00:21:45 Zebulon Miracle
Let’s come goodness. But they. They. Trying to think which which route I want to take to answer the question. I’ll start with the United Way. I’m excited about the this organization. I do believe this organization is doing a great job turning to our stakeholders, turning to the people, doing tremendous work in our Community, turning to our donors who are extremely generous in our Community and turning to people that are looking for services and and are for looking for some support and taking those different stakeholder views and saying, OK, well how can we fit in part of that picture. So I’m, I’m excited about the increased collaborative work that we’re doing. I’m excited about the impact work that. This organization is going to have on our community. I am excited about being able to to offer some help in in a number of different areas every year that the grant funding that we give out helps impact 50,000 of our friends and neighbors. That’s one in three people in our community that and I’m excited that we can offer that and and grow that. Adapt is our community, as we said, changes. We also need to adapt and change what it is that we’re helping support. So as our Community needs change, I’m excited that this organization is positioning itself to to help look at those changes as as they come up. I think we’ve got a good model going right now for that. As far as me, one of the things that I’m most excited about is how much. Improvement, how much advances I should say have come when when we combine science and history and and anthropology together. So our understanding of the West, our understanding of the earliest peoples here, it is getting far more sophisticated. It’s it’s getting far more in depth. We’re understanding far more because science is really helping out with that. So how we’re able to date some of the oldest sites in North America. Which are found here in western Colorado. That science is just moving such an interesting rate that it’s showing us a better, better picture of the past right now. The the big push to digitalize information. You can go online and you can find the US census from from past decades quite easily. You can find volumes of articles that have been written. You can find original manuscripts that no single person would ever have the ability to. Read all on their own. So this idea of crowdsourcing our understanding of history is really cool that that we can empower people to be at home and find some information that historians are looking for or making history more accessible for families to go through. Right before, if you wanted to study genealogy, it was a trip to museum or to your library and going through microfilm and needing to know how to use that versus today you can find out so much about your family. Story with with resources that are online and that just creates that spark and that wonder that it is really going to help in the future. So again this, this cool idea of how much technology is helping us understand the past and then also this idea that history. Or I should say at least information is very very accessible now and how people can start using that. So that makes me really excited.

00:25:13 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I love that. I can feel your passion. Alright, so. The opportunity for whether it’s private, business or community members to get involved with. United Way and. You know other community projects. How do how do folks reach out? How do folks get engaged?

00:25:36 Zebulon Miracle

00:25:37 Matthew Kuehlhorn
You and the others.

00:25:39 Zebulon Miracle
You know the the obvious answer is is go to our website You can learn all about our organization. You can learn about what we do you can learn about ways to to give you can learn about sponsorship opportunities. Yeah that’s that’s the the best way to find out about our organization and and of course I highly encourage you to do that we we need all the the support and help we can get to make this difference but. The more I think interesting answer for for your, your viewers and listeners that that I want to impart is. Become engaged, become informed and issue unidentified as an issue unsolved. So yes, we need financial support. We need volunteer support. But really, if, if, if you’re tapped out on that for the year, if if you don’t have the bandwidth for that right now, then I would encourage you. Just just become informed. Find out the issues faced more commanday, find out the issues facing your local nonprofits. Find out. What it is that your community is, is struggling with the most and then really drill down. Because again, if you don’t understand what the problems in your community are, it’s really hard for for that solution to come right. We have to understand what problems are facing our Community before we can solve them. So having an informed community, a community that really understands what the issues are, that are understanding the work that’s happening to solve those issues and that are understanding how they can be involved beyond just just financial or or. Time support really does wonders, so get engaged. You know the issues, get passionate about any issue, find one that you really care about and you’ll make a huge difference in your community.

00:27:23 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I love that. Well, we’ll push on that and you know, a couple of things as we as we wrap up this conversation so on, on what you just, you know, piggybacking on, you know, understanding the problem. Sometimes the the symptom that we see is not the real problem right. And that’s one of the things I recognized in in my experience with community coalitions and and working in you know identifying some of the the surface level problems but then really underneath and it takes a little bit of time but also one thing through our conversation that I’m starting to sense you know might be part of your essence is all around connection and. At the end of the day, this community work is connecting people to people, people with resources and really looking at what drives. I mean a lot of times that human experience.

00:28:23 Zebulon Miracle

00:28:24 Matthew Kuehlhorn
And then that aligns with your extraction of history and and pulling these pieces together. It’s really beautiful, man.

00:28:31 Zebulon Miracle
Well, thank you. And and I I kind of can’t really follow that up with anything. I think you added even better than I. You’re absolutely right, it is about. It is about being part of a community. And part of a community is you’re going to have diverse opinions, you’re going to have diverse views for for how to solve the problem, but then you’re even going to have debate and question as far as what the problem is in the 1st place. And so getting to those root causes, listening to different viewpoints, understanding different solutions, understanding what’s worked is is just going to help us get to that solution. And at the end we all want a strong healthy community where everyone can thrive. So. Getting the building blocks for how we get there, get pieces for how we get there, starts with understanding.

00:29:18 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yes, yes. Beautiful vision, zebulon. I appreciate your passion. I appreciate the mission that you’re on. We’ll be sure to include in our show notes how people can reach out and get engaged with the United Way and other community level efforts. And Umm, yeah. Thank you for your time. I really appreciate this conversation.

00:29:38 Zebulon Miracle
Oh, I appreciate you having and I I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. A beautiful December day and and happy holidays and I hope 2023 is a is a banner for you.

00:29:50 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Here, here. Same to you my friend. We’ll talk to you soon.

00:29:53 Zebulon Miracle
Thank you.