Annual celebration honors the Yampa Valley’s Philanthropists of the Year
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Teens who helped get plastic bags banned in the city of Steamboat Springs, a relatively new real estate company known for its activism and a couple whose good deeds have influenced local charitable causes even as they seek to avoid the limelight will be honored as the Yampa Valley Community Foundation’s Philanthropists of the Year during at celebration Sunday.
The Steamboat Group was selected as Business Philanthropist of the Year, and since the real estate company’s inception in 2016, owners Jon and Wendy Wade have made community involvement part of their work life.
“By giving to these nonprofits, we’re able to help people who keep our town so special,” said Wendy, who works with Steamboat Group staff and their children to bring fresh produce to LiftUp of Routt County food bank.
“Our whole team participates, not just the owners,” said Jon Wade.
Not only does staff help the local food bank stock fresh produce, but the realtors have given $70,000 since starting their “donor” fund in mid-2016. Realtors are able to choose where their money goes, as well.
The Community Foundation named Steamboat High School graduates Gretchen Jacobs and Andrew Petersen as Youth Philanthropists of the Year. As part of Teen Council, a youth group that promotes community leadership, Petersen and Jacobs led the effort to ban single-use plastic bags at four grocery stores in the city.
“Honestly, we were doing what we believed was good for the environment,” Jacobs said. “The award just came along,” said Jacobs.
Teen Council members researched the harmful effects of plastic after one of their members came back from a trip to the Bahamas.
“He had talked about seeing all this plastic in the ocean. He said they banned plastic bags there and other places, so why hadn’t we done it,” Jacobs said.
Teen Council then lobbied businesses and the Steamboat Springs City Council for a plastic bag ban. Their effort was successful, and single-use plastic bags will be banned starting in October. Paper bags will cost shoppers 20 cents each.
“A lot of times, we come up with excuses of why we can’t make changes … we’re too young, too busy. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Making little changes is what leads us to big changes,” Jacobs added.
Russ and Carol Atha are being honored as Individual Philanthropists of the Year for their 40 years of volunteer and financial generosity in the Yampa Valley with groups like the Yampa Valley Land Trust, Community Agricultural Alliance and Yampa River Botanic Park.
Yet, the humble couple prefer to talk about how thrilled they are to see teenagers like Jacobs and Petersen getting involved.
“It’s great to see high schoolers take an activist role,” Carol said. “We’re in a resurgence of that in this generation, and I love to see them figuring out ways to make a difference.”
The Athas have been active in the community since they met and married in Steamboat in the 1970s.
Carol currently serves on the boards of the Community Agricultural Alliance, the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and the Colorado New Play Festival. Husband Russ is a member of the Yampa River Botanic Park board.
Community Foundation spokeswoman Kathleen Fitzsimmons said the Athas received numerous nominations for their endless good works, but the couple prefers to quietly go about their lives. Their favorite causes over the years have focused on arts, education, agriculture and the environment.
“They believe that being intertwined with the texture and the fabric of the community” is important, Fitzsimmons said.
The Community Foundation will honor the recipients Sunday during a private Celebration of Philanthropy event at the Larson Barn.
Each recipient shares a common theme of taking action to improve their community, and they were nominated by community members and reviewed by Community Foundation board members who make the final award decisions.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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