After success, wealthy residents give back |

After success, wealthy residents give back

Steve Lynn
Theo StroomerJohn Willson (CQ), deputy chief for the Eagle Valley Fire Protection District, smiles as Nicholas Richins, 10, of Gypsum gives a donation. Willson was volunteering for the Salvation Army at Wal-Mart.

Dan Smith, a retired lobbyist for Exxon-Mobile, knows why people who live in the Vail Valley give so much time and money to charity.

Whether they’ve made their money here or somewhere else, wealthy people know it’s good karma to give back, especially during the holidays, Smith said.

“Almost all of them feel the need to return the value of that good fortune to the society that provided it,” said Smith, a volunteer for the Salvation Army, Vail Mountain Rescue Group and other organizations that rely on donations. “That’s what giving is all about in this valley.”

Averaging a total of $15,674 given to charity, Vail residents are the most generous out of 400 cities and towns in Colorado, according to a recent study by the Colorado Nonprofit Association.

The rankings came from tax returns filed in 2006. On average, 83 percent of all charitable giving is reflected in the section of a tax form where one can itemize charitable contributions, said Charley Shimanski, president of the Colorado Nonprofit Association.

Researchers were surprised that ski resort towns accounted for the top five of 400 cities and towns in Colorado, Shimanski said.

“It’s because the snow is better and you guys are happier,” he said jokingly.

Wealthy, well-connected people ” whether they’re second-home owners or longtime locals ” give money to the Vail Valley Foundation and its diverse projects, said John Dakin, spokesman for the nonprofit.

The nonprofit focuses on education, athletics and the arts by giving college scholarships, organizing ski races and funding other programs. It also owns and operates the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail and the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek.

“A lot of people may have come here from somewhere else, but they have a desire to get involved,” Dakin said.

Charities recognize that donors here are wealthy and that they give generously, Shimanski said.

The more important statistic is the percent of people’s income given to charity, because that says more about how much a person gives compared to what they have, Shimanski said.

Vail residents gave 6.65 percent of their incomes ” double the statewide average ” ranking 14th out of the 400 towns and cities, he said. Avon residents gave 5.3 percent of their incomes, he said.

The town of Manassa in southwest Colorado, where people gave 9.7 percent of their income to charity, ranked No. 1, he said.

Vail psychologist Dr. Caryn Goldberg called giving to charity one of the best feelings a person can have. People who give are not so “self-focused,” she said.

“There’s the whole mindset that if you give to others it benefits you,” Goldberg said. “It helps you forget your own problems.”

Aspen residents gave about 4 percent of their incomes to charity, ranking the town 73rd, Shimanski said.

People from Steamboat Springs gave three percent of their incomes, below the statewide average of 3.6 percent, and Telluride matched the statewide average, he said.

“Not every resort community is extraordinarily generous,” he said.

Statewide, Colorado ranks 36 out of the 50 states in percent of income donated to charity, down from 34 a year earlier, according to the study.

In the Vail Valley, even less wealthy people drop money in Salvation Army kettles for the holidays, said Tsu Wolin-Brown, director of the local Salvation Army.

And everyone from low-income families to chief executive officers volunteers for bell-ringing, packing food baskets, adopting families and other projects, she said.

So Wolin-Brown, who has been working for the Salvation Army for 24 years, is not surprised that the Vail Valley ranks high in giving.

“People realize that it’s a privilege to be able to make a difference in the lives of others, and I think that goes across all strata,” she said.

The Salvation Army gets an average of $40,000 in cash donations each year, she said. The nonprofit uses that money for projects such as supporting low-income and middle class families, holding food drives and helping stranded motorists, she said.

“I don’t think people do it as much for tax benefits as they do knowing that it’s going to a good cause,” Wolin-Brown said.

Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or

Support Local Journalism