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Enriching the Gunnison Valley with the Community Foundation – Kooler Lifestyle Podcast #17

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00:00:00 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Do you see yourself in this role for a long time?

00:00:04 Lauren Kugler
I think so, yeah. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. But you know, it’s, it’s definitely the Community Foundation structure is very it allows for a lot of innovation and creativity. And what we have to be a little careful of is that there is such a wide variety of things that we can do and focus areas we can have that we have to be really careful not to overextend ourselves. But the good part about that. Is that we can be really nimble, whether it’s through our fun structures or our programming, we can be very nimble in how we’re adapting to the Community needs as time goes on. And that is a very exciting piece of our work that motivates myself and I think I can speak for my team that, you know, no one day is like another.

00:00:59 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Welcome to the Cooler Lifestyle podcast. I’m your host, Matt Kuehlhorn, and I’m excited to have you. For me, as I interview community members and business leaders from the communities in which I live, work, and serve through my Business School or 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. Hello ladies and gentlemen. This is Matt Kuehlhorn with a cooler lifestyle podcast. Today’s guest is Lauren Kugler. She’s the executive director of our Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley. I’m so excited for this conversation because it is really all around community. And Lauren, I’ve known you for a number of years. I’m excited for this conversation. Thanks for joining.

00:02:02 Lauren Kugler
Thanks for having.

00:02:02 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Me, I love.

00:02:04 Lauren Kugler
That I’m so thrilled that you said our Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley, because that’s so true. All of.

00:02:11 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Ours, it is really true and you know, I got involved on some levels with the Community Foundation. I mean, over. The last decade plus and before you gained this seed, it was Pam Montgomery, which you worked with for how many years? I mean, you’ve been at the Community Foundation for a while, yeah.

00:02:31 Lauren Kugler
Yeah, I’ve been here almost 10 years. I’d Pam was at the Helm’s executive director for seven of those.

00:02:38 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Right on and how long have?

00:02:40 Lauren Kugler
You so that was a.

00:02:41 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Great. When did when did Pam retire in and bring you in as the executive?

00:02:48 Lauren Kugler
Yeah, she and I had talked about that for a little while. We talked to some board members about that as a potential and that they wanted me to be a strong candidate for the time when she wanted to retire. We started talking a little more seriously about her retirement in 2019, and she retired in July of 2020, right when everything was.

00:03:13 Matthew Kuehlhorn
You know, toss up in the.

00:03:14 Lauren Kugler
Air right along.

00:03:17 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Early bird that gets shaken. Yeah, interesting Lauren, where’d you grow up?

00:03:26 Lauren Kugler
I was fortunate to grow up here in the Gunnison Valley. My parents had those typical stories of coming from Seattle and Arkansas. They wanted to spend one season in the valley and ended up staying, and it was an amazing place to grow up. I will say that I found my friends that I didn’t have as much appreciation for it as when we stepped away and saw it through other people’s eyes.

00:03:54 Matthew Kuehlhorn
So it was there time. That you did step outside of the valley in order to kind of see that perspective in it. And I’ve worked with a lot of folks that have grown up here and usually like that high school college age. You’re just like ready to bust out and get far away. Was that your experience too and called you back kind of deal or? Is it a little different?

00:04:17 Lauren Kugler
Yeah, it was. That was my experience. I didn’t even consider Western as an option for college because it was too close and I was intent on leaving for college. I looked all over the country, actually ended up going to Boulder to see you. And so I was a little closer than I had originally thought. But I there was a period of time where I thought I would live in New York City. I did spend some time in Denver and a couple places in the Lake Tahoe area. And I realized that I really like to visit cities, but I really, really am passionate about community. Small community connections, the relationships that you build in a small community. And I came back and did the ski bomb. Multiple jobs working. Probably about 3-2 years after college and had the opportunity to see my hometown through the eyes of all of these 20 somethings who had intentionally moved to the valley and that was a whole new experience and I just fell in love with the place again.

00:05:23 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That’s awesome.

00:05:24 Lauren Kugler
Hey everybody, this is Luke from cooler garage doors. Just.

00:05:27 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Want to take?

00:05:27 Lauren Kugler
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00:05:30 Matthew Kuehlhorn
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00:05:35 Lauren Kugler
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00:05:39 Lauren Kugler
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00:05:41 Lauren Kugler
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00:05:47 Lauren Kugler
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00:06:03 Matthew Kuehlhorn
What was your study in college?

00:06:07 Lauren Kugler
I ended up in the Business School and it was somewhat unintentional. I just wanted to make sure that I. Graduated in four years and I felt like that would give me some direction and a skill that that applied. So I I came out of the Business School and lived for a stint in Lake Tahoe with some friends and then came back to Crested Butte, worked multiple jobs, went to Denver for a little while because I felt like I had to move to get a real job, quote UN quote, and ended up Dan O Marshall. Who I knew from high school track coach was helping to start the Gunnison Valley Health Foundation and that became half of his role. He split his time half and half and was looking to hire someone. I applied for that job and that’s how I ended up back here, was getting to team up with Dano on the starting of the Gunnison Valley Health.

00:07:07 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Foundation I got you. And so that was kind of your step into this community maybe. Nonprofit. Type of realm.

00:07:18 Lauren Kugler
That’s how. Yes, that’s how I first entered the world of nonprofits, the world of foundations and community philanthropy. And Dana was phenomenal because he brought me along every step of the way. He wanted to teach me everything he could, and it was the how foundation was a new organization. So both of us got to learn a lot about a young nonprofit organization. And that was very useful and helpful. After about I loved my coworkers at Gunnison Valley Health, but I I really wanted to work with a bigger segment of the community. And after five years there, I had a conversation with Pam at the Community Foundation and really felt like. This organization would be a better fit for me in getting to work day-to-day with more of the community.

00:08:17 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I love it. O. With the Community Foundation. What’s I guess there’s a couple of questions that are bubbling up because I want to know and I’ve got some perspective of it, but what is the Community Foundation doing and what might be one of the myths that you want to bust in our community around how people think about the Community Foundation?

00:08:45 Lauren Kugler
Yeah, I think that the Community Foundation started AS21UP Valley, one down valley in the late 90s, early 2000s, merged into one organization in 2007. And throughout that time, even when it was two organizations, it’s very much been centered on being a resource and support organization for all of our local nonprofits that serve this valley. And so we don’t just choose. One area of interest and what we’ve been known for for quite some time is our community grantmaking and that’s our annual grant cycle where we give out those Community grants through a competitive application process once a year. We have also done many programs, workshops and one-on-one Technical Support for our nonprofit community, so. The the core of our work is certainly that nonprofit support nonprofit resource piece, but we can also participate in regional conversations, be it regional tables, to help with some Community problem solving. For instance, we wouldn’t necessarily be the organization that would go out and spearhead some some of the solutions to regional affordable housing, but we’re an appropriate. Place to convene conversations around that help elevate relevant information to to help things move forward faster, potentially be a catalyst. And that’s just one example.

00:10:28 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah. So I’m hearing nonprofit resource for sure, but also potentially some of the component that. Many people may not consider is just a real collaborator or a facilitator of some of the higher level. Solution making conversations, right?

00:10:51 Lauren Kugler
Yeah. And that’s some as we’ve matured as an organization, we’ve been able to step more into the role of Community collaborator and have really started to lean into the importance of collaboration and true collaboration, not just. Coordinating, yeah, work. But finding ways, having hard conversations about shared resources, whether that’s money or people, shared responsibility, and that can be really hard across organizations or across sectors. And it really gets back to the root of what I think is valuable in any business or organization or community is is relationships. It’s all about relationships.

00:11:40 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I have to, you know, give a shout out to Pam. And I’d be curious just to know what she is instilled within you, having the opportunity to work so closely with her. She led some leadership courses that I was a part of. And I think one of the pieces that really stuck with me was, I remember a couple of things. One, you know, I’m at a table and she’s giving a presentation and this is young version of Mad and I’m just like casual ski bomb, like kicking it in my chair. And she said something to me like Matt sit up in your chair. Pay attention. Like, I was like, ohh, it had just stuck with me. Like, you know, show up if you’re going to be present. Like quit messing around, right, which is now part of my company’s value. And also, she was very much an educator on some of those tough conversations. And the reality is that that kind candor is sometimes lacking in organizations and in problem solving and identifying. Solutions. It’s really, really critical. So the fact that the Community Foundation is playing a facilitator in those is a really great resource. When circling back, you know, working with Pam so closely, I think she leaves a legacy. I think she, she did a lot for the foundation for our community and I’m just curious, open it up like what has stuck with you as likely a mentor for you?

00:13:14 Lauren Kugler
Well, I was very fortunate. You know, I mentioned starting off in the nonprofits with Gunnison Valley Health and Day and O, and as soon as I came over to the Community Foundation, that continued. Again, Pam brought me along every step of the day the way wanted to teach me all of the different Inns and outs of the Community Foundation. And a couple of those were leadership and civility, and some of our civility work has been around. Facilitating tough conversations and that often involves government, nonprofits, sometimes private citizens. And it’s something that that Pam put a lot of work into and helped with some conversations around places like the Valley School, the Gunnison Valley School, and that was part of our district and some election candidate forums. Is the term I’m looking for, and she really set the stage for some civil discourse work and that’s carrying through now in a civic capacity action team that’s just getting started. It’s a mix of government, nonprofit, private business and and that group wants to work on how we can make civic civil discourse better in our community, how we can agree to disagree. How we can be kind to each other and and I really feel Pam planted the seeds for that and the leadership program you mentioned it touched so many people in this valley and she and I would often talk about what’s the next chapter for that program and that is something that is an ongoing conversation of what’s what’s its place in a reinvention and and I think one of the biggest things that one of the biggest legacies. Pam leaves is. Listening to understand, she felt very strongly about the importance of hearing people out. And not just being ready to jump in and and give your point of view or your opinion. And I think that that was a very important leading by example trait.

00:15:38 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Heard what a gift. That’s awesome.

00:15:42 Lauren Kugler
And she’s still involved, which I am very grateful for. She and I try to get together once a month. I love to bounce ideas off of Pam. You know, she really grew this organization with so many board and Advisory Council members, different staff, volunteers and donors and and I’m grateful that she’s still right here in our.

00:16:05 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Backyard, that’s awesome. I love that. You know, we’re talking a lot of collaboration and I’m curious. From your perspective and kind of looking big picture O one of the things I think is true and I want to test this with you and your perspective is that in our county that we’re talking Gunnison Valley, Gunnison County, I think there’s. Relatively a ton of collaborative efforts that are happening that many of us just day by day may not recognize. And you’re sitting at the table with the health coalition. I was a part of the GC SAP coalition in the past, and that’s still strong and humming, and there’s a lot of collective resources at play to support our community, our our health, our mental health, our youth, our nonprofit sector. And looking at our regional level, how strong is going to Sin Valley playing? And um. What might yeah, I guess I’m trying to bring forth, like what people might not recognize, because I think there’s a lot that that is happening behind the scenes.

00:17:20 Lauren Kugler
There there is a lot that’s happening behind the scenes. I’ve been fortunate to get a glimpse into so much of that. We are often. Called, I guess I would say what individual people from other communities to find out how we have managed to work so, so closely together in the valley on different topics. Some of that work I think was really furthered with the one Valley Prosperity project back in about 2015 helped establish read more regional partnerships and I feel like. Many organizations have really prioritized that something that occurred to me as I was. Thinking about this session with you today is. Our government sector and our nonprofit sector. Expect some of that collaborative work as part of your job. And we have. Recently in places like the Health Coalition’s been asking the question of how can we get more private business involved in these conversations. And that’s a really challenging thing because we as a society have never structured private business to allow a lot of time. And I mean, as a whole individual businesses like cooler, certainly. You know, find ways to prioritize that or offer that to to their staff. And so given that it would be a huge ask to say, hey, you know, we work this into our day-to-day work you should too. How can we think about that differently? How can we find the private businesses that have that ability in some way or that interest and. And elevate their voices in these conversations or how can we structure some of, whether it’s the meetings or the information sharing or the input so that it’s accessible for our small businesses. Because I do think that that’s something that we’re often missing and it’s not because people don’t want to participate, it’s because we can only do what we can do.

00:19:40 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, it’s right, you know, Jody. With the Health coalition was in here just the other day, we were chatting a little bit about this because the health coalition’s looking at a little bit more of that private sector. And you know what you’re mentioning is in the government and the in the nonprofit like it’s already a little bit institutionalized as far as collaboration and in the private sector it’s been isolated and there’s been silos and and there’s numerous reasons for that and it is a challenge to bring forth the conversation to to create the time. Especially as the markets get wonkier and wonkier and in business in general, and this would be true in the government and the nonprofit sector just gets more challenging. There’s a lot more variables.

00:20:25 Lauren Kugler

00:20:27 Matthew Kuehlhorn
And there’s always been variables. But we know we’re going through something, some kind of season that really COVID started kicking off and justice created what I call wonkiness. In a row, yeah. I mean those solutions are are the tough conversations, right, like.

00:20:46 Lauren Kugler
Well, and and I think it’s not appropriate for. You know us, as I’ll just say nonprofits as an example to say, well, you know, carve out time, send your employees for an hour a week, or that’s not the answer. We’re not looking to just convince people to restructure the way their world works. How can we be more creative than that and make it doable for a broader section of our community? And on the same token, you know, something we’re helping a lot with our nonprofits is you’re a business act like a business. Yes. You know, there’s so much that a nonprofit organization can learn from our private businesses because really they need to be making a profit. It just goes back into their mission.

00:21:37 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Kitchen, yes. And I say that coming from decades of nonprofits. Before I had cooler, I was in the nonprofit sector, sitting in different roles. Yeah. And I saw that. I saw that very much. And it’s been one of the hesitations for me in getting involved again because I want to make sure it’s a, it’s a high value organization. Like right now my involvement is in moving funds from a private company into nonprofits. And we love to give and. It’s true like a nonprofit is a business, and a lot of times nonprofits run with so much heart and it’s beautiful and the mission is important. And that can cloud some of like those hard conversations again, that they’re real cut and dry like. Business style decisions, which can also bring a lot of heart. It’s just a different nuance and it’s difficult.

00:22:34 Lauren Kugler

00:22:35 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Where are we going, what are we excited for into the future? I know before we hit record we were talking about Tik Toks and and those conversations that happen at the art centers. I think last fall you mentioned are are poised to happen again. I’d love to hear about that but what do you see, you know opening up is we open 2023 and and beyond.

00:22:59 Lauren Kugler
Well, I certainly see a lot of increased collaborative work. I know that’s kind of the theme, theme of the day. But we really, this last year or so have been from the Community Foundation talking a lot about our community as an ecosystem and it takes all the different parts and people to be a healthy ecosystem. And so I’m excited because I feel like there is a lot of will across the board no matter what sector you’re working in, there are so many people in this Community that want to find ways to. Improve or help each other just lift each other up. And so I’m excited for all the potential that we have and we also have a lot we can learn from. Other communities that have been through similar times that we are going through, you know, there are a lot of small mountain communities that experience some of our acute challenges long before we did. And I think we have an opportunity to learn from peers and friends and neighbors and other communities. That’s part of where our tick tocks were born from, is that idea that if we can provide space to thinking big. And not shooting down a new idea. Then that can only help us move forward into the future. We came up with the name. It was kind of a fun exercise among the staff. But tick is TIC for thrive, inspire, connect. Tick tocks like Ted talks. And we asked our first Guinea pigs, who were very brave, ate very brave people who said yeah. We’ll do it. Really the only direction we gave them is. We’d love to hear about a big idea you’ve been thinking about that can move the Gunnison Valley forward. It could have to do with their profession or or personal life or not. And we had eight very different ideas from 8 different people. We did record those so that they’re available for folks to view, and we have ideas for how we can improve that moving forward. But it was for the live audience. They were very engaged and had they had time afterward to interact one-on-one. With the speakers and we receive great feedback and would love to hear if there’s viewers out there who have seen some of the tick tocks. We love feedback, positive or negative on how we could do that better. We’ll we’re looking to hold three of them this year at different parts of the valley, so stay tuned on that.

00:25:51 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Does the Community Foundation have a YouTube channel? Is that where they’re recordings are for the tick tocks?

00:25:58 Lauren Kugler
Yes, we do have a YouTube channel and I believe I should have that right at my fingertips. If you Google Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley YouTube channel, I’m pretty sure it’ll pop up there. It’s also at our website, under the community.

00:26:16 Matthew Kuehlhorn
So the videos are embedded there to be able to watch.

00:26:20 Lauren Kugler
On our website.

00:26:21 Matthew Kuehlhorn
And yeah, and yeah, we’ll pull in the YouTube channel and and that website onto the show notes so people listening can jump on those. And I do think there’s a lot of value in those tick tocks that are out there. And per our conversation, I’ve got one that I’m definitely going to watch again. Or if businesses want to get involved, if individuals want to get involved, how do we connect with the Community Foundation? What’s the best way?

00:26:49 Lauren Kugler
The best way is to walk in our door at 525 N Main St. or to call or e-mail us. You can find that information easiest on our website,, NPR e-mail. We’re very accessible staff. We like to answer the phone and answer emails. We have businesses that hold funds here, so we administer a variety of fund types, and that’s something that’s unique. About community foundations, many of those are advised by individuals or families, but we do have some local businesses that have funds here, and then we also love to connect people. I am a connector by nature and so I love just hearing from folks who say I need a town or I primarily know one end of the valley or the other, but I’d love to get involved in. Um, you know, food security. Or I’d love to get involved in animal welfare. I love to talk through where people’s interests are and then connect them to the organizations that may be. Where their passion lies.

00:28:02 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That do you see yourself in this role for a long time?

00:28:06 Lauren Kugler
I think so, yeah. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. But you know, it’s, it’s definitely the Community Foundation structure is very it allows for a lot of innovation and creativity. And what we have to be a little careful of is that there is such a wide variety of things that we can do and focus areas we can have that we have to be really careful not to overextend ourselves. But the good part about that. Is that we can be really nimble, whether it’s through our fun structures or our programming, we can be very nimble in how we’re adapting to the Community needs as time goes on. And that is a very exciting piece of our work that motivates myself and I think I can speak for my team that, you know, no one day is like another.

00:29:02 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I love that I only asked that question. I don’t always ask it, but I ask it because. I’m sensing like you are at home, not just in the valley where you grew up, but you are in a role that very much suits your personality, your essence, and in what you’re in the world to do. So I give you kudos to that and I want to thank you for your time, thank you and your team for what you do day in, day out. It does make the community stronger and I’m just excited for this conversation and get more awareness out there.

00:29:36 Lauren Kugler
Well, thank you, Matt, and thank you for adding this to everything you’re already doing because this really, you know, I think conversations like this are so important for relationship building, connections, ideas. And so I’m just grateful to be a part of it. I look forward to our work.

00:29:55 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Ahead. I love that anybody listening, if you want to reach out to Lauren, like she said, she’s very reachable and she loves to collaborate, so do not hesitate. 7 great snow these last couple of days, Lauren. Let’s button up some work and go have some fun. Thank you again for your time.

00:30:12 Lauren Kugler
Thanks so much, Matt. Have a great day.