Salazar Leaves a Lasting Legacy with OUR Center in Longmont
Over the past 20 years, the OUR Center in Longmont has expanded to become a pillar of the community and a model for service organizations around the state thanks in large part to the work of its executive director, Edwina Salazar.
The announcement that she is retiring this year was therefore met with both “gratitude and sadness,” as the OUR Center Board of Directors wrote in a statement.
“She has truly been the face of the OUR Center for all these decades,” Board President Ryan Mason said. “From our capital campaign (to fund the new facility) to the transition from our prior campus to our current building and consolidating all of our services, her peers look to her as a top professional in the nonprofit world.”
While the new 30,000-square-foot home for the OUR Center is Salazar’s crowning achievement, Mason also noted the importance of Salazar’s leadership in making the organization a recognized family resource center by the Family Resource Center Association and developing the Aspen Center for Child Development into the first five-star rated child care center in the Boulder Valley.
“She had the vision and foresight to guide the OUR Center through many changes over the years in response to the community’s needs,” said Elaine Klotz, OUR Center development director who has worked alongside Salazar for 20 years. “We started in a little house beside Central Presbyterian Church providing the basic needs — food, clothing, help with housing and utilities — but now it’s grown to have over 20 partners, allowing it to become more of a one-stop shop with a holistic approach to look at what an individual or family needs not just today, but tomorrow, next week, next year.”
During Salazar’s time leading the OUR Center, the number of interviews conducted for service has more than doubled from roughly 9,000 in 1999 to nearly 23,000 in 2018. During that same time period, the number of meals served at the OUR Center increased fivefold, surpassing 100,000 in 2018, as did the pounds of food given away, exceeding the million-pound mark.
Much of that growth was realized in 2016 when the OUR Center moved into its new $4.7 million facility. With an intake center for case management services, Community Cafe, Community Closet, Community Market, volunteer center and administrative offices, it allowed the nonprofit to not only consolidate all of its services into one building, but also improve the quality of those services.
“The OUR Center is now a truly state-of-the-art facility,” said Donna Lovato, a grant writer at El Comite de Longmont and the former director of the Inn Between. “I went there for lunch just to experience it one day and the food is amazing. Their clothing bank is clean, organized and you can get nice clothes for a job interview, it’s like a little boutique. Their food pantry is used as if it were a grocery store, where people are able to pick the food they know their family will eat. They don’t cut corners because ‘well they’re just homeless people.’ People are totally treated with respect and dignity there and that’s all because of Edwina and her board.”
Lovato remembered one 17-year-old boy who was staying with Inn Between after coming up through the foster care system. He didn’t have a suit to wear to an audition with the Berklee College of Music. When she asked the OUR Center for help, Salazar sent over three new suits for the young man to try on and told him to pick his favorite.
“To me, that’s going above and beyond,” Lovato said. “She could have just said ‘oh yeah send him down,’ but she took a special interest in him and made a personal connection. He was so happy. I thought that was just incredible.”
Even though Salazar always seemed to find time to build personal relationships with her clients while developing the OUR Center, she also worked with several other organizations to help them improve their own services. Nearly everyone interviewed for this story said “she had her finger on the pulse of the homeless community,” and it showed in her work with other organizations.
“She has really demonstrated commitment, passion, and strength around addressing the needs of vulnerable people in our communities, she’s just a force,” said Robin Bohannan, director of Boulder County Community Services. “She was involved in our first 10-year plan to end homelessness and she wasn’t afraid to say the hard things that other people might have been shy about saying.”
During the creation of Boulder County Community Services’ second 10-year plan, in which the new coordinated entry system to integrate all homeless services in Boulder County was developed, Bohannan said had the Our Center not stepped up to provide a space for the assessment and navigation services, “it would have been hard to fully include Longmont into the coordinated entry system.”
Having worked in social services for more than four decades now, including as the neighborhood resources coordinator with the city of Longmont and as the project coordinator for Longmont-A Community that Cares, Salazar is ready to hand the over the reins and finally knock off some of her bucket list while traveling though Australia and South East Asia.
“I feel proud of what I’ve done, particularly helping the people of Longmont get through two recessions, but I also know that it was made possible by the hard work of many, many people,” she said.
“During a time with such a high cost of living and a lack of affordable housing, the fact families have a place to come to stabilize their lives financially and build resilience is something the whole community can celebrate. Although I’m leaving I think the Our Center is in a good place to continue to help the community.”
Salazar’s retirement date is not yet set as the board conducts a search for her replacement. She also plans to stay on board to help with the transition.
John Spina: 303-473-1389, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jsspina24