There are many visible and obvious attributes that benefit residents of the San Miguel Watershed – outdoor recreation galore, open space, and scenery ranging from snow-capped peaks to high-desert, red rock.
Also visible, but perhaps less obvious, are the viable programs that benefit the area’s youth and families. From the Telluride Academy, to the Norwood Baseball Program to the Naturita Library, each community in the San Miguel watershed offers niche programs that enhance the lives of the area youth.
Far less visible is where the funding for many of these programs comes from. And, even less visible, are the people behind the funding – the folks actively raising the money.
The Just For Kids Foundation is one local, grassroots foundation that offers grants to programs serving area youth, and the invisible folks behind the foundation working hard to raise the money are the Bill Carstens and Erik and Josephine Fallenius families.
Both families have been involved with the JFK Foundation since its inception in 2000. Philanthropist and developer Bill Carstens founded JFK, while Telluride resident, real estate broker, and endurance addict Erik Fallenius became a member of the founding board. Carstens valued innovation, creativity, and intellectual vitality and created a foundation that kept a grassroots familiarity with the youth organizations it funded.
“Bill Carstens always had a passion for youth as the future,” Cheryl Miller, current JFK boardmember, and Carsten’s daughter, said about her dad. “He felt strongly about giving back to his community and saw the wisdom of engaging the whole community and locals in facilitating that vision.”
Fallenius also strongly believed in Carstens’ vision, and as a member of the founding board of directors, he began raising money for JFK through personal participation in extremely challenging, athletic endeavors. In 2002 he completed the Iron Man Triathlon in Hawaii and 2003 the New York Marathon. In each competition, friends and family would support him by donating money to JFK, funds that were matched by the Carstens Foundation.
According to Fallenius’s wife, Josephine, Erik thought the idea of raising money by accomplishing a formidable athletic feat was something to bring to the community. He dreamt up the idea of offering a bike challenge, bringing riders from the mountains of Telluride to the desert of Moab. He named it the Mountains to Desert Bike Ride or M2D.
As he had done with his participation in the Iron Man and NYC Marathon, Fallenius envisioned participants raising money to benefit the Just For Kids Foundation, which would be matched by the Carstens Foundation and distributed to area youth programs through the granting process.
The Mountains to Desert Bike Ride first came to life in 2003 and has gained tremendous momentum ever since. The Fallenius’s put on the eighth consecutive ride this September and, according to Josephine, saw record participation with 207 riders, mostly from Colorado, but some hailing from Arizona, California, New Jersey, New York and even Hawaii.
Beginning in 2010, Fallenius changed the course route, sending cyclists from Telluride to Gateway instead of Moab. The ride now ends with a party at the quaint and remote Gateway Canyons Resort.
“Everybody loves the route to Gateway,” Josephine said. “We had at least 350 people at the finish. Everyone enjoys hanging out under the big cottonwood at the finish. It’s a lush place and the Gateway folks are really nice to us.”
Josephine explained that the Gateway route offers more options for participants. Folks can start in Norwood and ride to Gateway Canyons, or start in Telluride and add a 15 mile summit climb past Gateway Canyons, to complete a 135 mile ride – the same length as the Telluride-Moab route.
“It can be as challenging as you want it to be,” Josephine said. “People who start in Telluride and ride all the way to the summit – that’s a long ride. You have to be in shape to do that.”
Of this year’s 207 riders, Fallenius believes that about 47 raised money on top of the TK entry fee. Unlike other athletic, fundraising events, such as Lance Armstrong’s Foundation’s LIVESTRONG, M2D riders are not required to raise money.
“We gently encourage people to participate in the fundraising,” Fallenius said, “and we would love to see improvement, but at the same time you need to have a lot of people riding. It’s a fine balance and we’re working on that.”
Participants of the 2011 Mountains to Desert Bike Ride, which took place Sept. 24, have raised 96 percent of JFK’s $80,000 goal, or an impressive $76,790. The Carstens Foundation will match that amount and the Just For Kids board will have the pleasure of reviewing grants and awarding the money to innovative and outstanding youth organizations and individuals.
JFK has two granting cycles each year – one in the fall (this year’s fall deadline is Monday, Oct. 17), and one in the spring. During the spring cycle the organization also awards significant college scholarships to seniors who, like Don Quixote, can demonstrate that through attaining their dreams they will empower others in some way. JFK budgets as much as $10,000 to give to one or two seniors, but, inspired by past candidates, has given as much as $20,000 to four different students.
In order to apply for a grant, interested organizations and individuals can download an application from the JFK website: http://www.justforkidsfoundation.org. After reviewing all grant requests, the JFK board 15 to 20 minute interviews with the applicants.
According to Board President Steve Siegel, the interview is an essential part of the process. It is the Foundation’s mission to not only give money to organizations involving youth, but to keep a continued dialogue and pulse on what the community needs are in relation to the programs. Siegel jokes that sometimes the interview process is more of a consulting session than an information session, and adds that he always leaves inspired by the dedication of those seeking funding.
“In addition to giving a second chance for the applicant to explain their project, we are captivated by the applicant’s enthusiasm and commitment to their program,” Siegel said. “We read their energy and we see that they’re out there doing it—they’re empowering kids.”
Led by the inspiration from the Carstens and Fallenius families, as well as all of the organizations it funds, Just For Kids is readying for its twelfth year of awarding grants and support to the area’s innovative, developing and leading youth programs.
And, they don’t mind invisibly blending into the region’s scenic backdrop, as long as the programs they’re supporting and the work they do remain in the foreground.
For more information about Just For Kids go to: http://www.justforkidsfoundation.org, or to donate to the M2D bike ride go to: http://www.active.com/donate/m2dbikeride2011.