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Text Profiles in Philanthropy, Elsa Honguin,

Profile in Philanthropy: Elsa Holguin, PEP Member and Honorary Trustee

// June 13, 2022

Meet Elsa Holguin, PEP Member, Honorary Trustee, and Original Staff Member of The Women’s Foundation

Elsa Holguin of Denver is a Women’s Foundation honorary trustee, PEP member, public policy committee member, and an original staff member of The Women’s Foundation in 1987. Today, she is the president & CEO of Denver Preschool Program.

Tell us something not many people know about you?

I grew up with 54 cousins in a small town in Chihuahua, Mexico and because most of them are older than me, they all call me Elsita.

If you had a personal philanthropic mission statement or slogan, what would it say?

The best philanthropic investing we can make is in early childhood. It is a two generational investment – giving our young children the social and emotional skills they need to learn, thrive, and stay on pace with their peers while providing their parents a safe place to leave their children while they work.

What about our mission inspires you?

When women have equal access to opportunities, their children, families, and communities prosper. This is not just a belief, but what I have seen proven many times. I was one of the first two staff members of the The Women’s Foundation of Colorado in 1987 so the mission of The Foundation is part of my life. I grew up with strong women in my life and now have five sisters and two daughters so it is also my personal mission.

What do you believe is the most pressing issue women and families are facing in Colorado?

Access to child care since it is keeping women out of the workforce. It is particularly difficult after the pandemic since the child care industry is still in crisis. Given that the majority of the workers in child care are also women, primarily underpaid women of color, we need to make sure that we are appropriately funding it so it can provide living wage salaries.

Who is your Shero? Who have been the leaders/mentors on your journey?

I have been very lucky to have had several leaders and mentors in my life. Starting with my mom who is my personal Shero – she believed and supported me on everything I have ever done while raising, along with my dad, seven children and actively grandparenting 13 grandchildren.

Isabel Lopez is my professional Shero. Few people move through life with the wisdom, dignity, and grace of Isabel. She was the founder of Lopez Leadership Services where she specialized in leadership development and theory. She was so much more, a weaver of stories and wisdom, humor and grace. Isabel died on April 10. She was 78. I was incredibly fortunate to have her in my life as a mentor for 37 years and her wisdom and stories will forever guide my life.

What is the best personal decision you’ve ever made? Why?

To go into the nonprofit sector rather than the finance world. It took me 10 years as a working mother to finish my undergraduate degree. By the time I received my bachelor’s of finance from the Metropolitan State University I knew that my heart was in the community. My master’s in nonprofit management allowed me to grow into the nonprofit leadership level.

Philanthropy at a grassroots level may seem different, but it is just as powerful. – Elsa

If you had to teach a class, what would it be?

Latinas in leadership since the struggle continues for advancement, fair opportunities, and access to adequate resources. I would love to not just teach the class, but also create intergenerational groups that can all mentor and support each other.

What is the most pivotal moment in your career?

In 1990, I stepped up to start a new program at Mi Casa: the Business Center for Women. I remember that there were many doubting that a nonprofit organization could successfully teach Latinas, if there were any interested, how to start a business.

But, I knew that microenterprise was not a new concept, but an integral part of our communities. As an immigrant, I grew up with cooperatives and had seen many families create their own jobs with small businesses or even the extra venture to make ends meet. What many did not know was how to create a business plan, access loans, or how to grow a business. The first week, we had 50 women sign up for orientation and 200 on a waiting list. The demand continues today and thousands of women have received entrepreneurial training. This is where my business degree really helped and I was able to create a successful training program that was not only needed, but was essential for economic growth in our community.

Where do you find the most joy in your life?

My family brings me the greatest joy, my husband and our five kids and their families. I am so lucky to have our four grandchildren in Colorado and I am still able to see my sisters and my mom every Saturday for dinner.

What would you tell your 15-year-old self?

Make the best of every opportunity in life. At 15, I was enjoying high school, surrounded by family and friends and a community that I had known all my life. Little did I know that two years later my life was going to completely change as we emigrated to the United States. From working as a janitor for years, to living in the housing projects, to a successful career in the nonprofit sector – I did the best that I could to learn, grow, and dream of something better.

What is your favorite place or activity to do in Colorado?

Hiking and hot springs after at Glenwood Springs.

At what point in your life did your personal philanthropy become important to you?

I grew up in a family that always gave and it was not an added task, but how we all survived. From donating to the church, to helping pay for food for a family member, to having multiple family members stay at our house over the years because they needed help. Philanthropy at a grassroots level may seem different, but it is just as powerful. So, it was not a choice, but a way of life that I integrated into my own life and more formalized philanthropy.

Who would you be your dream speaker for the Annual Luncheon?

U. S. Supreme Justice Sonia Sotomayor, But, since she cannot participate in fundraising events, I will add another one, Eva Longoria because of her work as a voting rights activist.

What is the most binge-worthy show? No judgment😊

“Gentefied” – a Netflix show that reminds me of my family with serious, and often funny, situations as they start businesses, careers, and manage relationships.

Interested in learning more about PEP (Power of Extended Philanthropy)? Email our director of development, Maggie Stoot, at maggies@wfco.org

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