Vail Character: Kelley Brupbacher
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – Growing up with the nickname, Kelley want-Kelley get, Kelley Brupbacher, the founder of the Vail Valley-based Central America Foundation, was once considered the spoiled one of her seven siblings. Now she has replaced the self interest of her childhood with a determination to help others.
Originally from Lafayette, La., Brupbacher was drawn to the Vail Valley – after a stint in New York – 11 years ago by the active and fun community. Shortly after she arrived, Brupbacher began volunteering and working for organizations in the area, including the Vail Valley Foundation, where she says she learned about the business side of nonprofits.
Amidst volunteering she has held some 30 jobs over the last decade, from a counselor at Camp Vail to a jeep tour driver for Timberline Tours. As if that’s not enough, during this time she also commuted to Denver for three years to earn her bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado. She now lives in Minturn.
Two years ago, Brupbacher founded the Central America Foundation, after visits with local families bolstered her attachment to the region. When she is not organizing or making trips to Central America with plans for hospitals and schools, she works with First Descents. She is the director of development for the nonprofit, which provides rafting and other outdoor trips for young cancer patients.
Otherwise she can be found driving and hiking with her friends’ children and dogs, and her own dog Leroy, who, she insists, is her main man.
How were you motivated to start the Central America Foundation?
I took a trip to Mexico about 10 years ago with a local, Alisha Quinn. She has college friends down there working with Red Cross and the kids in the community. I am a sucker for kids and just loved being with them and realizing how the smallest effort makes such a big difference.
About three years ago I started traveling frequently to Panama to see a friend. I was sitting on a dirt floor having the best chicken, beans and rice with a lovely local family. They said they needed a school and I said, “OK … I can do that for you.”
I came back and before I knew it friends started to put me in touch with the right people and there was the Central America Foundation. Overall, I just love to help people. It is addicting. Once you see that difference you can’t stop. I truly love what I do!
Can you explain this “addiction?”
I would say that I have always had this thing for kids. I grew up as a dance instructor for kids. Then I went to Mexico and worked with the kids down there, and really liked that challenge of the communication, because I didn’t speak Spanish.
Then being a camp counselor here I always ended up with the Spanish-speaking kids, and just loved being with that. So for me, that’s kind of what motivated me for the Central America Foundation. I
don’t know, it is an addiction for me. I don’t know what it is, it just feels good at the end of the day.
How did you approach someone to ask for a school?
When you’re with these communities that literally have nothing, and you come back and you’re living in Vail Valley, in Vail, Colorado, in this beautiful area – we live in a very giving community, and people want their money to really help people.
I think I just came back and was like, “There’s a need down there. This one community needs a school, can you help fund it?” And people just started donating money for supplies, and books and uniforms.
Do you feel like you have to be aggressive at all to get what you need for the organization?
I think I’m a very aggressive person in my communication style, and it’s not about me, its about other people. If it was about me I’d probably be less aggressive .. .but they need it, and I know people who have it, so why not connect the two.
I definitely think that aggressiveness is part of it. Even with First Descents, my job is to raise the money for these participants to go to camp. If I don’t raise the money, they’re not gonna go to camp. That’s how I look at it, so yeah, I’m aggressive.
Can you describe the reaction of the people when you went back down and brought the school?
When I went back with more stuff it was life changing, you know? You literally just bring them a soccer ball and its Christmas for 20 kids, its insane. I think they were all pretty blown away.
I think its hard for them, you know? A lot of gringos, Americans, travel down there to buy property, build, and so forth … I’m not completely against it, but a lot of times they are ruining the land, or a lot of these local families that live there are having to move out of their town. So, they don’t trust a lot of Americans in these poorer communities.
I think it was huge for them to see me return with stuff for them and know that they can trust me, and know that they can work with me. So, that part was huge for me to feel.
Is there anything you would do differently if you were to start over?
No, not really. I, myself, need to learn patience. I want to make everything better so fast and I know in time it will all come together. We have hit many bumps and will continue to hit many bumps in the process of attaining our goals. There is never a better time to make a difference than at that moment that you are thinking about it.
Do you have any advice for future do-gooders, looking to make a difference in the non-profit world?
Yes. I would definitely say that it’s just like business, in the sense of, find something you are truly passionate about, if at the end of the day you are not truly passionate about it, it’s not going to succeed.
I think the other part is, learn from other nonprofits – that’s how I grow.
Just be focused on what you’re doing, and make sure it’s for the right cause. If its not really benefiting that person and you’re not really filling that niche in what the community needs, or what the world needs, then maybe rethink what you’re doing.
Really try to narrow it down, make that difference and be efficient. Always do what you’re doing for the people you’re trying to help, never for yourself, never for a pay check, because then you won’t succeed and the right people aren’t getting help.
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