Established in 1989, El Pomar's Awards for Excellence program has awarded more than $3 million to 360 nonprofits throughout Colorado. Twelve winners were named Wednesday, among 33 noprofits in 11 different categories, with one organization being named outstanding nonprofit overall. Other awards recognized three exceptional Colorado leaders and a business committed to assisting Colorado nonprofits. A statewide commission of community leaders selected nominees and winners.
The Charles L. Tutt Award for Education recognizes organizations which exist to support training and instruction designed to impart knowledge and develop skills for people of all ages. As finalist for this award, the Pinhead Institute received $5,000. The Denver based Summer Scholars program, which works to improve the reading and writing skills of disadvantaged youth, won the award and received $15,000.
The mission of Pinhead Institute is to build bioliteracy locally and globally by helping people learn to interpret the natural world and thus enable them to make wise conservation choices. Nana Naisbitt, Pinhead's founder and executive director, traveled to Colorado Springs this week with her two children and Pinhead staffer Katharina Ullmann to accept their award at El Pomar's annual gala event at the Broadmoor Hotel.
"It was a real honor to be nominated and now to win the award, especially since we're only two years old," said Naisbitt. The Pinhead Institute was nominated by El Pomar's Awards For Excellence Selection Commission member Jim Hayes, a Colorado Springs resident who owns a home in Telluride. The Awards for Excellence grants are unique in that nonprofit organizations do not apply for the award, but instead must be nominated by the Selection Commission for their outstanding philanthropic work in one of 14 categories. The Pinhead Institute received the honor in recognition of their success in educating local and regional students, the Telluride community, the global community, and even scientists themselves, about bioliteracy.
The Pinhead website reads, "People preserve only what they love; they cannot love what they do not know." The statement reflects that organization's main goal: to educate communities about their natural world so that those communities can understand how important conservation of their natural world really is.
Established in 2001 by Naisbitt, who is a nationally recognized natural history writer, the Pinhead Institute was originally created as an affiliate organization of the Smithsonian Institution – the only such organization in the state of Colorado. Naisbitt, who grew up near the University of Chicago, explains that the creation of Pinhead evolved out of her longing to have access to a university and its associated museums, libraries and other resources while living in Telluride. She also had three children in the Telluride school system in 2001, and felt that the schools' science programs could use some support.
"I thought that through the Smithsonian, we could bring the resources of a university to the town and to the kids. When I checked with the schools, there was tremendous receptivity for bolstering the science program, and little by little I began to identify that this community was really interested in environmental issues."
In its mere two years of existence, the Pinhead Institute has managed to build eight education programs that work on local, regional and global levels. Recently Pinhead sent four student interns (two from Telluride, one from Norwood, and one from Ridgway) to three Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. for five to ten weeks, and one Telluride science teacher to Panama to conduct field research for six weeks.
Pinhead also administers a month-long survey course every year to train and certify 25 local townspeople as Stewards of Bear Creek Preserve, a program in which Smithsonian scientists and local experts lead workshops and field studies on topics such as plant identification, invasive species, insects and microhabitats, pollinators, and more. And their free Town Talks series hosts local and visiting scientists and professionals, who present a variety of subjects to the community throughout the year. Close to 400 internationally renowned scientists are scheduled to participate in workshops and seminars run by Pinhead in Telluride in 2005, up 62 percent from 2004, according to the Pinhead website.
On a more global level, the Pinhead Institute is currently managing the massive Smithsonian Institution project to build an online Encyclopedia of Life prototype.
After successfully organizing and hosting the Encyclopedia of Life Symposium in Telluride in February 2004 (along with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Telluride Institute), Pinhead was selected to project manage the creation of the EOL prototype and was granted $100,000 to do so.
The El Pomar Foundation, based in Colorado Springs, is one of the largest and oldest private foundations in the Rocky Mountain West, with assets totaling nearly one-half billion dollars. El Pomar contributes approximately $20 million annually through grants and community stewardship programs to support Colorado nonprofit organizations involved in health, human services, education, arts and humanities, and civic and community initiatives. One of its programs, the El Pomar Youth in Community Service program, is the second largest youth granting organization in the country.
Geared toward teaching high school students the nuances of leadership and philanthropy, the EPYCS program recently provided funding to students from Gunnison, Montrose, Norwood, Olathe and Telluride to be dispersed to nonprofit groups in the region. After careful selection, the students granted a collective $6,500 to five nonprofit groups — the San Miguel Resource Center, a theater group from Silverton, Southwest Youth Corps from Durango, the Wright Stuff Community Foundation and Telluride Community Television.
The El Pomar Foundation works with a network of 128 Colorado high schools that together will grant over $1 million this year. Since the EPYCS program was started in 1991, participating students have disbursed more than $8 million dollars. Spencer and Julie Ponrose founded El Pomar in 1937.
For more information on El Pomar Foundation, contact Kae Rader at 719/577-5750 or Darryl Christian at 719/577-7030. Information on the Pinhead Institute is available on their website, www.pinheadinstitute.org.