Erica Snow, executive director of Aspen Community Foundation, believes in a strong community network to help enrich the lives of families in need. Photo by Steve Mundinger

The Aspen Community Foundation (ACF) wrapped up their nationwide search for the organization’s next executive director this past spring. They hired a long-time philanthropist and proven leader, Erica Snow.

Previously based in Denver, Snow and her family relocated to the Roaring Fork Valley in June 2022. For the past 14 years, she worked as the portfolio director of the Colorado Health Foundation.

In her role, Snow focused on the allocation of funds to organizations working in the behavioral health sector, specifically for communities in need. Additionally, she helped develop early childhood and adult recovery support systems, focused on youth and adult resiliency programs, enhanced healthcare safety nets and created equitable access to primary care.

For Snow and her team of eight, it was important they worked alongside citizens to ensure the programs directly reflected the needs of the community at large. “We really wanted to see that it was led by the community, or supporting work alongside community members,” she said.

This mentality came to the forefront when, as a young adult, Snow was a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Madagascar. While there, she learned that listening before action could create meaningful and sustainable change.

“There is so much we can learn from others, and to really solve a problem you have to do it from within the community,” Snow said. “You have to understand the cultural context and the people, and to really have a change you have to make sure all those voices are part of the solution and that they are leading and driving it. It was an eye-opening experience and it changed me.”

No stranger to the Valley, Snow and her team at the Colorado Health Foundation helped launch some of the region’s school-based health centers, had a deep relationship with Mountain Family Health Centers, and supported health clinics in the Colorado River Valley.

Since 1980, ACF has served a diverse population from Parachute to Aspen by bridging the gap between families and the area’s available resources. Driven by data and community outreach, ACF identifies key areas of need and addresses them through networking and educational opportunities for community members, and financially by awarding grant money to local nonprofits such as Advocate Safehouse Project, Valley Settlement, Lift-Up and Stepping Stones.

“As wide as it may seem, there are so many opportunities to think about this region as a community. And to better think about the resources we have, the nonprofits that are in place and the potential partnerships and networks that can come,” Snow said. “How do we further collaborate to make sure everyone has the resources they need to thrive, particularly families and young children?”

In 2010, on the heels of their 30th anniversary, ACF reevaluated their support pathways for young families. Utilizing extensive research, ACF found that many impoverished children were not “kindergarten ready” which ultimately led to delayed learning over the course of their academic experiences.

With this knowledge, ACF launched the Cradle to Career Initiative (CCI) to address the achievement gap created by complex and multifaceted obstacles that are intertwined with systemic poverty; obstacles that keep underprivileged children from thriving, according to the ACF website.

Focusing on supporting children from birth through age 18, CCI starts with kindergarten readiness. Working closely with local nonprofits, CCI increases access to high-quality childcare and early education, implements home-visitations for “at-risk” families and enhances the safety and quality of family/friend/neighbor care.

CCI also aids youth struggling with family stressors by expanding access to social, emotional programming. For high schoolers, a culture of college excitement is created by exposing them to career opportunities and college counseling.

For Snow and the team at ACF, the community is what drives them the most.

“Since I’ve moved here, be it my team, be it the board, and anyone that I have met here, there is a deep commitment and love for the people, the beauty and the cultural richness of this region. It comes out with everyone I meet,” Snow said. “That has been inspiring.”

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