Give Thanks

Colorado got a glimpse of hell with Columbine.

It also showed Coloradans what it takes to start making your way back from the abyss: money, and lots of it. And then still more money to manage the money.

"It costs money to give money away," says Phil Nash, director of communications for the Rose Community Foundation.

Last month, the Rose Foundation's board of trustees voted to make a special $50,000 grant to the September 11th Fund Board, created by the New York Community Trust and the United Way of New York to oversee the activities of the September 11th Fund, as well as the September 11th "Tribute to Heroes" Telethon Fund. As of November 8, according to the September 11th Fund's Web page, the organization had given out $48 million in emergency grants for everything from a 24-hour crisis support line for victims and others affected by the events of September 11, to meals and massage therapy for rescue workers, to assistance for firefighters' funerals.

And the funds have collected hundreds of millions of dollars more. But like the American Red Cross, they've also collected complaints that the money isn't going where it's supposed to, as fast as it's supposed to.

"Any way you go, you're going to be criticized," Nash says. "If you take your time, there will be complaints. If you speed up the process, the quality control will go."

Nash got wind early of how massive the relief efforts in New York would be -- and how much help those relief efforts themselves would require -- through an e-mail group. "On September 11, there was a flurry of postings from various foundations," he says. "It was an overnight phenomenon."

The charitable foundations were overwhelmed by the money they were taking in and by the pressure to get the money out.

Certainly that's what happened with the Red Cross, which lost a director and considerable credibility when donors complained that money earmarked for New York relief efforts was instead going to overhead and other Red Cross causes. People inspired to ante up by Hollywood star power were upset when they learned that, despite all the begathon promises, all the monies weren't necessarily headed directly to victims. (Colorado residents Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell were about the only celebrities willing to discuss the charges; they did so on Larry King Live last month.) And to date, America's Fund for Afghan Children, the dollar-donation program for which President George Bush enlisted the efforts of American kids, has collected only $1.5 million -- while administering it has cost the Red Cross close to $2.5 million.

The Rose Community Foundation usually keeps its charitable efforts closer to home, making grants to organizations in the seven-county metro region. "We don't fund New York City," Nash says, "but this was the most thoughtful way we could get involved." The Rose grant will be used strictly to administer the distribution of other donations.

"When disaster struck here with Columbine, our community received support from everywhere," notes Dick Robinson, chairman of the Rose Foundation board. "In this special case, the trustees felt our entire community has been affected by what happened on September 11 and that we needed to find a way to help those who are shouldering the biggest burden."

Giving away that money not only takes money, but it takes considerable organization as well; it helps when an organization is already in place, as the Denver Foundation was when Columbine donations started coming in. "We administered many of the funds from Columbine," says Marlene Casini, vice president for advancement and communications for the Denver Foundation. "Not only did we have to account for the money, but thank every donor who made a gift -- no matter whether it was a dollar or a thousand dollars."

The Denver Foundation, too, stepped outside of its usual grant-making territory to make a $50,000 donation restricted to the administration of the September 11th Fund. "Funding the process means the people who wanted 100 percent of their money to go to the victims will get their wish," Casini says. "This was an exceptional grant. We felt it was important to support them."

At the same time community foundations are paying close attention to New York City, they're keeping a watchful, and wary, eye on the situation back home. Last month, when Casini spoke to the annual gathering of community foundations -- a group 600 strong -- the talk was all about the "community foundations' response in times of crisis," whether in New York, Columbine or communities weathering the shock waves from those crises.

"The big conversation post-September 11 is how the community, speaking broadly, will respond locally to nonprofits," Casini says. "We started to see even back in June that the economy was starting to slide and the donations starting to slip -- specifically corporate donations, which are the first to go.

"The message is that giving is important, and when the economy is bad, giving is more important."

So this holiday season, let us give thanks -- and then something more.

Half-Mast, Half-Assed

Only four more days to see Art Triumphs Over Domestic Violence, the Boulder County Safehouse-sponsored exhibit. Or what's left of it, anyway.

On November 10, patriot-cum-vandal Robert Rowan ("El Dildo Bandito," aka "El Dicko") made off with 21 ceramic penises that had been the focal point (and how!) of artist Susanne Walker's "Hanging 'em Out to Dry" ("How's It Hanging?" November 15). And this past Monday, another freelance art critic absconded with a second piece from the show, a sculpture of a nude female torso. At this point, there may be nothing left by the time the exhibit is scheduled to be taken down from the Boulder Public Library on November 26.

Nothing but another bizarre chapter in Boulder history. Not to be outdone by Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who'd sent the library a letter of protest along with a flag, Congressman Tom Tancredo has introduced legislation that would prohibit any local government or company that bans the American flag from collecting federal funds -- and Boulder is number one on his hit parade. After all, the whole phallic flap didn't raise its ugly head until library director Marcelee Gralapp refused to hang a large flag in the library entrance (never mind the numerous flags already displayed outside the building), explaining that it might offend patrons. Unlike penises, for example. "One of the advantages of being in Congress is when you get ticked off, you have this opportunity," Tancredo admits. He was already peeved about Berkeley's anti-flag policies, he says, "and then I find out about Boulder, and it's literally a gift from God. You could not have painted a more dramatic picture of this issue."

The police, who'd taken the penises into evidence, have now returned them to the artist. The whereabouts of the sculpture are still unknown -- but you can bet that torso will emerge wrapped in a flag, like so many controversies these days.

Meanwhile, at the Denver Public Library, the controversy isn't over dildos, but rather who believes they're getting screwed by librarian Rick Ashton's reorganization plans ("Cheese Wiz," November 8). From requesting -- firmly -- that all 500 employees at this institution devoted to critical thinking read the insipid Who Moved My Cheese?, to moving many of those employees from their longtime posts, to decentralizing the power of the Central Library, Ashton's making a lot of changes. Library patrons will get a chance to discuss those changes -- lumped together under the Ashton-designed rubric "Your Library in a Changing World" -- at the first in a series of Town Hall meetings, set for 7 p.m. December 5 at the Virginia Village Branch Library. "We are developing plans and pursuing actions that will help us survive as a viable, useful organization, today and tomorrow," says Ashton. "In order for the library system to remain viable, we must remain relevant and useful to the community."

And the cheese stands alone.

Also seeking public input are Denver Mayor Wellington and First Lady Wilma Webb, who last week announced a contest to determine where the city's "Salute to American Courage" plaque, dedicated to the crew and passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 ("Local Zeroes," November 8), should go.

No fair answering the obvious: Pennsylvania.

Even though Westword's own contest, "My DIA Horror Story," has officially ended -- the winner, Kathy Cottrell, received a gift certificate to Victoria's Secret, where she can pick up some non-underwire, screener-friendly bras -- the entries keep trickling in. And that trickle could grow to a flood this weekend, judging from the recent Travelocity survey that elevated Denver International Airport from having the third-worst wait in the country to the absolute worst. But while Denver is a town that prides itself on first-place finishes -- Best city for pets! Best city for kids! Best city for kids with pets! -- this is one honor DIA could do without.

Even Denver City Councilman Ed Thomas, who soundly criticized the disastrous situation at DIA in October ("Life in the Slow Lane," October 25), is standing up for Denver. This time. "The truth is DIA was, and is once again, the most efficient airport in the world," he says.

Even so, travelers this weekend should expect some frisky business. Hmmm, that Boulder torso might make a good breast shield...


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