Liz Denson considers herself fortunate to have found her dream job, she said.

“I’m so lucky because I’m in the position I’ve always wanted to be in,” said the vice president of community engagement at Early Connections Learning Centers.

The Conroe, Texas native’s path to Colorado included a stop in New Mexico for a few years.

It was there Denson got her first exposure working for a nonprofit after spending about a year with a small public relations company, she said.

“I enjoy being at nonprofits because I did not come from an affluent family at all,” she said. “Some of the organizations that I’ve volunteered for, or that I work with now, offer very similar community services that I received as a child or my family received.

“And, it’s really more meaningful for me to be able to support work that I believe in.”

However, when the recession hit in 2008, Denson and her husband both found themselves looking for new jobs.

“We knew we wanted to stay in the southwest,” she said. “We were looking in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado to see basically who would find a job first, and my husband was headhunted here for a national auto body repair company.”

Denson and her husband and their three horses live in Penrose. Together, they put on an annual rodeo in nearby Florence to raise money for the high school’s FFA program.

“I think that appeals to the event planner side of me that I enjoy doing,” she said. “I especially enjoy the camaraderie that you get with rodeo families.

“My husband and I just like to be out, being active and enjoying our horses and enjoying the competition. And being able to host the rodeo, where we live, it builds awareness of that in our community.”

Denson is the outgoing chairwoman of the Festival of Lights parade in downtown Colorado Springs.

“That’s something I’m pretty proud of,” she said. “It’s really fun. And I love that it’s become such a huge family tradition.”

The xx-year-old also sits on the Association of Fundraising Professionals board of directors and has her bachelor’s in marketing from Texas Tech University.

Denson said being honored as a Rising Star is really exciting.

“I was very flattered and felt really proud,” she said. “I guess it’s a feel good pat on the back kind of thing.

“When you’re in the trenches, you don’t really think about everything that’s going on and I’m not one to chase down accolades, so it was a good feeling.”

Denson believes receiving the award can help build the stage for young professionals’ careers, she said.

“To have the opportunity to be recognized and hear, ‘You’re doing a good job, keep it up,’ I think that’s important,” she said. “It’s very encouraging.”

What advice do you have for your younger self? 

“Don’t be afraid to take the leap. A lot of the successes that I’ve had in my life has been because of taking that leap that I wasn’t very sure of.”