Steamboat Springs When he was a freshman, Austin Ritzel carried around a plastic water jug in the halls of Steamboat Springs High School to raise money for his friend Randall Nelson.
Most people at the time knew about Nelson’s mounting legal bills, said Ritzel, who will be a senior next year. Nelson was accused of assault and disorderly conduct after a February 2007 altercation with another teenager who taunted him with racial slurs.
Ritzel said just by carrying the jug from class to class, he raised $600 for Nelson, who was later found not guilty on the charges.
“I just felt like it was an unfortunate situation for some good people, so I wanted to help out,” he said. “I felt I had a responsibility and a duty.”
Ritzel has kept the same attitude, staying active at the high school and in the community.
He was recognized Sunday by the Yampa Valley Community Foundation as the Youth Philanthropist of the Year.
During its 13th annual recognition of residents who are honored for giving back to the Yampa Valley, the Community Foundation named Michael and Sara Craig-Scheckman Individual Philanthropists of the Year and Steamboat Restaurant Group as the Business Philanthropist of the Year.
Heidi Barbee, marketing manager for the Community Foundation, said a committee of residents reviewed, interviewed and selected this year’s winners. She said the Community Foundation received several nominations for each but that the Craig-Scheckmans, Ritzel and Steamboat Restaurant Group rose to the top.
“Local individual, youth and business philanthropists are honored for their vision, contributions and broad impact on the community,” Barbee said in an e-mail. “It is the hope of the Community Foundation that in recognizing the following philanthropists for their outstanding efforts that we will all be inspired to do more for the community.”
Sara and Michael Craig-Scheckman started the Craig-Scheckman Family Foundation in 2005, two years after moving their family to Steamboat.
In addition to providing about $175,000 a year to benefit low-income, at-risk or special needs youths in the community, the Craig-Scheckmans use their backgrounds — Sara is a lawyer and Michael is a registered financial adviser — to assist other area nonprofit groups.
After moving to Steamboat, they wanted to find a way to give back.
“It really comes from the heart for us,” Sara said. “It’s our passion to be a part of providing wellness in the community, and we strongly believe that to have strong families and healthy youth, you have to be a part of that.”
Rex Brice, owner of Steamboat Restaurant Group — Mazzola’s Italian Restaurant, Rex’s American Grill & Bar, Big House Burgers and Lil’ House — said for most of his adult life, he’s had an empty feeling for not being able to give back.
Brice, a Steamboat resident since 1993, said he always thought he’d have to be rich to give or retired to donate his time. But when he joined the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs five years ago, Brice said he learned different.
The Steamboat Restaurant Group contributes 15 percent of its annual net income to nonprofit groups and donates restaurant gift certificates, food, labor and space for events. The company also encourages its employees to get involved.
Brice said that empty feeling finally went away.
“It’s that affirmation that you don’t have to wait until you’re rich or you’re retired to do some good in the community,” he said. “All these people that work for us make a difference. It’s a pretty cool thing.”
Ritzel said local teens sometimes get a bad rap for some individuals’ choices. He said his involvement in the Steamboat Springs Teen Council the past three years has allowed him to give teens a voice in the community to help change how teens are perceived.
Ritzel — a member of the high school’s Student Council and leadership class, which organizes events and fundraisers — was an advocate of the Social Host Ordinance in 2008 to help curb teen drinking.
Ritzel, whose family moved to town when he was 9 years old, credits Steamboat for his involvement in a variety of endeavors.
“It’s corny, but I just want to thank my community for giving me the opportunities it has,” he said. “People in this community have really been an inspiration.”
Philanthropists of the Year
Michael and Sara Craig-Scheckman (Individual) ; Austin Ritzel (Youth); Steamboat Restaurant Group (Business)
Tim and Janet Borden (Individual); Kayleigh Esswein (Youth); Holiday Inn (Business)
Mary Brown (Individual); Meghan Hanrahan (Youth); SmartWool (Business)
Rick and Donna Garth (Individual); Nick Labor (Youth); Prudential Steamboat Realty (Business)
Pres and Patti Askew (Individual); Katie Matteo (Youth); Steamboat Resorts (Business)
John and Patty Kerst (Individual); Chantal Gregory (Youth); B & K Distributing (Business)
Susan and Jim Larson (Individual); Tucker Louthan (Youth); Alpine Bank (Business)
Poogie and Steve Dawes (Individual); Sheraton Steamboat Resort (Business)
Lyman Orton (Individual); Jeff Fowler (Youth); Steamboat Motors (Business)
Joy and Denny Swanson (Individual); Maggie McElhinney (Youth); Steamboat Pilot & Today (Business)
Don Lufkin (Individual); Emerald City Youth (Youth); Wells Fargo Bank (Business)
Audrey and Bob Enever (Individual); The Industrial Co. (Business)
Gloria Gossard (Individual); Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. (Business)