After years working in public relations for hockey teams in Seattle and Chicago, Erica Oakley-Courage was looking for a change of pace. Now 35, she took a chance and moved to Denver in 2006. Soon after, she met her future husband, moved to the Springs and started working for the American Heart Association in 2011. The Denver-born Washingtonian is now corporate marketing director for the AHA’s Colorado Springs division, where she oversees fundraising and development operations. Oakley-Courage discussed her work in the nonprofit sector, living in Colorado and how both became reality.
Can you tell me a bit about your background?
I grew up in Seattle — my family moved there when I was in the first grade — and then I went to college about an hour and a half north of Seattle in a town called Bellingham. I went to Western Washington University and lived in Seattle for about a year after that. My goal was to run the HR department of an NHL team, so after college I did game-day PR for the Seattle Seahawks and for the Seattle Sounders, but my full-time job was as an office manager, helping with PR and game days for the Seattle Thunderbirds, a junior hockey team.
How did you end up in Colorado Springs?
After college, I lived in Chicago for six years and worked for the Chicago Wolves, a professional hockey team. Then I decided that wasn’t what I wanted my life to look like. My entire life revolved around hockey, which was fun, but … I grew out of it. I missed weddings, graduations and funerals because of the hockey games.
So I stayed in Chicago another year and a half, working as a marketing assistant and trying to figure out what was next. … I wanted a good-sized city with good job prospects, and I also love the outdoors, but I didn’t want to move back to Seattle — so Denver it was. … And then I met my now-husband online, and he was living in Colorado Springs at the time. We saw a future together and said, “whoever figures it out first will dictate where we live.” I had always wanted to end up in Boulder and then one day he called and said, “I want to go back to school and I’m going to become an engineer.” So I moved here because of a boy.
Tell me what you do at the American Heart Association.
My title is corporate marketing director, which essentially means that I work in development. I oversee two of our three fundraising events: our Go Red for Women Education Day and Luncheon and our Heart and Stroke Walk.
As a part of that role, I am responsible for overseeing the revenue, the sponsorship, the logistics, the silent auction and everything else that falls under that. We rely heavily on volunteers and we have a great group that helps us do those things. We also do a lot of side events that aren’t as much about fundraising as they are about raising awareness.
Would you say that your values align with those of the AHA?
Yes. When I was looking at getting involved with working for a nonprofit, the Heart Association was always at the top of my list because they are just so well-known, and I thought, “what a great place to work.” Some of the core values that we talk about are integrity, excellence and dedication, and those are the ones that really stick out to me.
How has this community been for you as a young professional?
Networking has been great, and I think there are a lot of people — especially women — who are happy to help pave the way for somebody new. … There are so many amazing women who have done really tremendous things in this community. There are a lot of people to look up to and to help guide me in becoming a part of this community and in being successful.
How do you spend your spare time?
I like to be outside, whether that’s gardening in my yard … I love to run, I love to hike and I love to have people over to my house for dinner. Game night is sort of my competitive niche and I’m a real Trivial Pursuit kind of girl.