Helen Wolcott has been an invaluable volunteer to Chinook fund for over twenty years. Her service can be aptly described as devoted and committed. She has served on our Grantmaking committee as a dedicated voice who recognizes the moral obligation and strategic importance of funding grassroots organizations.
Continuing to create the wellsprings of change many of us in the social justice communities are straining and striving towards, Helen brings a wealth of wisdom gained from years of experience across different struggles for liberation. Witnessing the devastating effects of racism as a child in her home town of Kansas City, Missouri, and later attending a politically active college– Swarthmore, in Pennsylvania–Helen continued to animate her inner desire to be a part of the social justice movement after shifting to Denver fifty-four years ago. From Native American movements, to women’s reproductive rights, to her work at Chinook Fund, Helen has advocated, promoted, and acted for the sake of social justice.
She was one of the founders of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) of Denver and a civil rights activist for over twenty years. Her life has been one of being called to address injustice and responding with the engagement and service necessary to plant the seeds of social justice for the generations to come. Recently Helen shared some of her journey with Chinook Fund and we got to honor and thank her for her incredible sense of loyalty and hard work she has so graciously consistently demonstrated.
Thank you Helen Wolcott, we are so lucky to have you in our Chinook community.
For folks who don’t know, what does the Grantmaking Committee (GMC) do?
HW: “Well, we receive grant applications from social justice organizations and try to evaluate them as to whether they meet our criteria for social justice – our criteria for staying in low-budget outfits, where our small donations could make a big difference.”
What made you join the GMC?
HW: “I thought it was one of the most exciting opportunities to meet the people that are really active in social justice and work with them. I’ve learned so much about how trying to work for social justice can be done and I’ve been able to incorporate that in our family life and it’s just been a life changer for me.”
What draws you to social justice organizing and or movement building?
HW: “Well I’ve always be involved with, well not always but for a long, long time I’ve been involved with various aspect of social justice but usually one cause at a time, working many years with civil rights, working with Native American movements, with women’s reproductive rights. But this was a chance [being on the GMC] to sort of look at the big picture.
How long have you been volunteering at Chinook Fund?
HW: “That’s an embarrassing question… Actually I think I joined a couple years after it began which would be what, 20 something years.”
How is the work that the GMC does relevant to the social justice organizing in Colorado and what is your role in and the GMC’s role in movement building in Colorado?
HW: “I really think that without Chinook Fund, and this is certainly echoed by all of our grantees, these organizations couldn’t really take hold and grow. Some I’m sure could find funding somewhere else but for a lot of the organizations this is their one chance to sort of put down roots and become known to enough of the area that they can become a real force and it might happen slowly but I think Chinook’s been very aware of supporting start-ups past the stage of really starting to accomplish what they have set out to accomplish. I think it’s really important that we give technical assistance to these organizations and you know it really never ends because hopefully we keep nourishing the organization so they can move on and new ones can come into focus as new causes come into focus and as you pointed out some of the causes never go away.”
So you are saying that Chinook is really intentional when funding small grassroots organizations?
HW: “Definitely! What sometimes starts out as just a group of parents getting together over some injustices that occurred at the school could grow in to Padres y Jóvenes Unidos which is now a really big force in Denver. And I remember when as I said this was just some parents in an elementary school who that were some teachers who were flagrantly racists and these parents got together and decided to protest and to teach some of the non-English speakers that is was ok to come into the school and express their problems and so on. And it just took off.”
What do you think is rewarding about being on the GMC?
HW: “Seeing this stuff. And finding out about these organizations. Some of these movements and organizations I‘ve been totally unaware of until I met them at the grantmaking committee. And I’m always looking for new ways to get into trouble.”
My last question is for someone who doesn’t know very much about us, why should they support and or get involved with Chinook Fund?
HW: “I think you probably have to have some interest in social justice but the exciting thing is you could really make a difference in social justice not just donating to organizations, the large ones and so on and that can be exciting but to know that you can make a personal difference and have personal connections with the people who are leading. I just think that’s so exciting and I’m sure there are a lot of people that don’t want to do that but I’m sure there are a lot people who never thought that it was possible.”