Meet Liz Hawkins

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .

While looking for a home in Cherry Hills, the big drawing card from a Realtor’s standpoint seemed to be whether or not the house had a view of the mountains, so Liz Hawkins suggested to her husband that perhaps they should live in the mountains rather than look at them.

Liz and her husband, Phil, moved here from McLean, Virginia, in 2007. The lady from Pennsylvania had lived in a number of major metropolitan areas – DC, New York City, Dallas, Cincinnati, and Cleveland – during her husband’s career, and she knew she preferred quieter, less congested surroundings. Evergreen’s elk slowdowns are symbolic of her intentions and the earthiness of her personality. She’s not one for conspicuous consumption.

She spends a lot of time here in Evergreen. “My philosophy is ‘If I can’t buy it up here, I don’t need it,’” she says. She might well be the poster child of the Chamber of Commerce as she believes in shopping local. Liz laughs about the sign she saw in the Washington Park area that summed up her philosophy, “Stop Money Wandering. Shop Local.”

Early on she realized, “I could sit at home and feel sorry for myself or I can get involved.”

She’d been a resident of Evergreen for all of two months before she began to volunteer.

A notice in the church bulletin that Evergreen Christian Outreach (EChO) needed volunteers caught her attention. She’d just retired from a career in education and fundraising and had planned to enter slowly into her new life of retirement, doing only what she wanted to do. “If it’s not fun, I‘m not going to do it,” she explains.

Mary Petrich, Director of Volunteers at EChO, was quick to respond to her inquiry, offering a tour of opportunities. Starting with canned goods, Liz became part of the Rockland trio with Linda Smith and Jeff Miller – stocking cans on Wednesday afternoons. When she broke a leg skiing, she turned to being a desk volunteer. It wasn’t long before then-Executive Director Kristi Sigal would invite her to serve on the board of directors as the representative from Rockland Community Church.

It was a time for remodeling the EChO Resale Shop in Evergreen North, and Liz worked closely with store manager Kim Gaudet. “It was really eye-opening,” she says. “Learning retail is different from education.”

Over the years, the French major had been employed at a number of private schools – teaching and working in development, admissions and job placement. As a volunteer in her children’s schools, she’d worked with food concessions and run the annual gala.

These days she reads to children at the library on Saturday mornings and works with Prayer Shawls at Rockland Community Church, a ministry of knitters and those who crochet shawls to be given to someone ill or in need of healing thoughts locally and elsewhere in the world. She helps with fundraising for her PEO group that focuses on philanthropy and education. She volunteers in a support role for the Triple Bypass and works with John Erlandson and Pandora Reagan on concerts that benefit the needy.

But her grounding is with EChO, the non-denominational Christian-based organization that provides assistance to folks in crisis – needing food, clothing and other forms of temporary help. She’s president of the board these days, and she takes her volunteer career very seriously.

She strives to know each of the 250 volunteers who assist the small staff at EChO – it's just part of her leadership style. She’s worked to get acquainted with others in similar positions through the Colorado Gives coalition of nonprofit organizations in Evergreen. During her tenure as a board member of EChO, the organization has worked to help clients make healthier choices when using the food pantry and has helped to build relationships with Walmart, King Soopers and Safeway, which now donate food on a regular basis directly to EChO. Formerly, stores donated perishable and canned foods to Food Bank of the Rockies east of Denver, and volunteers from EChO had to drive 60+ miles round trip to acquire food from the central clearing house.

“Now it stays in the community,” Liz says with a grin of satisfaction of having helped make a process much more efficient. Not only is it a major shift, but it’s also a cost savings to EChO. Likewise, the 9Cares Food Drive now stays in the community. “There’s more efficiency in saving volunteer time and getting products on the shelves sooner.” Last year, the Evergreen Safeway was recognized as being the most generous of any Safeway store in the state when it came to sponsoring a food drive, due to the generosity of the folks who live in Evergreen.

It seems that board and staff members are always challenged to put a face on hunger. Liz cited a case where one woman – beautifully dressed – entered the offices, asking for sustenance because her husband had left her. The woman burst into tears, never imagining that she would ever be asking for help from the local food bank. “People are embarrassed when they come in,” Liz says. EChO does what it can to minimize those emotions and help clients maintain their dignity.

Clients are permitted to shop for groceries once each week, making EChO a model for other food pantries.  In the past, food banks have filled the bags with what foods were available rather than what clients were likely to eat.  It's one small way of preserving that dignity.

Since the start of EChO’s jobs program last year, EChO has begun efforts to get clients off the dependency on the organization meant to offer temporary assistance during times of crisis. “We help the clients to become more accountable,” Liz explains. In partnership with the Pathfinders men’s group, EChO has been offering frequent employment workshops, grooming clients on how to find job opportunities, make the best impressions on an application and in an interview, and then how to keep a job once they’ve snagged one. They also offer budgeting workshops for their clients.

Breaking the cycle of generational poverty isn’t easy, Liz remarks, referring to how a generation tends to follow in the footsteps of what they experienced growing up. Constructively edging families away from dependency doesn’t happen rapidly. EChO prefers to focus on giving people a hand up instead of a handout.

A decade or more ago Liz and her husband partnered with the Fresh Air Fund, a program to get inner-city kids out of the city – New York City – for a two-week period during the summers. They had youngsters one or two at a time in their home in Darien, CT; and the Hawkins family still stays in touch with one young man, now 26. He spent a summer here in Evergreen recently and worked at the Resale Shop.

Liz and her husband still value getting kids out of the city and are still opening their home to others less fortunate. They’re generous and caring folks who've inspired others to share what they have.