Carol Carper, Social Entrepreneur
(1943 - )
Born and raised in Denver. She married Bob Carper, and they relocated to Bailey in 1973.
As the first Kindergarten teacher at Deer Creek Elementary School in 1973, she began recognizing the tremendous needs of youngsters and families in the rural area.
In 1971, prior to moving to Bailey, she’d helped parents start an early childhood education cooperative in the Washington Park area of Denver. That success propelled her to start a Head Start Visiting Program in Bailey in the early 1990s.
While working with Head Start families in Bailey and Pine, she developed a great concern over the lack of resources in the area south of Evergreen, some of which were linked by a map – rather impractically – to Colorado Springs for social services, some distance away.
Geographic isolation, hidden poverty, and the inability to find help normally available in more urban areas created pressures on families that resulted in a significant prevalence of family crises, domestic violence, early childhood developmental and educational problems, isolated teens, and community fragmentation.
In 1994, while Roy Romer was governor of Colorado, she took advantage of an initiative by Bea Romer, Colorado’s First Lady, that focused on women and children. Mrs. Romer toured the state holding town hall discussions about the needs of families. One such meeting was held in Evergreen.
Through that program, Carol was successful in obtaining a $500 grant for printing materials and conducting mailings to publicize community planning meetings to explore possibilities for working with Jefferson County as it decentralized social services. The dream was to bring community services closer to the people. About 150 people attended her planning meetings, representing the geographic area between I-70 to Morrison to Kenosha Pass, encompassing Evergreen, Morrison, Conifer, Bailey and all the small communities in between. The dream was to bring community services closer to the people.
Jefferson County Sheriff Ron Beckem; Nelson Nadeau of Social Services; Dave Thomas, Jefferson County District Attorney; and Dr. Mark Johnson of Jefferson County Public Health were key supporters. The public health nurse of Park County, Mary Dewey, drew in Park County resources; and Sara Lemly of Jefferson County Health Department’s WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program was a key player.
Soon after, Carol wrote a successful grant application for $150,000 to start a family resource center under Bea Romer’s office. In 1995 Mountain Resource Center (initially known as Mountain Family Project) opened a front office in the original Safeway Center in Conifer, and Carol became its first director at $300/month, funded by the Jefferson County Health Department. Mary Dewey became the public health nurse, giving the program strength. “We did a lot of social service support around food stamps and electric bill subsidy,” Carol explained.
“Neighbors helping neighbors build a viable, healthy community” – the phrase that inspired others to get involved – continues to be the phrase that stimulates support.
In 2012, Mountain Resource Center serves a geographic area of 1,000 square miles with a population that has swelled to about 65,000. With a budget exceeding $1 million, it has a staff of 5 full-time and 15 part-time workers, it still relies heavily on volunteers, with 272 offering their services in 2011. MRC has graduated to having its own facility in Conifer, built in 2004.
Programs of Mountain Resource Center
Programs now include community support services such as the food pantry, housing, clothing, employment, legal referrals, making counseling referrals, vision or dental care, helping with social service applications, mental health services, providing diapers and other baby supplies, utility assistance and firewood, domestic violence services, prescription assistance, financial assistance, and minor home repairs and weatherization.
Domestic Violence Intervention provides crisis assistance, individual and group counseling, shelter referral, and advocacy.
Family education offers classes for families with children of all ages and provides summer camp opportunities for children. The Health Clinic provides on-site assistance for uninsured and publicly insured children up to age 20 for well-child physicals, newborn exams, medical illness, sport physicals, treatment for injuries, adolescent GYN services, developmental disorders, and high altitude medicine.
The Workforce Center and Life Skills program includes basic computer training, resume writing customer service training, job search techniques, and veterans’ assistance.
MRC has played an important role in community disaster relief during especially in times of fire, providing crisis assistance for first responders and victims of disasters, establishing partnerships with community, civic, governmental, and other helping resources providing disaster relief. MRC was the key coordinator of services to those who lost their homes in the Lower North Fork Fire in 2012.
Carol turned over the reins of operations of MRC to others in 1997 to develop a model Child Care Center at Red Rocks Community College. She spent 36 years in the educational arena.
In 2007 she joined the Rotary Club in Conifer and began working on water and sanitation projects in East Africa. By 2008 she’d founded a new project in a rural subsistence farming community of 10,000 people in Western Kenya. The project known as Harambee-Kenya has recently expanded to take in a population of 35,000. Carol is now a member of the Rotary Club of Evergreen where the international reach is greater.
In 2011 Carper worked with six high school students from Evergreen, Conifer, Commerce City and Castle Rock who traveled to Kenya for two weeks to learn about another culture and to do a service project with Harambee-Kenya. They built a bridge across a river so that kids could safely go to school, working side by side with students from a Kenyan secondary school.
Her model for organizing would prove effective for the rest of her life. Carper is known as a starter, not a maintainer. The elements of her efforts can be described as follows:
- Begin with the community and define what they want and need.
- Help them shape those needs into something that works.
- Bring in resources.
- Help to set it up.
- Teach skills.
- Create independence.
- Keep the cash flowing.
- Help people to see that they can make the changes themselves.
- And then stand aside and let others carry on. Your work is done.
“I like to work with people of many different viewpoints with different skills, oftentimes with disparate materials,” she says. “I love to get all that working like gears in a machine.”
The Carpers reside in Conifer.
Sources: Carol Carper, Mountain Resource Center, Sharon Schrage