What began a couple of years ago as an idea to assist with the transfer of wealth of farm and ranch lands on Colorado’s Eastern Plains has flourished into something much larger, and for the greater good of rural Colorado.
The Eastern Colorado Community Fund was formed two years ago by a group of citizens interested in making Eastern Colorado a more vibrant and attractive place to live and work, as well as keeping valuable economic resources in the region.
After a steering committee was established, they quickly learned that America is in the midst of the largest transfer of wealth in history, as more than $40 trillion will pass to the next generation between now and 2055. Much of this wealth – in the form of water rights, land assets, and mineral rights – will come from rural America, with most transferring to children who have moved away from the farm, meaning these assets are forever lost from many of these rural communities.
NREC joins in
In the summer of 2014, Colorado State University’s Northeast Regional Engagement Center, based in Sterling, joined the ECCF steering committee. NREC serves seven northeastern Colorado counties – Sedgwick, Morgan, Logan, Yuma, Phillips, Washington and Kit Carson. Six of these seven counties were identified by the steering committee as the first to be served by the Eastern Colorado Community Fund.
Early on, the ECCF steering committee created bylaws, established a nonprofit status, expanded the steering committee to represent all the counties in northeast Colorado, held several phone conferences with other community foundations, and contacted foundations to explore the possibility of seed funding. ECCF then forged a relationship with the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado, based in Fort Collins, and eventually dissolved the nonprofit to become a fund under the foundation.
All the while, the Northeast Regional Engagement Center was there providing support and services.
“The significant contribution of Karen Ramey-Torres, director of the Northeast Regional Engagement Center, was instrumental to establishment of the Eastern Colorado Community Fund,” said Cindy Horner, a member of the ECCF board of directors and former executive director of the Northeastern Junior College Foundation. “We also appreciated facilities and technology, made available by NREC, for various ECCF meetings and the production of ECCF documents.”
Even though ECCF has partnered with the Community Foundation, it has its own identity and has hired a full-time director. The ECCF board of directors, with two members from each participating county, is responsible for grant-making from unrestricted funds in the ECCF portfolio of funds. Thus far, enough startup funds have been collected to hire a director. John Chapdelaine, the former warden of Sterling Correctional Facility, was recently named to the post.
Land-grant mission fulfilled
The story of philanthropy on the Eastern Plains is another example of how CSU fulfills its land-grant mission by contributing resources and expertise to Colorado communities through regional hubs like the Northeast Regional Engagement Center.