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Anna Jo Haynes (left) and former First Lady of Colorado Dottie Lamm, two of the The Women’s Foundation of Colorado's earliest donors, read the organization's first newsletter after its launch in 1987. Courtesy of WFCO

How 30 Years of Empowering Women Led to an Evening with Michelle Obama

For three decades, the Women's Foundation of Colorado has worked to advance economic opportunities for women and girls. Now, they're bringing the former First Lady to Denver for a fundraising event.

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When Michelle Obama shares her hopes for women and girls to a crowd of 7,500 people at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday night, it won’t be in a keynote speech or Q&A. It will be an hour-long conversation that adds to the discourse the Women’s Foundation of Colorado (WFCO) has facilitated since 1987.

Tuesday’s event, TOGETHER: A Celebration, marks three decades and $16 million invested in supporting women and girls to push the state economy and its communities forward. In 2016, WFCO funded 32 Colorado organizations under four categories: Girls Graduate, Single Moms Succeed, STEM, and Public Policy. TOGETHER doubles as a fundraiser to continue WFCO’s programs and services.

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The Women’s Foundation of Colorado CEO Lauren Casteel
Lauren Casteel, president and CEO of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, has worked in philanthropy for more than 20 years.

“We’re not just celebrating 30 years of The Women’s Foundation as an institution. We’re celebrating people,” says CEO and President Lauren Casteel, who will be moderating the discussion with Obama. “We’re celebrating philanthropy, which is the love of humankind. We’re celebrating our coming together as a community to lift each other up.”

This is the first time that the former First Lady has spoken in Colorado since leaving the White House in January. But she’s certainly not the only big name that the Women’s Foundation of Colorado has attracted for one of its events. The organization often seeks out inspiring women whose personal stories connect with the ideals that the organization upholds. In September, the nonprofit will host Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer at its annual luncheon. In 2016, American Ballet Theatre dancer Misty Copeland participated in the same event.

“I believe in storytelling as something that can supersede so many of the barriers our society can build between different individuals on the basis of what they may consider to be data points,” Casteel says. “If we can get to the heart of who we are, then I think we can better extend our passion, our compassion, our generosity, and our kindness.”

At 63, Casteel’s career is winding down, and she says she feels honored to work with the foundation during an important juncture in its history. A recently completed strategic plan will guide the organization through several more decades of public advocacy with a heightened focus on pathways to livable wages, higher education, job training, and high-quality child care.

Before she sits across from Obama to ask her to do the same, Casteel reflects on what her hope is for women and girls in Colorado 30 years from now.

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“My dream—for not only my daughter, but for the families that are connected to my sons and the women among them, for my neighbors, for nieces of mine, as well—is that every day a woman can feel as though she is valued within our community,” Casteel says. “Through that value, I would hope that women would take risks to stretch themselves to the highest heights, to break through those glass ceilings or find the kind of career that offers them fulfillment, happiness, and livable wages.”

If you go: TOGETHER takes place Tuesday, July 25 at 5:30 p.m.; Pepsi Center, 1000 Chopper Circle. Ticket prices vary. Find more info here.

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