Charitable fund celebrates 15th anniversary |

Charitable fund celebrates 15th anniversary

A 1996 fund-raiser for the late Cindy Nash, right, launched the Vail Valley Charitable Fund. Curt Nash, center, still lives in the valley, and their daughter, Montana, left, is now a senior at Battle Mountain High School. Montana is volunteering her time for the fund these days.

EAGLE COUNTY – Many of us are closer to the financial edge than we’d like to admit. For a lot of families, medical emergencies can be that final, rude push into insolvency. For the past 15 years, the Vail Valley Charitable Fund has helped bring families back from that brink.

Before the Charitable Fund came along, locals in financial trouble were often helped by dinners, bake sales and silent auctions organized by friends and neighbors. In a valley where virtually everyone is from somewhere else, it’s how we make up for a lack of extended families. The Charitable Fund has given some organization – and some extra oomph – to hundreds of those events.

The Charitable Fund’s model was established with its first event, to help Curt and Cindy Nash, along with their toddler daughter, Montana. Cindy was battling cancer, and even with insurance, the family’s medical bills quickly escalated into a six-figure nightmare.

Local attorney Rohn Robbins found out about the family’s plight because he and Curt were members of the same athletic club in Vail.

“They were talking about a bake sale,” Robbins said. “I thought, ‘We can do better than that.'”

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

Working the phones and some personal connections, Robbins got about 40 members of the “Miss Saigon” touring company to come to Vail for a performance at the Battle Mountain High School auditorium. Locals came together to get the group to and from Vail, and provided food and lodging. More phone work came up with a truckload of silent auction items.

The result was about $80,000 for the family, and the birth of an idea.

Robbins and a group of other locals soon put together a nonprofit group specifically to help locals with crippling medical costs. That mission hasn’t changed. Neither has the goal of running the organization with as little overhead as possible. After 15 years, the Charitable Fund still pays only for a part-time director. The rest of the more than $5 million raised since then goes to the families.

There have been some changes over the years, of course. Fund director Karen Simon said the group has an account that can help families with a few thousand dollars without holding fund-raisers. And the group has a couple of funding streams through other groups.

The Charitable Fund for several years raised money through its series of “Vail Undressed” calendars, although that series ended with this year’s project. The group’s board hasn’t decided how to replace the calendars, but decided the idea had run its course.

The fund also benefits from other groups’ events, including the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival in January.

Still, every year brings somewhere between 10 and 20 fund-raisers every year. The bigger events can raise $50,000 or more. And at every one of those events, you’ll find Charitable Fund board members doing the hard work of everything from putting up traffic barricades to working in the kitchens.

Every event is different, but all are the same in some ways.

“Every time we do one, I’m blown away,” Simon said. “Every time, people come out. Every time, businesses support us over and over again.”

Board member Mary McDougal has been involved with the Charitable Fund nearly as long as Robbins. She’s also constantly impressed and amazed by the community’s generosity to its friends and neighbors. For her, it’s the cases of sick kids, or kids’ lives turned topsy-turvy because of a parent’s illness, that hit the hardest.

“Those are the ones that really tug on your heart,” she said.

While the Charitable Fund’s mission hasn’t changed, neither has one hard fact – need never goes away.

“There’s never enough money to meet all the need,” Robbins said. “We’re all gratified to help, but I wish we could eliminate all the problems – it’s frustrating not to be able to solve them all.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or

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