Words To Live By …. Kristin Kenney Williams

In recent days and years, we have been losing Vail’s pioneers. When I was leaving the celebration of Pepi Gramshammer’s life in 2019, Sheika grabbed my shoulders and asked me to keep community in the Vail Valley alive. Rod Slifer, who just passed this year, was asked in his recent biography why he spent so much of his life in Vail tirelessly building all the elements of a community from the ground up. His typically straight-forward reply: “The best thing I ever did is I stayed in Vail … and I stayed involved.”

Everyone in this room tonight has stayed and called this place home; we have chosen to stand on the shoulders of our pioneers, feeling an obligation to keep community alive, simply, by staying involved. How? Instead of saying that our success has shut the door on attainable housing, we are tapping our success to deliver keys to home ownership.

Mr. Rogers once reached through our televisions and asked us to be his neighbor. We are advocating for opportunities for community members to put down roots and stay long-term so that we might know our neighbors. We are building new neighborhoods with more creative private-public partnerships and innovative construction.

Everyone deserves opportunity – and belonging should not discriminate.

Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley homes create the opportunities for affordable mortgages for our critical workforce, and a safe and healthy quality of life. Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley homes create neighborhoods in which to belong, and neighbors to lean on.

Strong, smart, independent Tanya grew up here and graduated from Battle Mountain High School. She chose a profession in behavioral health as a counselor in our schools because she saw the crisis our kids are in. Spurred on by her living situation, Tanya applied to be a Habitat homeowner. She and her daughter had been sharing a bedroom in her mother’s home. Family, Tanya will tell you, is everything to her but having her own safe, secure space to raise her daughter was her dream. Tanya put in more than 250 volunteer hours; she assumed a mortgage in her first home at Habitat’s Stratton Flats neighborhood; and then she was able to help her daughter decorate her own room. Tanya and her daughter are keeping community alive.

I’m not sure how many times Tanya lost faith in her journey to home ownership. In this room, each of us knows what it is like to have faith, and to lose it, and what it is like to create the path to seek and secure faith again, to move forward in life – just like Tanya and her daughter.

When we lose a leader on our board, a new leader steps into their place, pledging to carry on their legacy; when we lose a husband committed to family and sustainable living, we name a street in our newest neighborhood after him; when a homeowner falls on hard times, we remind her to have faith, that she belongs to a community, and we lift her up.

Just a year ago, we asked the 400-member Carpenters Ball audience to help us double our historical impact by way of contributing to an $18 million fundraising campaign allowing us to build 46 home ownership opportunities between 2022 and 2024. We used imagination and a ‘yes’ attitude to forge successful relationships with Eagle County Government, Eagle County Schools, the towns of Gypsum and Eagle, private developers, local banks, construction gurus, a modular-home factory and hundreds of volunteers to bring our audacious goal to fruition.

Tonight, with an incredible $250,000 matching grant by a generous family who asked to remain anonymous, I’m imploring the 500-member audience to dig deep into your compassion and generosity once again and bring us home for 46 new families.

Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley has hit its stride. And we’re not going back. We can’t: we received 170 applications for the 24 homes we built in 2023; we received 144 applications for the 17 home opportunities this year. We’re going to keep building in new ways and with new partnerships. As we finish up our 2024 goals, we’re in great shape for 2025, having recently announced that for starters, we’ll deliver the first Habitat homes ever in the Town of Vail.

Will Habitat board, committee and staff members please stand for a much-deserved round of applause? Now, I want everyone to stand up and clap for each other, because like I said at the outset, everyone in this room is here because of your love for the Eagle River Valley.

I have faith that together, we can retain our great community. Instead of talking about all the reasons we can’t do that, all the reasons to say ‘no,’ or, it’s too late, I align myself with the people and the organizations and the local governments – all of whom are in this room – who are committed to working really hard to lift up our community heroes – and ensure lifetimes of love, safety, joy, health, and faith that come with affordable home ownership. Jimmy and Roslynn Carter and their decades of Habitat for Humanity support did it. They built homes, and they built peace. Our Vail pioneers did it. They built our community, they built belonging, they created opportunity. It is our obligation to keep community alive, fulfill dreams, without discrimination, and with humanity.

This organization, and Tanya’s story, maintain my faith. You are now going to get a closer look at Tanya’s story in this video – this is a young woman who set goals and achieved them, step by step. She earned her bachelor’s degree and then her master’s. She interned as a mental health counselor while developing a program at her alma mater – and mine – Battle Mountain High School. I’m telling you this because Tanya didn’t want to brag in the video. So, to Tanya and everyone, I leave you with a quote from the humble pioneer, Rod Slifer:

“Going back to my family, my father was a young man during the depression, and those guys really worked hard. And he had one expression that really stuck in my mind. He said, ‘When you start working, you’ve got to put your nose to the grindstone and you can never lift it up. So many people in the early days of Vail didn’t stick around. I don’t know whether I had a vision or whether I had the opportunity or what, but the best thing I did is I stayed. I stayed, and I stayed involved.”

Tanya, thank you for staying. My friends here tonight, let’s stay involved.

Thank you.