As an 11-year-old, Elizabeth Quevedo learned an invaluable lesson during her grandmother’s funeral.
“My grandmother died suddenly when she was 62 and I had a close relationship with her — I’m named after her,” Quevedo said. “I remember at her funeral, people talked about how much of a good person she was, how much she cared about other people, how she served community, church and fellow church members.
“That made a lasting impression on me. I knew that whatever my role in life was that it was important for me to give back and serve others in a way, not just for myself, but to improve others.”
Today, Quevedo is community impact director with Pikes Peak United Way, but she first began serving others by enlisting in the Army. She earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and spent six years as a soldier.
During her enlistment, the Tennessee native served as a platoon leader, executive officer for United States Army Garrison Company and as staff engineer in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“We contracted with Afghan construction companies and supervised the Afghan construction companies doing the work,” Quevedo said. “We often provided designs for them and they would bid on it, we’d select a company and supervise. We built schools, hospitals, rebuilding; I worked on a burn clinic and a water treatment plant.”
Following her enlistment, Quevedo worked in construction, for Home Builder in Arizona. Then, while her husband Jim continued his military service, she was the stay-at-home parent for their three kids.
Shortly after the family moved to Colorado Springs in 2013, Quevedo became Citizen Soldier Connection’s executive director — a position she held until 2019.
“I created programs at CSC like car education for spouses and we did a holiday program where we matched soldiers who didn’t have a place to go for the holidays with local host families to have them over for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals,” Quevedo said. “I enjoyed that work because I managed my own schedule and was able to be home when necessary. But I was the only employee. I started to feel like I was on an island. I had a wonderful board of directors, but that still wasn’t a team — and I was ready to grow.”
Quevedo got that chance to grow after meeting Cindy Aubrey, CEO of Pikes Peak United Way, in June 2019.
Aubrey offered Quevedo the role of director at PPUW’s Colorado Springs Promise program. Since 2019, Quevedo has helped with events such as the Backpack Bash, food pantry and, as executive director, she will open the Family Success Center in 2022 in the repurposed Pikes Peak Elementary School.
Quevedo talked with the Business Journal about how PPUW helps the community, and how COVID impacted its work.
Tell us about PPUW’s programs.
We focus on family stability and youth success. Those are pretty big tasks. We fundraise to provide funding to other nonprofits who are doing the work in those arenas. Currently we fund 21 different partner agencies and 25 programs through that community investment process. We also have our direct service program and we’re opening our Family Success Center in 2022. That’s going to be located in Pikes Peak Elementary, which is closing in June 2022. We’re repurposing that building, which we’re fortunate to have with our partnership with Harrison [School] District 2. They knew they were closing the building and a vacant school building is often vandalized and can become a higher crime rate area. [PPUW will rent the location from District 2 and] offer the space to nonprofits [to provide a range of programs and services for students, parents and family members.] That way they have access to WIC [food assistance for women, infants and children], [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] and [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families], but they also can come do yoga classes, get their GED or do a certification class. We’re trying to eliminate barriers so the community can understand their trajectory is not hindered.
What are some of the ways PPUW helps the community?
We have events like the annual Backpack Bash where we provide students and families with backpacks full of different school supplies [notebooks, calculators, crayons, glue, binders, paper]. With our Colorado Springs Promise program, one of the first programs we started when I came on board was we worked with Mitchell High School’s food pantry in the school. They served 200 students per week and ran out of food every week because the food insecurity in that community was so dire. We worked with Care and Share [Food Bank for Southern Colorado] to see what we could do to fix this situation or alleviate the problem. We started doing bi-monthly food distributions where Care and Share delivers 20,000 and sometimes up to 40,000 pounds of food. They drop it off and we come in with our volunteers and distribute the food. We’ve been doing that since fall 2019. Before COVID, we served on average of 200-300 families. Once COVID hit, that number jumped to 500-600 families. We’re back to 200-300 families and upped our food distribution to three times a month so we can offer it on Saturdays. We’ve served well over 50,000 families in the two years, so we’re happy with that.
COVID must have been really tough on the work you do.
Yeah, COVID did a number on the Promise program because a lot of the work we did was in schools. We shifted to how can we still impact students and give them resources they need if we can’t be in schools. But we have tutors who were key to making sure the students could be successful. We also are fortunate we have an incredible volunteer database.
Also, when the state received funding for emergency rental assistance, the city came to us and said we need to have people apply but the application was difficult. We mobilized a team of volunteers in May and started these clinics, essentially, where volunteers are staffing locations. We started at six days a week and we’re down to two now. But volunteers sit with community members and help them file applications for emergency rental assistance. We filed about $1 million in emergency rental assistance through that program since May. We also do family dinners where we bring in catered meals and a community resource — we do them in schools so it’s whatever the school is asking for, we bring in a resource. We alternate and have one at Sierra High School. Both Sierra High School and Centennial communities have asked for financial literacy classes. Ent Credit Union is our partner and they come in and teach financial management, budgeting and how to improve credit scores. Then, we have a family dinner and it’s beautiful to watch. When we started them, families would come in and sit all over the cafeteria apart from each other. The next month they’d sit a little closer. Before COVID hit, that last dinner, they were meeting each other there and built a beautiful community and support network. My marker for success on these was if people stuck around after the event and if they came back. And that was happening.
When did you know this was the kind of work you needed to be doing?
I think I’ve always had the feeling that whatever work I wanted to do, I wanted it to be more than just for myself. I wanted it to have meaning and purpose and I think the military checked a big box for me. In this world, being able to serve the community through building partnerships with other nonprofits doing this work [and giving back to communities and families,] I feel like this is where I’m meant to be. I’m fortunate in this organization that in my role and with my team, we’re on the ground. We get to work with families and see the differences we make. I don’t take that lightly. I feel privileged to do this work.
How important has Cindy Aubrey been in all of this for you?
Cindy really took a chance on me. I’d been in a nonprofit world for a while, but my experience with Citizen Soldier Connection was very different. I didn’t have a marketing or resource development team. It was just me and I was doing those jobs and not working in the field of education. Our Colorado Springs Promise program works with students and their families to inspire them to high school graduation and a successful path afterward, whether that’s through postsecondary education or a career field. To come on board with Pikes Peak United Way in that role, I had to learn quickly and develop relationships with schools we worked with. She had faith in me and helped me create this path to grow and be successful. I’m fortunate to have her as my boss. She also understands what it’s like to be a working parent. My kids now are in 6th, 8th and 9th grade and they’re older but still have demands. I’m fortunate to have a boss who understands that.
In terms of your service, do you think you fulfilled what your grandmother would’ve wanted for you?
I do. I think when you can give your talents, time or efforts to make you community a better place, you should. I think I get more out of the work I get to do than maybe the community members we impact. It’s so fulfilling to see someone improve their life to find peace stability. Also, to watch high school students who had to move from place to place to be stable and stay in school and graduate and know their future is not limited by their circumstances is awesome. Being able to be part of that is beautiful.