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Red Rocks Community College

RRCC looks to start educational pathway to nonprofits

Local organizations partner to teach next generation

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There are more options than ever to work with nonprofits that care about important topics — everything from homelessness and the environment to protecting animals and supporting the arts.

But for these organizations, finding hires with the type of experience need to run these operations can be a tricky proposition.

“There aren't clear career paths into the nonprofit sector and that leaves people out,” said Kristin Aslan, program director of Red Rocks Community College’s new Nonprofit Pathway. “We want to change that by creating a program that will strengthen and diversify the nonprofit workforce.”

By partnering with Community First, the same organization that hosts Colorado Gives Day, the college created a new 16-credit program that teaches students the skills necessary to thrive in the nonprofit field — including fundraising, financing and resource development. The program began enrollment last fall.

Courses are offered in the evenings in an accelerated format that allows students to combine classroom and online learning each week. Students can also take individual classes

All of the eight-week courses are taught by highly skilled nonprofit professionals and designed to deepen the learning experience through engagement with real-world practices throughout the program. The program is designed to be completed in a year.

“I’ve been working with Community First for four years, but this seemed like a great opportunity to develop useful skills,” said Kelly Degering, a student in the pathway program. “There are a lot of different areas you can focus on in the nonprofit world, and this program is a nice option for people who aren't yet ready to jump into the a Master's program.”

After receiving her Bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado, Degering entered the job force and struggled to find meaningful work. That was until she found herself interested in the nonprofit sector. Now she wants to sharpen her skills.

“I thought it would be good to do the kind of work that helps people, especially coming from the recession, when so many people were struggling,” she said. “You get to go home at the end of the day knowing you’ve helped people, and that’s a great feeling.”

The nonprofit pathway offers students more than simply skills — it also provides all manner of connections and on the job experience.

All the instructors are nonprofit professionals, Aslan explained, and students have the chance to take what they learned and work with partner nonprofits like PeaceJam as part of a final capstone project.

“Initially, we approached this as an opportunity to support and partner with an organization for whom we have great respect. What we received far exceeded our expectations,” said Karen Allen, executive director of Colorado Homeless Families, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting homeless families. “Now the class projects they have students doing are helping us do our work.”

As an example, as part of a class, Red Rocks students helped Colorado Homeless Families with database work. Students learned about the role of databases in fundraising for nonprofits and what to consider when selecting a database. They conducted research and presented the organization with database options so they can now move forward in developing their own.

The organization is considering sending some of its staff through the program to get them up to date on the most recent nonprofit programs and approaches, Allen said.

Red Rocks is also working on creating relationships with other colleges to support the students. One has already been forged with the University of Colorado Denver, where students who want to continue their education can transfer their credits toward the Bachelor of Arts in Public Service.

“This is a really wonderful opportunity for everyone involved,” Allen said. “I know so many people who work a job that their soul just isn’t in. For most people who work with nonprofits, that’s not the case.”

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