Remarkable women, remarkable lives. Visionaries such as Ambassador Swanee Hunt; her sister, Helen LaKelly Hunt; and a handful of others took to heart the sentiment that no goal is too daunting if women can band together and simply believe. Believe in themselves. Believe in others. Believe that by working together, dreams really can come true. Realizing their vision, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado (WFCO) was born, an organization committed to helping women become self-sufficient. The goal of the foundation is to help women and their families, to better their lives, to show them the world has not given up and turned its back. The foundation was created from the work of a few, but quickly became the project of many. This begged the question, What happens when those few women become a dozen, or 20, or 200?
Thus the idea of joining forces with women across the nation was born, in an effort to encourage donations of $1 million that would effectively result in social change. The campaign, dubbed “Women Moving Millions,” will support projects that will improve the lives of women and children in Colorado. The Women’s Foundation has received generous gifts as local women answer the resounding cry for help. In the following pages you will be introduced to four remarkable women whose lives have been profoundly affected by the generous services and efforts put forth by the WFCO. Two of the women are philanthropists, and their giving comes from a place deep within their hearts. The other two are victims in a society that can be a bureaucratic nightmare, leaving those less fortunate to try to make their way against seemingly impossible odds. But these two courageous women would not give up, and today they embody the thousands of women the foundation strives to help each day.
Thanks to these women for sharing their beautiful stories, and thank you to the donors for believing in the collective power of others to help those in need and to truly make this world a better place for women and children.
Sue Anschutz-Rodgers seems to have a love for all things living. “I would let a mountain lion in if it looked like it was hungry, just not for me,” says the indomitable philanthropist. Since the inception of the Anschutz Family Foundation in 1982, Anschutz-Rodgers has served as head of the organization whose mission is to better the lives of Colorado citizens through grants to area nonprofits. While she no longer serves as the foundation’s executive director, she remains intimately involved in the day-to-day activities and decisions. She is an icon of charitable work, and this passion to give back is one that was fostered in her childhood. “Basically, my parents instilled in me an appreciation of American traditional values. While they never sat me down at a young age and said, ‘This is what you do,’ I always had the sense that if you’re fortunate, then you need to help those who are less so,” she says.
But the revelation that she needed to help others was less a “bolt out of the sky” and more a mindset. “I was divorced years ago and had three young daughters whom I raised. I had always done a lot of volunteer work in the schools, with Junior League, wherever it took me. But when my dad started the Anschutz Foundation and asked me to run it, it felt so good and so right,” she says. Clearly, her father’s belief in his daughter’s ability was based on an instinct that was directly on target. Even today, years after the inception of the foundation, Anschutz-Rodgers says she continues to learn something every day and looks forward to meeting new people and intersecting with their lives. Because her father endowed the foundation, Anschutz- Rodgers was determined from the onset to make sure his mission and his wishes were followed and respected. “In his words, he wanted to help children, the elderly and the poor, which essentially takes in the entire world,” she explains. “To accomplish this goal I talked with other foundations to learn how to structure our work. It took a while to find the niche we sought, but it was extremely important to honor the donor’s intent. So we’re basically a human services-oriented organization, and within a few years this was a very comfortable and appropriate place to be.”
It was in the mid-1980s, shortly after the foundation was up and running, that Anschutz-Rodgers realized the scope of the work might not be reaching the critical masses that were in dire need of assistance. “Being from rural roots myself, I began traveling around the state and realized how much all of Colorado could benefit from our work,” she says. She realized that by joining forces with others in a collaborative setting, perhaps her foundation could reach into smaller communities and do some good. “My goal was to eventually see the foundation do funding that was 50 percent rural and 50 percent metropolitan or Front Range,” she says. The process has taken about two decades, but the result is that outlying communities that are sorely in need of basic services now have greater and better access to them, thanks to the vision and determination of one woman.
“We started out by dividing the state into four quarters, but then realized the resort areas were entirely different from the eastern areas of Colorado,” she explains. “So we divided it into eight areas and introduced a rural philanthropy day in several of the northeastern counties such as Yuma, Ouray and Julesburg. We brought together several area nonprofits so we had better resources and greater impact.” This effort was the impetus that even today finds Anschutz-Rodgers working at the grassroots level, meeting endlessly with funders and encouraging them to travel to rural areas to watch the local nonprofits working and serving these communities. Her work appears to have dramatically changed the perception of how donors and recipients alike view the role of foundations. “Foundations in Denver have long had an ivory tower image, and I was determined to break that mold. I wanted to make it so that any nonprofit could either sit down and talk to us in person or on the phone,” she says. The true measure of success is in the outcome of the efforts. From a fledgling seed of an idea, Anschutz’s Colorado Rural Philanthropy Days now draws around 300 people representing nonprofits and funders from the Denver area. Dollars and resources are pooled and stretched, and smaller rural communities for the first time are being given a new shot at services previously available only in larger cities.
That same determination to make it right for those less fortunate again came into play in 1985, when Swanee Hunt and a handful of visionaries first had a notion of a Women’s Foundation of Colorado that would better the lives of women and children in the state. “I remember meeting at the Governor’s mansion with Swanee, Dottie Lamm and Merle Chambers. I told the women that our foundation doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to join at a high level, but I would support the effort any way I could. I’m not what you’d call a women’s libber,” she continues. “I firmly believe any person, regardless of color or gender, should be judged as an individual based on his or her honesty, integrity and ability. I would never do anything just because it’s a woman, but because of her capabilities. To that end, The Women’s Foundation has done an excellent job in supporting the women and girls who are truly in need.” Anschutz-Rodgers put her money where her mouth is, stepped up and answered the $1 million challenge issued by the Women Moving Millions campaign. In addition to supporting The Women’s Foundation on a personal level, the Anschutz Foundation grants money to organizations such as Warren Village and Brandon House, which help women in ways that fall within the foundation’s scope. “The one area I really am interested in is self-sufficiency,” Anschutz- Rodgers says. “It’s one thing to give women money, but I like to give them initiative to get off welfare, go to school and get a job and ultimately to maintain their self-respect. When you think about it, most of these women are heading one-parent families, so self-sufficiency is very important, especially if we’re trying to break the cycle of welfare and poverty.”
DR. JANDEL ALLEN-DAVIS
“I’ve always been one to give back,” says Dr. Jandel Allen- Davis, associate medical director, external relations, at Kaiser Permanente. “Maybe it’s my Catholic school upbringing, because the nuns just naturally have a sense of charity. Back then it was the little things, like saving pennies, that gave way to my sense of giving.” Dr. Allen-Davis recalls the women in her family as mentors who instilled in her the knowledge that giving is more important than receiving. “My grandmother worked as a maid in a hotel and volunteered at a little church in her community,” she recalls. “Once a month she took cookies to the local mental ward. My aunt ran a Catholic girls camp in the summers, where young black kids could go. It was funded through the church, and everyone looked up to her. And my mother was a Girl Scout leader. So although there was no expectation to give, it was always there implicitly.” A child of the civil rights movement, Dr. Allen-Davis started at Dartmouth College in 1976, the same year that produced the college’s first graduating class of women. “What do I remember most about my experience there?” she reflects. “There were fits and starts along the way. I was never a fit, and I worked hard at it.”
With a successful career and wonderful family, Dr. Allen- Davis today is a huge believer in giving back to the world that has brought her such wealth in terms of happiness and security – things money in itself cannot buy. “I think you have to stand on the shoulders of giants and look at the whole notion of volunteering and philanthropy,” she says. “How do we define volunteering? It’s time and it’s money. Does it mean people must give a bazillion dollars? Not necessarily, but it is about giving some of your own resources.” The important thing about philanthropy, she believes, is that regardless of the cause you take on, you must then become its champion. “I don’t mean champion in a boorish, overbearing manner; I mean that you have to rally others to support it,” she says. Currently, Dr. Allen-Davis serves on four boards – Metro Volunteers, the Denver Chamber Leadership Foundation Board, the University of Colorado Foundation Board and the Medical Examiners Board. She has also served on a host of other boards, including the Colorado Children’s Chorale, Planned Parenthood and several others.
“Volunteering requires a time commitment, and people are often heard to say they don’t have enough time,” she comments. “I think the most effective nonprofits are the ones that understand that volunteers don’t have a lot of time, and they enable their board members to be effective. They’re careful about who they choose to be on their boards and don’t overwhelm them with a lot of operational tasks. And these boards also must understand whom they serve, how they must operate, and they must have both the passion and resources to realize their goals.” As a society, Dr. Allen-Davis believes we have done a less than adequate job of what she calls “convergence” work. She explains, “If someone gets a great idea, they want to start a nonprofit to get it going, which leads to a lot of redundancy. That means we don’t achieve as much as we would like because resources are spread thin. But when you converge all the organizations interested in a single issue and take what is best from each of them, then you have the best people and the most funding. Redundancy can dilute efforts, but by focusing on a niche and setting bigger targets, you can operate effectively under a single umbrella.” Dr. Allen-Davis is a member of The Women’s Foundation PEP Club, a group that is committed to giving money over a multi-year period. She likes the organization, she explains, because it encourages women to achieve self-sufficiency. “Women are the principal decision makers regarding health care, for example, so it’s a privilege for me to participate in this area,” she says. “My own family was middle-class black folks. But ask yourself, is class based on money or mindset? This generation today is the first to even have that option to consider. Of course, people have to put food on their table, but in many families, it’s up to the women to carry the rest of the burden.”
It’s “mind-boggling,” Dr. Allen-Davis says, to consider what it takes to be self-sufficient today. She says if you look at the cost versus what women are actually making, it’s almost impossible for many families to reach that level of self-sufficiency. “And that’s where The Women’s Foundation comes in,” she says. “They’re trying to influence what needs to be done to change this, from a public policy perspective and educational perspective. “But where is the money going?” she wonders. “There are all these crazy misaligned incentives in our system, and we need to get focused and to change what exists in our circle of focus. The stories are unbelievable, whether we’re talking about the ability to get a decent education or feed a family.” Dr. Allen-Davis feels so lucky because she did have choices. She chose to become a doctor, she chose to start a family, she chose where she would work and live: “I always knew I wanted to be a doctor, and being able to work in the area for which I am well-suited makes me feel incredibly fortunate. But if you follow your dreams, it’s important to keep in mind how they can help fill an unmet need.” In the new millennium, Dr. Allen-Davis says she believes more people are looking at ways to volunteer, which she believes will only increase upon retirement. “I did a seminar with Kaiser docs and asked how many of them had done volunteer work. Not a single hand went up. I then asked how many of you coach baseball, Girl Scouts, and hands were raised. It expands what volunteering means, and just because you can’t give a lot of time, maybe you can give money. There should never be a value placed on giving, and instead there should be a value placed on every donor and on every donation, no matter how small,” she says.
The Women’s Foundation holds a particular place in her heart. She elaborates, “I love their focus, and I love that part of our society where they’ve chosen to put their efforts. It teaches people to fish, and it’s not just about giving the less fortunate a few dollars but truly teaching them self-sufficiency. And the return on that investment is incalculable. If The Women’s Foundation’s whole goal is to make the clients they serve so darned good at what they do that they don’t have to come back except to say thanks, then this was a job well done.”
She arrived in Colorado seven years ago with little more than the clothes on her back, three small children in tow and a broken-down car. Fleeing a life of violence, MacKenzie O’Shea did not have time to consider what the future would hold; she was broke, living in a strange city, with no friends or family to lean upon. Yet somehow her indomitable spirit broke through, and from the depths of a life that had been filled with disappointment, despair and utter rejection, O’Shea pulled herself out of the cesspool and clawed her way to a better place, one that would help her provide food, shelter and a brighter future for her kids.
Seven years ago, O’Shea was a young mother, newly divorced, with 2-year-old twins and a 4-year old. She was the victim of domestic violence and knew she had to get away from her abusive ex-husband before something terrible happened. “A cop I knew back East found out about SafeHouse in Denver, and they agreed to hold beds for us until we arrived,” she recalls. “It was pretty scary.We had to leave one night and drive through several states to get here. We made it, but my car broke down when we arrived at the gates of Safehouse. We were forced to take the local transportation system, and there was record heat of 108 degrees. We all ended up in the hospital with dehydration.” Upon her return to SafeHouse, McKenzie met her first guardian angel in the form of a family advocate who had once been a resident of Warren Village. After a three-month wait, she moved her family into the community, but in the process did everything possible to ensure her family would be fed, clothed and cared for.
“My first week here I signed up for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, through the Office of Family Assistance), food stamps and Medicaid. My older daughter ended up in a psychiatric center through Kempe, and the rest of us started in therapy. Before moving here we lived in Section 8 housing, but I chose Warren Village because it is a much more protective environment. I really hooked into the community, but I knew I couldn’t start working right away because my kids had been through so much,” she explains. Times were hard, she acknowledges, expressing a sentiment that reveals little of the horrific experiences that preceded her flight to safety. She goes on to say, “We came here with the clothes on our backs, and SafeHouse provided us with everything we needed. I remember putting on my best outfit to meet with Human Services, and they looked at me and said, ‘You’re white, you’re middle class, get a job, and you’ll be fine.’” The proclamation was a shattering blow to O’Shea, who knew she had to be with her children for everyone’s sake. “We got lucky, because the physician who was treating my family understood we all needed to be together for a year to heal. My twins had been premature and still had some physical development problems. Both girls were in a Kempe school during the day, which was a therapeutic program, and my son was in Sewell, which was for kids with physical and speech disabilities. Our physician took all the different diagnoses, and through that we received permission to undergo a lot of therapy.” While at Warren Village, O’Shea took four classes a month, participated in support groups and learned about parenting. The person who emerged in the end was a far cry from the scared, penniless young mother who had fled a life of violence. “If you compare the person I was seven years ago to the one I am today, you would not recognize me,” she says, a shine in her eyes.
The road to independence came at a price. Working toward financial self-sufficiency, O’Shea became a substitute teacher but had to stop working when she lost her benefits. “I was told I had to pay for the medications for my children because I was earning too much, so I had to stop working because I couldn’t afford to pay for them on my salary,” she says. Instead, she made a career decision to return to school and earn a paralegal degree in 2005. Currently, she is completing her degree in political science and law and hopes to attend law school at the University of Denver. “I owe so much to The Women’s Foundation,” she acknowledges. “I’m 37 now, and I’ll be in my 40s when I get my law degree. When I moved here, I couldn’t meet people’s eyes, and I couldn’t talk to them; I thought I had nothing to say. It took years to gain my confidence. But now, being able to tell my story, because of the support I’ve had through The Women’s Foundation, I feel valued, and I realize how important it is to give back to others,” she says. Today she works with other young women who are victims of domestic violence, teaching them life skills and coaching them to help them change and grow. “I also value education so much,” she says. “I grew up in a family where education was not at all important and where girls were taught to be pregnant with a husband who had the right to beat you into submission. When I first started working with a therapist, I was told I had to learn to stop apologizing for being born.”
“I’m so grateful to be alive,” she continues. “I want to help others understand that no matter how degrading and dehumanizing the system treats you, if you don’t give up, you will succeed.”
For every woman or child in Colorado who falls through the cracks, for every family that struggles simply to exist, there is a woman like Keisha Courtney, who pulled herself up and determined she would create a better life for herself and her family. A Colorado native, Courtney returned to Denver in 2003, after living and struggling in Florida. She arrived with no possessions and no money. Several months pregnant, she lived with relatives for the first month but knew she had to make a change. “I had been working for a credit union foundation in Florida when I lost my job and could not find another one. I wasn’t on welfare, and I couldn’t pay my rent. I called my family in Denver, sold everything we owned and put my family on a Greyhound bus,” she recalls. The story begins to pour out: “When I was 3 years old, the police took me and my sister away from my mom. I never saw her after that. The year I was going to graduate from high school my dad received a letter from my mother. We talked to her on the phone and learned she was a recovering drug addict. I always knew I had one older sister, but learned I had two others who had been with my mom. We all met at my graduation, and it was crazy. Because of that, I know I can be crazy protective about my kids. They’re just too important to me.”
Although Courtney’s family in Denver promised to help her out, no assistance was provided. Quickly, she realized she would need government assistance to provide for her family. “One day at Social Services I was handed a list of shelters and alternative housing. The first call I made was to Warren Village, so I took my two daughters and rode the bus to see what it was all about. If not for Warren Village, I don’t know where we would be today. I still visit when I can, drop off donations, anything to show my appreciation,” she says. Six weeks after her son was born, she decided to go back to school. At the time, her family was living on TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). The problem was TANF would only provide assistance for 12 months if the recipient decided to attend school. Her grit extended well beyond her determination to keep her family together. “I did not want to depend on the state, but who could live off $300 a month?” she asks. “And the things that TANF makes you do. I could never see myself being there again. They invade your privacy, checking up on you all the time, constantly bothering you to report. If you are even one day late turning in paperwork one month, they’ll take away your food stamps for 30 days. It’s hard enough being a single working parent. This makes it impossible.
“I wanted to go into nursing, which was a longer program, so I was worried,” Courtney acknowledges. It was then she received a flyer about phlebotomy, or drawing blood, and decided to take a four-month course in pediatric phlebotomy, finishing at the top of her class with a 3.8 GPA. Although it took her six months to find a job after graduation, she never lost hope. “A lot of my classmates were frustrated, but I was determined. I didn’t care whose door I had to bang down, I was going to do this,” she recalls. Working with a job coordinator at Community College of Denver, she applied for a job at Qwest Diagnostics, where she was hired part time, which provided great experience but no benefits for herself or her kids. In 2006 she was hired by Children’s Hospital to work in the blood donor center, a job that led to her current emphasis on pediatric phlebotomy. Yet for all that she encounters, Courtney is a survivor. And even more remarkably, she understands implicitly that she needs to help others as she herself was helped so many months ago: “I love going back to Warren Village, and my kids love it as well. They love us there, they embrace us, and they help us in any way they can.” It is clear that the respect goes both ways. In 2005, residents and staff at Warren Village put together a Giving Circle, with a challenge to raise $1,000, which would be matched with $30,000 from The Women’s Foundation of Colorado. The director picked a handful of alumni to be part of the Giving Circle, and Courtney was among those chosen for the challenge.
“We set out penny jars in local businesses, and after a month we’d raised around $1,200. Even the residents put in what they could. It happened so quickly and so easily, and it was so exciting. Then we got together and read through all the proposals and granted the money to different parts of Warren Village, such as the Learning Center, which used the money to rebuild classrooms, put in new lockers and get new playground equipment,” she says. Through Warren Village, Courtney was introduced to Project Wise, a group of women who empower other single women to reach their potential. “This was a mentoring program, and I began meeting weekly with a mentor who is a retired nurse practitioner. She would help with job advice, life advice, and this opened up the door for me to do even more,” she recalls. Courtney’s face breaks into a broad smile when she reflects on how far life has taken her. “When I came back here from Florida, I was depressed, I didn’t want to talk to people, I didn’t want any friends.” she says. “But I was told ‘you need to speak out, you need to help make changes.’”
And speak out she did. She spoke from experience, she spoke out of fear that what had happened to her was happening to countless thousands of other single moms. She explains, “I was told you only have one year of school before we take away your benefits. What was I supposed to do? I spoke at a welfare reform meeting, and I couldn’t believe others were listening. “I look at it this way. I feel if I can make a difference in someone else’s life, maybe make it better, I’ll receive my blessing. I’ll always give back. It’s not just about being handed a check, it’s about showing someone you care and you want to help make his or her life better. For the first time my life has a direction, and I want to continue making my life better for my kids and me. I understand the importance of family.” One of the best ways Courtney has found to give back is through The Women’s Foundation, which has been such a staunch supporter of Warren Village and other organizations that help women help themselves. “I think it’s so important for women to empower other women, no matter what their situation,” she says. “It’s so easy to look down on each other, but we need to support each other. Through The Women’s Foundation, Warren Village, Project Wise, we can do this. It takes the networking, the research, and in the end you have to swallow your pride and accept the help. You have to start somewhere if you’re ever going to get where you want to be.”
Written by ELLEN GRAY
Photography by STEVE GROER