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Cradle to Career - Aspen to Parachute

Building a Region of Thriving, Engaged Youth
Beneath the surface of a seemingly well-heeled, thriving region in a breathtaking natural setting, lies a persistent opportunity gap, that leads to an achievement gap, between those with extreme wealth and privilege, and those whose families struggle daily to survive. Aspen Community Foundation (ACF) embraced the strategy of Collective Impact and launched the Cradle to Career Initiative (CCI) in 2012 to shift our region’s approach to addressing the complex, quiet crisis facing many children and youth from Aspen to Parachute. The CCI partnership seeks to ensure that children are ready for kindergarten and graduate from high school ready for college and career.

On its 30th anniversary in 2010, Aspen Community Foundation leadership reflected on the impact it had on the region since its founding. Though ACF knew that it provided much-needed support to many nonprofits that did excellent work, it also knew that sustainable impact required a new way of thinking.  As a result, In 2011, ACF commissioned an issue paper by JVA in Denver, to gather regional, baseline data that revealed the scope of work ahead. ACF leadership understood that to address the issues outlined in the paper, it needed to work differently with nonprofit, school, government, business, and community partners to effect meaningful change and positive outcomes.

Cradle to Career
Cradle to Career is Aspen Community Foundation’s strategy for accelerating the wellbeing of children and families, particularly those living in poverty, in the Aspen to Parachute region. By aligning activities around a set of agreed-upon goals, using metrics to make decisions and determine progress, and identifying and implementing best practices, we have improved outcomes for children throughout the region. What was launched as an initiative has now become fully embedded in the organization and the lens through which ACF prioritizes its work.

Cradle to Career, at its core, is about addressing disparities and inequities that prevent youth from thriving. These disparities show up geographically, economically, and educationally. Profound achievement gaps exist between our low-income students and their more affluent peers. Despite significant progress, many children are entering kindergarten unprepared to learn, elementary and middle school students are struggling in school and are often left unsupervised while parents work, and high school students are unprepared for college and career.

Barriers to youth success are complex, persistent and intertwined with systemic poverty. They are exacerbated by the economic and public health crisis caused by the pandemic.

Cradle to Career is comprised of four focus areas. Each focus area has key levers that represent the multipronged approach needed to “level the playing field” for many of our low-income and under-resourced children and families.

COVID-19 and Cradle to Career

The COVID-19 pandemic demanded that ACF realign its focus to move quickly to respond to urgent community needs. Now that the crisis is subsiding, ACF and its partners are moving ahead with new strategies to advance youth wellbeing in Cradle to Career’s focus areas. Cradle to Career has provided the platform and momentum that has made our pandemic response efforts successful. Relationships and trust with nonprofits, schools, government and the community have never been stronger. This has primed the pump for Cradle to Career to continue: partners are ready, public will is favorable, and the need to support youth and families is greater than ever.
"We are grateful for the innovative and collaborative work that the Aspen to Parachute Cradle to Career Initiative is doing to build youth success and then to measure the results. We commend the Aspen Community Foundation for its leadership and applaud the region's citizens for supporting their youth in this visionary way."
John Hickenlooper,
 Former Governor of Colorado
“It’s a big idea, a paradigm shift. It has taken a while to turn an idea into action.  It has really become a powerful, long-term process. And process is just as important as outcome.” 
– Mike Kaplan
CEO Aspen Skiing Company
ACF Board Treasurer

Cradle to Career Resource Library