Tang’s ‘Whatever is good for the valley’ drove VVF’s educational efforts | VailDaily.com

Tang’s ‘Whatever is good for the valley’ drove VVF’s educational efforts

VAIL — Oscar Tang looked around a Vail Valley Foundation board meeting and decided two things:

1. He was on this board because he had been fortunate.

2. He had been fortunate because of his education. Good people had taught him.

Everyone, he decided, should have a shot at that kind of education.

"It was almost like a guerrilla effort. We don't have to operate it, but if it's good for the valley, we'll support it," Tang said.

The Vail Valley Foundation has been supporting education since it was founded in 1981, but in the early years it was mostly in adult education programming like the World Forum. Is there more we can do, Tang and others asked themselves?

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"If you address the problem early, you can avoid remediation later. It's much more costly to remediate later than to take care of it in the first place," Tang said.

So, several people from the Vail Valley Foundation met with a representative of Eagle County Schools. They asked a very simple question: "What is your biggest problem, your biggest challenge?"

"Half-day kindergarten," came the very simple reply.

The state pays for half-day kindergarten, but parents have to pay for the other half, if they want their kids to go all day.

"If we came up with the other half, would you do it?" Tang asked the school district.

"Yup," they replied, or words to that effect.

Success at Six became the brand for the program.

"Half the kids in Eagle County attended kindergarten full time because their parents could pay for it, Tang said. "Those who could not were handicapped. The state policy seemed to go out of its way to handicap them further."

"The school district has the facilities and administration in place, but could not provide full-day kindergarten. Our job was to marshal that," Tang said.

Since then the Foundation has served more than 4,000 youth and contributed more than $3 million to Success at Six, helping an entire generation of children attend full-day kindergarten.

Always education

Since it was founded in 1981, the Vail Valley Foundation's focus has been three-pronged: Education, athletics, and arts. They looked at the Aspen Institute as something of a model, Tang said.

Some argued that education wasn't the Foundation's role in the community, but Tang and others countered that by taking care of education and families who live and work here, they were making the community a better place to live and visit, which is absolutely the mission of the Vail Valley Foundation, they said.

"The main purpose was to help develop the valley in a way to attract the visitor. Ideally, guests would find the Vail Valley attractive to visit and settle here. Once they see the beautiful environment, they're hooked and many buy second homes," Tang said.

Focusing on education for the valley's youth was a milestone for both the Vail Valley Foundation and the community, Erik Borgen said

"For those of us already involved with the (Foundation), it gave us the right structure to be able to work with other entities in the community, including the school system and the Youth Foundation, to begin the process of ensuring that every child in our county, no matter who you are, has the opportunity to flourish and have a bright future," Borgen said.

Educational entrepreneurs

Then-board chairman Harry Frampton encouraged entrepreneurial efforts, so outside the box they flew.

The state had a Colorado Child Tax Credit, but apparently not many people in Eagle County took advantage of it. If you spend $1,000 for childcare for kids 12 years old and younger, you get a charitable deduction, plus a $500 tax credit on your Colorado state income taxes.

The Vail Valley Foundation sweetened the pot a little so that donors could take a large up-front tax credit, through opening a CCTC Donor Advised Fund. The Foundation raised millions using that device, and made the money available to any tax credit-qualified educational organization in the valley.

The Foundation also launched the AEI World Economic Forum with President Gerald Ford, educational brain candy for adults.

Kathy and Bjorn Borgen played an important role in the Magic Bus mobile preschool program, which was founded and originally managed by the Youth Foundation, but funded by the Vail Valley Foundation.

Brian Nolan worked with the school district to launch the Great Start program.

Celebrate the Beat, Sowing Seeds (now with Walking Mountains Science Center) and First Notes were started and nurtured by other Vail Valley Foundation education visionaries.

Early Vail Valley Foundation college scholarships were around $1,000, and quickly jumped to as much as $20,000. Now the Vail Valley Foundation is one of the hubs for regional scholarships, awarding $260,000 in 2017.

Ann Smead and Michael Byram, Amy and Steve Coyer, and Susan and Harry Frampton, Joe Smead, Lissa Tyler, Vicky and John Garnsey, Sandra Smyser, and former Vail Valley Foundation President and CEO Ceil Folz all helped launch and run education programs that still help the community.

Several of those are Education Legacy Award winners, presented each year at the Star Dancing Gala. This year's is the 10th annual, set for July 17, 2018.

YouthPower365

The Foundation also supported and funded the Magic Bus, a program of the Youth Foundation.

The Youth Foundation was launched in 1997 by another group of educational entrepreneurs including Mark Smith, Jim and Barbie Allen, Gerald Gallegos and Susie Davis to name a few. It grew to include a series of programs from early childhood education, into K-12 programming and scholarships.

Eventually, it became clear that the two organizations should merge. On Jan. 1, 2012, the Youth Foundation was merged into the Vail Valley Foundation. The education initiatives were consolidated under YouthPower365. Today, the organization provides more than 15 programs in education enrichment for more than 4,200 children a year, in close partnership with Eagle County Schools.

YouthPower365's stated vision is to serve "Every Child, Every Day, Cradle to Career." It focuses on three areas of work: PwrUp (early childhood), PwrHrs (K-12), and PwrOn (college and career readiness).

It's a wide-ranging workload, but the focus remains uncomplicated.

"Whatever is good for the valley," Tang said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.