Gretchen Van De Carr, one of five Coloradans to receive the 2009 Livingston Fellowship from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, hopes to transform her dream of a youth development and environmental center into reality.

Photo by John F. Russell

Gretchen Van De Carr, one of five Coloradans to receive the 2009 Livingston Fellowship from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, hopes to transform her dream of a youth development and environmental center into reality.

Van De Carr pushes for local youth center

Nonprofit leader has early plans for development, environmental facility

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— In Gretchen Van De Carr's dreams, a building rises out of land near a forested area. The environment includes different habitats: meadows, conifer forests, aspen groves, water. In the building and on the land, youths are learning, seniors are hiking and people of all ages are interacting with the environment.

Van De Carr, who founded and runs the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, would like to see this vision transformed into a youth development and environmental center. In her ideal world, the center would be off the grid, environmentally friendly and beneficial to nonprofit groups across Northwest Colorado.

"What I would hope is, we could assist in filling gaps or moving the youth environmental world to the next level," Van De Carr said.

The idea for a center grew out of a youth corps staff retreat about a year ago, but Van De Carr has had it on a back burner for six or seven years.

A youth and environment center would centralize her group's operations, she said. The corps has offices at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus, keeps equipment in a warehouse off the premises and runs a science camp at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp.

"There's really no place in Northwest Colorado that you can house 100 people," she said, "Perry-Mansfield excepted, but obviously they have their programs, and they're pretty full."

Van De Carr expects to need 5 to 8 acres for the buildings and sleeping accommodations, as well as immediate access to 100 acres of natural environment. She's looking at several options, including Emerald Mountain land that Lyman Orton owns.

"There's a lot of land in this area that would be perfect," Van De Carr said. "It's just a matter of finding the right partner."

Making preparations

Van De Carr hopes to push the dream forward with the help of training she'll receive through a fellowship. She was one of five Coloradans to receive the 2009 Livingston Fellowship from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation.

The $25,000 fellowship will go toward professional development. It isn't easy for nonprofit group leaders to use that money on themselves, she said.

"It's been made very clear that this money is going to support my development," she said.

Van De Carr plans to spend some of the money on services from an executive coach. She wants help achieving a healthy blend of time for work, family and herself.

"As busy executive moms know, trying to balance those three things is tricky and frustrating," she said.

Van De Carr also hopes to gain the skills necessary to build her organization to a point where she doesn't have to run day-to-day operations. That could leave her time to build a coalition among nonprofit groups and to focus on the proposed youth development and environmental center.

"The end result of the fellowship, it may involve laying the groundwork for this center," Van De Carr said.

She wants the center to serve youths across the region and across age groups. She also would like to help different types of youth, such as those who are at risk, those with special needs and those who are headed for college.

"That's what really strengthens people is that diversity," Van De Carr said.

Her goal is lofty, she acknowledged.

"Our initial plan was by 2013," Van De Carr said. "Given the economic recession : it'd be great to break ground by then, it'd be even better to have it up and running by then."

She'd like to build the center with little long-term debt so other agencies and nonprofit groups could use it at low or no cost. Van De Carr also would like college students interested in green building to help with the design.

She imagines the center as a pure, healthy place.

"I not only see this as being built with green technology but promoting a healthy lifestyle by being alcohol-, tobacco- and other drug-free," Van De Carr said.

Benefits to others

Chris Wilson, the city's director of Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services, didn't have an official comment but said his agency might be interested in using such a center.

"Certainly as a companion organization that runs the Community Youth Corps, we would be interested in and believe there might be some crossover activities," Wilson said.

Julie Dalke, media coordinator for Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services said she planned to talk with Van De Carr about the possibilities a center would offer.

"Play space and environmental education is something BOCES would like to promote as a best practice for our schools," Dalke said.

Yampatika Executive Director Sonja Macys is thrilled about the idea. Nonprofit groups in the valley that are focused on youth education and the environment already are working together, Macys said.

"We're working very closely together, but that collaboration could be increased and improved with just proximity to a site and having a site where youths could come and learn," she said.

Her group is on board.

"Down the road, the vision of creating something that is more adequate for not only today's activities but the growth of organizations is very exciting," Macys said.

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