Community Matters

By Allison Barrett

Dace West (ΦBK, University of Colorado at Boulder, 1998) actively works toward improving the quality of community for those she serves. “When you have the opportunity to really be in a community, you can’t help but become impassioned by both the absolute need for the work and inspirational leadership of community residents,” she explained. West has always been interested in not only providing avenues of improvement for community residents, but also becoming personally invested in overseeing their continued improvement. These interests led her to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science, work as a community organizer, serve as executive director for two nonprofit organizations, and run a Denver city agency under the last two mayoral administrations. 

“My passion lies in creating large-scale systems change and bringing unusual partners together to achieve positive outcomes for the community,” West said. And she has found success by aspiring to provide innovative ways through which solutions can be found in areas previously unexplored. West, who continued her education at Regis University to earn a master’s in nonprofit management (2004), was recently named Vice President of Community Impact for the Denver Foundation where she is expected to connect donors, nonprofits, and community leaders to improve quality of life for residents in the Denver Metro area.

Previously the Executive Director of Mile High Connects, a foundation dedicated to providing higher quality of life for all Metro Denver regional transit community members, West was commended for her high level of work. Fellow community impact-centered organization Southern Nevada Strong credits West as “instrumental in creating the Denver Transit-Oriented Development Fund, an acquisition fund to preserve affordable housing near transit” and responsible for the coordination of over $10 million of direct investments and leveraging an additional $50 million for energy efficiency upgrades for affordable housing and commercial facilities all while managing multiple large-scale collaborative efforts.” 

West’s new position with the Denver Foundation will also require skilled investment strategies and interpersonal management of business relationships. With over $730 million in assets under management, the Denver Foundation is the largest and most-established community foundation in Colorado. West will also be expected to strategically manage the relationships among Denver Foundation partners—including Mile High Connects—in order to achieve maximum unified benefit for community members. She aims to provide community residents improved quality of life by designing and implementing positive impact programming and investment via grants targeting areas such as education and economic opportunity. “All of our work is rooted in the values of equity, community leadership, inclusiveness, and accountability,” she said.

Discussing her role as Vice President, West explained: “I am also part of the four person senior leadership team that supports our CEO. In that capacity, I work with committees of the Board of Directors and in partnership to execute on our strategic plan, develop and monitor our budget, refine our business model, and set and monitor the overall direction of the foundation.” West also stated that “it is my job to ensure that our department creates the strongest community impact; works well together as a team; and has the resources, systems, and accountabilities in place that allow us to do our work with excellence.”

In a press release that accompanied the announcement of her new position (provided by PRWeb), Christine Márquez-Hudson, President and CEO of the Denver Foundation, said of West: “Throughout her career, Dace has developed deep knowledge about the issues The Denver Foundation is committed to, including economic development, affordable housing, education, and more…She has demonstrated extraordinary talents in community leadership. We are very fortunate to have her join us in this new capacity.”

West credits her “amazing mentors and supporters” for helping her to discover a career in which her passions and skills intersected, but also stated that her liberal arts education had a “profound” impact on her life. She suspects that it was the broad range of topics covered in her liberal arts education that laid a solid foundation through which her understanding of the world expanded and developed in a way that was unique to a liberal arts perspective. “Whether exploring the rigors of logical thinking in a philosophy class, drinking in the range of beauty and cultural relevance in art history, or learning about a variety of cultures in an anthropology class, my education engendered a unique curiosity and perspective about the world that I don’t think I would have gotten with another academic discipline,” West said.

When asked about her connection to Phi Beta Kappa, West described a special kind of community. “Being a member of Phi Beta Kappa is like finding family members you didn’t know you had,” she said. “It’s always such a pleasure to run into another member and find that you have that bond that connects you in ways that are surprising and meaningful.”

Dace West has applied all she has learned in addition to what intrinsically motivates her in her endeavors to improve community conditions for residents by building bridges of understanding. “We are in the midst of developing a policy for advocacy efforts, and I will bring my experience in building partnerships and working across sectors to develop relationships for further influence,” West said. “Our team already spends significant time in directly impacted communities and bringing their voices to decision-making tables is a real goal for our work.” She added, “In the future, I see this position playing an even higher profile role in community conversations.” 

Allison Barrett is a senior majoring in English and psychology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. St. Mary’s is home to the Zeta of Maryland Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.