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An Interview with Lauren Kugler

This summer, we sat down with Lauren Kugler to learn more about her journey growing up, starting a family, and becoming a leader in the Gunnison Valley. With her life's experience in the Valley, she is able to understand the community's needs like no one else. This aids her ability to serve as the Executive Director of the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley.

Bluebird was fortunate to feature her story in this summer's edition of Bluebird Days Magazine. Read the full article below to learn more about Lauren and her impact.

Lauren Kugler: Bridging Connections

By Patti Miller

Lauren Holbrook Kugler is an inspiring local community member who grew up Nordic ski racing in Crested Butte and is now raising children and building a home with her husband, Tim Kugler, in Gunnison. As the leader of the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley, she is bridging our valley like no other organization and making immeasurable impacts on the quality of life for all of us.

Growing up in Crested Butte during the late 80s and 90s, Lauren and her younger brother Drew had freedom to wander around the town of Crested Butte with friends and explore the close-knit community. Lauren recalls, “My parents built a house near Crested Butte South in 1984 when they moved out of the Town of Crested Butte. There really weren’t many houses out there. There were a handful of families, but almost everyone lived in town still. It was a great place to roam, and we had access to trails for hiking and exploring up Cement Creek Road all to ourselves. I got to experience so many amazing activities – backpacking, fishing, mountain biking, skiing, hunting – at such a young age.”

Lauren has very strong relationships with her parents and her brother, likely thanks to such an active and engaging childhood. “My parents don’t seem too afraid of lightning, so we were often high up in exposed places during thunderstorms. I remember running down slopes above treeline with thunder crashing. One memory in particular stands out – we went backpacking to Yule Lakes. Drew and I were probably five and seven. We carried our own packs, likely only holding our sleeping bags. I think we had trash bags as raincoats. On the way back, we were on Yule Pass in an awful thunderstorm – nowhere to hide and soaked but we made it to the car alive!”

Lauren’s approachability draws people in and makes you feel instantly welcomed, almost like a long-lost friend or family member. Her open-book attitude and calm demeanor create an inclusive environment where anything seems possible.

Before the Crested Butte Community School opened in 1997, high school students were bussed into Gunnison every day for school. “When I started high school in Crested Butte, it was a brand-new school, so we had the opportunity to start building high school sports. That gave me the chance to participate in sports at a much higher level than I would have been able to at a larger, more established school.” Lauren was very competitive growing up and was the first member of the Cross-Country team to make it to the State Championships. She also competed in Track and Volleyball, and at the National level for Nordic Skiing in both classic and skate skiing disciplines. “We had our 20th anniversary for our high school graduating class last summer that really demonstrated how special this place is to people, even if they’ve moved away since high school. We had a great turnout, and we are still very close. We have this incredible bond, and there were only 23 of us in my graduating class.”

Lauren always thought she would live in a big city one day, so after graduating from the Community School in 2002, she went to college in Boulder with grand plans to end up somewhere like New York City or Seattle. She majored in Business Administration and Marketing at the University of Colorado Boulder and graduated in 2006. Her deep appreciation for the small, tight-knit Gunnison Valley community was revealed during her time away, so she moved back to Crested Butte and waited tables at The Last Steep. “It was an awesome place to work, and the Hartigans are amazing. That was where I got my first glimpse of this town through new eyes because I made friends with all these young twenty-somethings who were moving here for a reason, very deliberately. It totally opened my eyes beyond just knowing the people I grew up with and their parents. It was really fun to get to know a whole new demographic that had sought out this lifestyle. I’m still friends with a lot of those people.”

She credits her family and her surroundings for instilling a sense of community in her at an early age. Lauren’s mom, Christine Holbrook, was a nurse for her entire career and started the home health program in the valley. “I occasionally went on home health visits with her, so I saw that aspect of caring for the community.” Lauren’s father, Fred Holbrook, was also involved in the community through different non-profit boards and planning commissions since he was in the building industry. “My grandmother was a career volunteer in North Little Rock, Arkansas and when we would go visit, I would do her Meals on Wheels route with her. Delivering food in impoverished neighborhoods was an eye-opening experience. I got to meet and interact with people who were living a very hard life, often with debilitating medical conditions.” Her childhood surroundings also shaped her career path through interactions across all ages. “Because the town is so small, you tend to have friendships with people across generations, which creates accountability to a shared sense of place.”

A born leader in the community, Lauren has accomplished a great deal both personally and professionally. She often generates a big picture outlook that is so vital to our community. Her ability to bring people together from different backgrounds helps everyone find common ground so they can collaborate to create long-lasting relationships and solutions to complex problems.

After a brief stint living and working in Denver to fulfill the illusion that she had to leave the Valley for a ‘real job’, Lauren returned to work for the Gunnison Valley Health Foundation full-time in 2008. “I was surrounded by people who were doing the ski bum thing, and I was the one working a nine to five job while many of my friends were piecing together jobs that fit their play schedule,” she notes. In 2012, Lauren joined the Rotary Club of Gunnison to get to know the south end of the Valley better. “Rotary is an opportunity to interact with people in the community who I don’t otherwise cross paths with, and the service projects give us a chance to step away from daily chaos and give back.”

Fast-forward to April 2013, and Lauren joined the staff at the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley. This spring marked her 10-year anniversary with the Foundation. Lauren states, “what really appealed to me about the Community Foundation was getting to work with a broad cross section of the community on a regular basis.” In 2020, she took over as Executive Director right in the middle of COVID. Within about a week of the pandemic shutdown, she helped set up a COVID recovery fund for local organizations in need of financial support.

“That really helped people understand at a deeper level more of what a community foundation really does. We have tools to quickly connect philanthropy and giving to needs in the community. This can be in the case of disasters or emergencies, or in addressing any number of community challenges and opportunities. CFGV is the only organization whose job is to look out for the entire Gunnison Valley community. We take it upon ourselves to look out for the health of our community ecosystem and look at ways things are connected or where something is missing. We are not necessarily the entity to dive in and start a program, but we are well positioned to convene people to problem solve, make new or deeper connections, or help with setting up true collaborations to work towards solving for real issues.”

The Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley (CFGV) currently holds approximately $13 million in 84 different funds. The breadth of work the organization can accomplish is vast, from nonprofit support through the STEP advisor program, to connecting their donor advised funds with local causes, and assistance with legacy planning. When asked about the emerging needs of the community, Lauren and fellow CFGV staff members look for opportunities to strengthen community resiliency. Currently, much of that work is being done through participation on the Community Health Coalition and with the One Valley Leadership Council’s regional planning efforts. “CFGV was historically very focused on financial grants and best practices workshops for local nonprofits. That has grown into bridging connections and getting more involved in the community’s biggest needs. Housing is a big issue for nearly everyone in some way, whether you’re an employer, an employee, or a customer at local shops and restaurants. There’s a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of disconnected information, and affordable and attainable housing is an incredibly complex challenge.”

CFGV landed on a fairly simple idea of collecting information that was already available and making it more public facing and with a storyline of connecting the different pieces in a digestible way. The Community Housing Report features a thorough database on CFGV’s website of affordable housing opportunities and information across the valley. “We saw a way to create a resource that would help establish more shared understanding and agreement on where we were at and where we need to go next. That ties into the One Valley Leadership Council, which is now working on three targeted areas. One of those is creating a regional housing strategy.” Kugler is now Chair of the One Valley Leadership Council, a collaborative effort of local municipalities, jurisdictions, nonprofits and private businesses working to address regional challenges. “We want any work that comes out of that group to be meaningful and beneficial for all the Valley’s communities.”

Thanks to Lauren’s efforts as Executive Director and the help of the incredible staff at CFGV, the Foundation is a trusted confidant for local nonprofits, and has become an advocate for basic needs in the community as well as a leader and facilitator of regional priorities and conversations. Their focus on bridging our full and part time community also helps connect passionate people to important causes across the Gunnison Valley.

“I feel both ends of the valley are more connected than ever. I loved getting to know the community I grew up with in the 80s and 90s in Crested Butte, then getting to know those twenty something ski bums after college, then very intentionally moving down valley and getting to know the south end of the valley and still seeing the people from the various parts of my life. It’s been very fun for me to bring the whole valley together personally.

Lauren and her husband, Tim, are now raising a young family of their own and building a home in Gunnison. Their daughters Eloise (2) and Vivian (4) are getting a similar small-town experience as Lauren did growing up. “I’ve been known to say that living in Gunnison right now reminds me of growing up in CB. So many families live right in town and bike and walk around. It really creates the sense of community I grew up with. This place draws people who want to adventure. I got to experience childhood here, going on adventures, and got a taste of what life could be like here with kids.” Family time balances out working and playing for Lauren and Tim, who also happens to be the Executive Director of another wonderful local organization, Gunnison Trails. “I love balance. I enjoy changes, life’s chapters,” Lauren reflects.

She also reminds us that building social capital is one of the best things we can do. It’s all about making connections between neighbors, whether that’s next door, across the valley, or with our nonprofit community. “We have more opportunity here than anywhere else to build relationships and look out for each other. That helps break down the barriers of politics and general disagreements on issues. The world keeps moving at a faster pace - if we can just slow down and listen and pay attention to random acts of kindness. There are so many little ways to get involved and take ownership of our own community.”

View Bluebird Days Volume 11 here.