Steamboat Springs The Craig-Scheckman Family Foundation has grown out of its infancy, Executive Director Sara Craig-Scheckman said.
Entering what she calls its adolescent years at age 5, the foundation has been focusing on thoughtful and creative approaches to supporting at-risk and low-income youths across Routt County.
But a family foundation is nothing without a family of community advocates from across the county who work together in ways that give Craig-Scheckman and her organization hope for a brighter future for children.
The foundation was launched about five years ago with $2 million of the Craig-Scheckman family’s money. Its initial goal was to put $100,000 each year into community youth programs.
“To be privileged financially, that’s a responsibility,” Craig-Scheckman said. “And you can do amazing things with your money.
“But writing checks is just a small part of what we do.”
Even in the midst of an economic recession, the staff of Craig-Scheckman — Sara’s husband, Michael, and administrative director Trisha Benglen — have reached funding levels of about $175,000 per year.
The organization’s three main beneficiary agencies, Partners in Routt County, First Impressions of Routt County and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, each will receive $25,000 this year.
The remaining $100,000 is split into two grant cycles in May and November. In May of this year, the foundation offered grants of as much as $10,000 for 15 organizations and school districts in the county.
But Sara Craig-Scheckman’s daily work is more than sitting behind a desk writing checks in the foundation’s new office and guest condominium in The Olympian.
“We want to be very grass-roots and hands-on,” Craig-Scheckman said. “In order to have an impact, you have to put the time into the relationships you build with advocates in the community.”
Having an impact
Craig-Scheckman found out at an early age that she could have an affect on at-risk and disabled children.
In her 20s, while working at a juvenile institution for severely abused children and teens, she was struck by the hope and possibilities offered by early and consistent emotional intervention.
“It makes you have so much belief in the human spirit and its ability to heal,” she said. “It makes you feel empowered. Even though there are so many problems in the world, you know you can have an impact on one human being. You can make someone’s life better.”
And knowing the foundation’s work has affected at least 20 children in the South Routt School District is even better, she said.
Since its inception, the foundation has granted Soroco middle and high schools $10,000 each year for the Hands In Community Involvement Project, a school-to-home counseling service focusing on at-risk teens.
Dennis Alt, Soroco middle and high school principal, said the foundation’s support for the program has been unwavering.
“I think the importance is that it helps us with the true needs of our students and it helps get to some of the root causes,” Alt said. “Having the financial backing to have a therapist that works with student and family, it makes a connection from school to home. It makes the parents more trusting.”
Some students would not have graduated from high school without the support of the foundation, Alt said.
“It’s pretty incredible,” he said. “It’s pretty rare that a family foundation is so involved in their community where they live instead of a community foundation or just making donations.”
Looking at longevity
Lu Etta Loeber, director of the Yampa Valley Autism Program, received a $9,000 grant in May from the Craig-Scheckman foundation to pay for four staff members to be trained in Applied Behavioral Analysis.
She echoed Alt when she said it wouldn’t have happened without the foundation.
“Once these children have the advantage, once they have the benefit from this particular behavioral therapy, the whole community benefits,” Loeber said.
Loeber said Craig-Scheckman is passionate about her work and contributes not just money but time and support.
The foundation’s new office also serves as an extra space for local nonprofits to use for board retreats and to house guest speakers.
“That’s the kind of thing Sara just does,” Loeber said.
As she sat in the organization’s new office Thursday morning with music playing softly in the background and her two chocolate Labradors, Tucker and Isabelle, at her feet, Craig-Scheckman said there was no community she’d rather support.
The family could have launched a foundation in its former home of New York City, but Craig-Scheckman has found in Steamboat a community with “fabulous” advocates who work tirelessly in a frustrating and sometimes thankless fight for at-risk and low-income youth.
“We feel grateful to be a part of this,” she said. “To be able to do something that’s going to last long after we’re gone. We’re going to have some longevity with this.”