Celebrating Our Community Foundation
One Year Later: TOGETHER with Former First Lady Michelle Obama
Where were you on July 25, 2017? The Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s board, staff, and thousands of our friends and supporters will never forget where we were: Our 30th anniversary non-partisan fundraising celebration at Pepsi Center with former First Lady Michelle Obama. One year ago today, 8,300 Coloradans of every demographic imaginable gathered TOGETHER to protect women’s progress and expand WFCO’s impact as the only statewide community foundation advancing women’s economic prosperity in Colorado.
A community foundation for Colorado women
To ensure community access to hear the former first lady speak in her first publicly ticketed event since leaving the White House, generous underwriters supported the event and 4,100 seats were sold for under $100. Constituents of our grantees were admitted for $5.
Karen Leigh (CBS4), Fernando Ferrufino (KBNO), incoming Board Chair Steph Bruno, former First Lady of Colorado and WFCO founding mother Dottie Lamm, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, and former Girls’ Leadership Council participant Viviana Andazola inspired from the podium. Cell phones preserved selfie memories and texted $10 and $25 donations to support the vital work of our unique community foundation.
Shattered ceilings and shards of glass
Those in attendance remember hearing Mrs. Obama’s personal stories of growing up, her encouragement of men, and empowerment of women and girls. We were moved when she spoke of glass ceilings shattered by women and the shards of glass that were intended to cut and left scars.
None of us imagined that when she spoke of her dream for safety for her daughters and all women and girls, she was foretelling the revival of the #Metoo movement mere weeks later.
From the experience we were reminded that community and dialogue is often created in small, everyday, behind-the-scenes moments as well as through the power of our leaders on the stage. We all have the power to carry forward kindness, connection, and community celebration. We committed ourselves to that then and continue to do so every day.
A behind-the-scenes look at TOGETHER
If you were there, these were among many special moments on stage. But, what I am asked most often is, “What happened off the stage?”
Let’s go back to the beginning. On March 15, 2017, only 10 days after our request for Michelle Obama’s appearance, her team accepted our invitation. What we had been told was audacious and impossible would be a reality in four short months!!! After hyperventilating, our staff began to breathe deeply and went to work to execute our vision and plan on behalf of Colorado women and their families. And, until our authorized May 8 announcement, it all had to be done in secret.
From May 8 to July 25, our staff and board implemented the details of the event with expertise of the Pepsi Center, Altitude Tickets, and Production Services International (PSI). NO outside event firm was hired! Your DIY-WFCO team worked tirelessly on promotion, plans, and programs. We were driven by passion and a commitment to you, our community.
The day before, we rented a truck and loaded it (yes – including me in my sweats!) with #WFCO signage, boxes of programs, and photo equipment. Individuals prepared their assignments for a seamless collective effort.
SWAT, Secret Service, and surprises
On the big day, Secret Service and SWAT swept the space and advance staff from Mrs. Obama’s team gave us our instructions. Nervous rehearsals began on stage.
Mrs. Obama emerged radiant to warmly greet me and our board chair, Patti Klinge. She then surprised the 20 members of our Girls’ Leadership Council, who were waiting to introduce her on stage in seven different languages, but did not expect to meet her.
Witnessing their unbridled elation of tears and gasps and her authentic response was and will always be one of the great joys of my life. Then, there was the moment when she whispered, “She’s spelling my name,” as one of the girls used American Sign Language for her introduction.
Nothing could have prepared me for standing on the stage during the poignant introduction and subsequent thunder of applause that followed as she stepped into the spotlight. Now, we were both in tears.
Then, it was all over; she was gone and the seats were empty. I slipped back into my sweats, we reloaded our truck, and we celebrated with pizza and fist bumps as well as more tears and laughter.
The next day, we reveled in the global media coverage and received thank you flowers and powerful notes from girls at East High School, whose attendance had been supported by a generous parent of an alum. Community. Philanthropy. Impact. It works.
It’s impossible to believe a year has passed since that evening; a moment 30 years in the making and a promise that our community foundation will work tirelessly until every women thrives and Colorado rises.
Join us at our next community event, our Annual Luncheon on October 10, featuring another movement maker and inspiration, Billie Jean King. Tickets, tables, and sponsorships are still available.