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Community News 1st Edition 2024

Real-world learning through robotics

The Alpine Robotics drive team prepares for a match during the 2024 Utah Regional Competition


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The field of robotics can often send our imagination to the movies, where we conjure up images of the relentless Terminator or maybe you prefer the loveable WALL-E.

In reality, organizations like Alpine Robotics have used robot technology to introduce generations of young people to careers in science and engineering.

Alpine Robotics Team 159, based in Fort Collins, is the oldest FIRST Robotics Competition team in Colorado. It was started by a Poudre High School math teacher in 1998.

The mission of Team 159 is to support the engagement of students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education by participating in robotics competitions. The team also routinely demonstrates bots at local schools and businesses to help increase awareness.

“As a volunteer and parent of an Alpine Robotics student, I am inspired by the students’ enthusiasm and can-do attitude,” said Christine Johnson. “It is rewarding to see the sense of pride in their eyes when you talk to them about the robot and the parts that they contributed to. And robots are fun!”

Students work with technical mentors to design, build, and program robots to compete in a field game each year. The team’s robots have shot projectiles, climbed poles, balanced on boards, and deployed mini-bots to score game points.

But as FIRST Robotics founder Dean Kamen has often shared, the competitions have never been about the robots. Instead, it’s about young people building self-confidence and collaborative problem-solving skills.

FIRST Robotics Competitions emphasize friendly sportsmanship, respect for the contributions of others, teamwork, learning, and community involvement.

“The real superpower of this organization is building problem solvers, team players, and leaders, while providing real life work experience in a fun environment,” added Johnson.

Worldwide, an estimated 86,700 students on nearly 3,500 teams are expected to participate in the 2024 season. Alpine Robotics typically competes in one or two regional competitions for the chance to be invited to the world competition, which is held in Houston in April.

“I can’t wait to see how these students explore and combine STEM and the arts for creative problem-solving both on the field, and off,” said Chris Moore, CEO of FIRST. “With the support of their teammates and mentors, student participants will be empowered to turn their big ideas into bold actions.”

However, Alpine Robotics needs your support. The organization does not receive financial support from schools, nor do they charge students a fee to be part of the team. To purchase supplies needed for building the robotics and to pay for competition fees, they rely on funds raised through donations and sponsors.

“Alpine Bank has positively impacted Alpine Robotics by being a sponsor for our team and helping us meet our fundraising goal,” said Johnson. “These kids are our future engineers, scientists, and innovators—donate today to ensure our tomorrow!”


Creating change, inspiring hope

Staff from Foster Alumni Mentors (FAM) are all smiles in front of their office in Grand Junction.


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Who comes to your aid when your car won’t start or stops by when you’ve had a tough day? Who is there to help quiet the doubts, believe in your gifts, and cheer you on no matter what?

Nationwide, over 20,000 young people are emancipated from the foster care system each year. Many head out into the world with little to no connections to family or people who care.

“We want our members to feel valued, heard, and know they aren’t alone,” explained Kimberly Raff, founder/executive director of Foster Alumni Mentors (FAM).

“We aren’t here to tell them what they should do, just help guide them.”

Foster Alumni Mentors serves any individual—16 years old and up—who has experienced foster care. The organization has a particular focus on those who have “aged out” of the foster care system, especially individuals who are currently struggling to meet their basic needs.

Raff added it’s about ensuring young people from foster care know they have support to reach their goals. Services are available at no cost to participants, and are designed to support, prepare, and build confidence for foster alumni as they transition into adulthood and beyond.

“I have watched individuals go after their dreams and succeed over and over again,” said Raff. “Seeing the smile on their face, knowing they are capable and deserve to live the life they want.”

Foster Alumni Mentors started out primarily providing social activities and mentoring services. Since 2020, the organization has grown immensely—membership is up by roughly 300% and the organizational revenue has grown nearly five-fold.

Services now include regular workshops, specialized groups, and leadership programs. Looking ahead, Raff said FAM hopes to develop a “housing and services” model for young people aging out of foster care. They also aim to expand on their current life skills programming and increase scholarship opportunities.

“We may not be able to help everyone, but we make a huge difference in the lives of many,” Raff said. “And they are our leaders of tomorrow.”

Foster Alumni Mentors will hold their Starfish Gala fundraiser event on May 11 at the Colorado Mesa University Ballroom. It’s slated to be an epic evening filled with impactful stories. The organization also hosts a charity run each fall, sponsored by Alpine Bank, called the FAMpoint5k.


Experience the theatre like never before

An ensemble photo from Phamaly Theatre Company’s production of “Honk! The Musical.” Photo by Michael Ensminger Photography


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Phamaly Theatre Company is one of only a few organizations nationwide that captures the important role the arts can play in creating an outlet for all people to perform and express themselves on stage.

As Denver’s premier disability-affirmative theatre company, Phamaly professionally produces each production and exclusively casts artists with all nature of disabilities including physical, cognitive, intellectual, emotional, and trauma-related.

“Phamaly gives actors a supportive space to explore and develop their craft,” explained Ben Raanan, Phamaly’s artistic director. “We empower artists within their disability identity, educate the community about access and inclusion, and entertain audiences with high-quality, award-winning theatre.”

Now entering its 35th season, Phamaly Theatre Company performs a variety of productions each year at venues throughout the Denver metro area. Past performances include: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Rocky Horror Show,” and “Into the Woods.”

But as an organization with impact, the leadership here makes it their mission to be the creative home for theatre artists with disabilities, while remaining true to four defining values: People first, artistic excellence, community partnership, and disability affirmative.

“Phamaly contributes so much to the disabled and arts community and truly moves the needle in the arts world through representation, accessibility, and amazing productions,” noted Corinne Denny, Phamaly’s managing director.

“We truly are about transforming stories, deconstructing barriers, and elevating disability.”

Alpine Bank is a proud supporter of the Phamaly Theatre Company, and we encourage others to give or sponsor, and, of course, buy tickets and enjoy a show this season.

“Your financial support allows us to continue our legacy of being the longest-running disability-affirmative theatre in the nation, exclusively casting actors with disabilities and uplifting disabled voices,” said Raanan.

Upcoming productions

“A Chorus Line “
Conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Co-choreographed by Bob Avian

This classic musical takes a look at a single day in the lives of 17 dancers as they vie for jobs in the chorus of a Broadway show. Utilizing Phamaly’s unique take on disability adaptation, this guarantees to be “A Chorus Line” unlike any you’ve ever seen.

“The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks and Curls”
By Keli Goff

In the style of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” Keli Goff’s “The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks and Curls” features a collection of monologues, scenes, and stories highlighting the special and sometimes complicated relationship between black women and the way society views their hair.

“Funny as a Crutch”
By Rich Orloff

This laugh-out-loud comedy skewers stereotypes, picks apart prejudices, and attacks assumptions about disability – from both outside and inside the community. Ten vibrant short plays tell stories such as the first two disabled folks landing on Plymouth Rock, a disabled woman being picked up for her first one-night stand, and a modern take on a classic fairy tale–Cripperella.


Fostering environmental stewardship in Ouray County

A rubber duck watches over the river races at the 2024 Ridgway RiverFest. Photo by Nick Williams


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Healthy waterways are an essential part of protecting the riparian ecosystems of Colorado.

Here in Ouray County, the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (UWP) helps to safeguard the natural, scenic, and economic values of the Upper Uncompahgre River Watershed, from its headwaters to the northern Ouray County line.

The small team connects to and partners with the community, other nonprofits, and government agencies to promote water conservation and restoration.

“The support from hundreds of volunteers throughout the year, providing thousands of hours of service, is inspiring,” said UWP Executive Director Tanya Ishikawa. “It not only helps me realize the importance of my work but also shows the widespread interest in our watershed resources.”

But because water is connected to everything and everyone, understanding water conditions and finding good solutions to water-related problems can at times be really complicated, said Ishikawa.

For instance, collecting water samples in a river at one location at a particular time of day during a specific time of year only provides a snapshot of data. Conditions may be very different if one variable is changed.

“Weather, activity upstream, streamflow, and many factors can drastically change the data and the related conclusions about that river and its needs,” added Ishikawa.

The Uncompahgre River originates in Lake Como at 12,215 feet in the Uncompahgre National Forest.  It flows approximately 75 miles northwest and joins the Gunnison River at Confluence Park in Delta, CO.

Ishikawa also noted the organization’s focus on science-based solutions to water issues. This type of work allows for better collaboration with various stakeholders to determine the best course of action for the watershed.

For example, the team at UWP has done extensive work on water quality issues created by historic, abandoned mines. Like other watersheds in the Colorado mountains, the Upper Uncompahgre River Watershed faces daily degradation due to metals from draining mines, tailings, and waste rock piles, explained Ishikawa.

The Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership will hold its annual Ridgway RiverFest at Rollans Park in Ridgway on Saturday, June 29 from noon to 5 p.m.

This free festival, sponsored by Alpine Bank, is a fun, family-friendly way to learn about the watershed, play on the Uncompahgre River, and enjoy live bluegrass music. All proceeds from the event, including a silent auction, support watershed activities.


Extraordinary music, accessible to all

A student tries out a cello at Bravo! Vail’s Instrument Petting Zoo. For more than 35 years, Bravo! Vail has been enriching people’s lives through the joy and power of music.


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The peak of live music can be found right here in Eagle County.

For more than 35 years, Bravo! Vail has been enriching people’s lives through the joy and power of music. The nonprofit organization also provides extensive music education throughout the community, connecting musicians and listeners, and celebrating the evolving world of classical music.

“Music is the only subject that stimulates all parts of the brain, nourishes the spirit inside of each one of us, and heals our soul,” said Aileen Pagán-Rohwer, Bravo! Vail’s director of education and engagement.

“We want everyone to know the positive effects of having music be a part of their life.”

This summer, the Bravo! Vail Music Festival will celebrate its 37th season from June 20 to August 1 with more than 80 concerts—over half of which are presented for free.

The festival brings internationally known musicians to picturesque venues throughout the Vail and Eagle River Valley region, drawing music lovers from around the world.

Bravo! Vail further drives home its mission through a continuum of music education that stretches throughout all stages of life.

Programs start with children as young as two at local libraries. Elementary-aged students can begin receiving music lessons after school, and they attend exciting events like an Instrument Petting Zoo, which gives young people hands-on experience with a variety of musical instruments.

Alpine Bank is a proud sponsor of Bravo! Vail’s Little Listeners @ the Library program.

“Thanks to this support, Little Listeners @ the Library programs remain free at the Vail, Eagle, Avon, and Gypsum public libraries, giving all children the opportunity to start their musical journeys at an early age,” noted Pagán-Rohwer.

Older intermediate to advanced students are invited to join a chamber ensemble to learn how to collaborate and make music with friends. Select teenagers can also be invited to join Bravo! Vail’s Teen Council, which plays an important role in organizing social activities for the families in the Music Makers Haciendo Música program.

All these programs help create entry points into music without barriers.

“This lays the groundwork for a lifelong love of music, resulting in engaged adults who attend and support our Bravo! Vail Music Festival and other music activities throughout the community,” said Pagán-Rohwer.


Live life, give life
Become an organ donor

Chris Klug Foundation (CKF) staff, Anna Morgan-Palardy and Jessi Rochel, along with CKF founder and board chairman, Chris Klug, at a recent CKF event in Aspen. Photo by Matt Snell


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In 2002, Chris Klug stepped to the podium to receive his Olympic bronze medal at the Salt Lake City Winter Games.

Eighteen months before that, he was lying in a hospital bed getting prepped for a liver transplant.

Six years before that, his name was put on a list.

“Our vision is to eliminate the wait for transplantation,” said Jessi Rochel, executive director of the Chris Klug Foundation (CKF).

In 2003, Klug started the foundation to educate individuals nationwide to register as organ, eye, and tissue donors, and to inspire those in the transplant community.

There are over 103,000 children and adults on the transplant waitlist in the United States. Every eight minutes, a new person is added to the list, and 17 people die every day waiting.

While 95% of Americans say they support donation, just 48% actually register. Each organ donor has the opportunity to save eight lives, and tissue donors can change over 75 lives.

Last year, CKF reached over one million people with its life-saving message. This was a monumental accomplishment for the organization’s small but mighty team, which includes Rochel and Anna Morgan-Palardy, the foundation’s program and communications director.

“Our organization’s superpower is our passion,” said Rochel, which she added is fueled by countless people in the transplant community. “Their stories remind us daily that our work makes a difference.”

Those stories hit close to home for Rochel and Morgan-Palardy. Rochel’s father is a heart transplant recipient, and Morgan-Palardy has a brother-in-law on the heart transplant waitlist, and another who was a hero donor.

“We feel very fortunate to be able to share this life-saving message we know so well,” said Rochel. “We are humbled by the incredible support of this community, and the brave and selfless decisions families are making every day.”

As for Klug, you’ll find him living life to the fullest. He still actively competes in races like the Power of Four and the Leadville 100 MTB.

“I think his story comes as a big surprise when people find out what he has accomplished as a liver recipient, and is still accomplishing over 20 years later,” said Rochel.

Alpine Bank is a long-time supporter of the Chris Klug Foundation. We are honored to be a key financial sponsor of the CKF Summit for Life fundraiser, a nighttime uphill race on Aspen Mountain.

About This Author


Alpine Bank Staff

Alpine Bank is an independent, employee-owned organization with headquarters in Glenwood Springs and banking offices across Colorado’s Western Slope, mountains and Front Range.

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