The OUR Center’s Executive Director Prepares to Say Goodbye

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Edwina Salazar--Executive Director of the OUR Center (photo courtesy of Edwina Salazar)

Edwina Salazar has amassed such a large collection of beautiful handpainted bowls that she has nearly run out of room to store them. They’re all from the OUR Center’s Empty Bowls fundraiser, which raises money for the center’s food program that helped more than 19,000 area households in 2018. Attendees at Empty Bowls get to select a bowl, handpainted by community members in the weeks leading up to the event. After a meal of soup, bread and dessert, they get to take the bowl home as a keepsake.

“Empty Bowls is my favorite event every year,” says Salazar, who has been with the organization for 20 years. This year’s event, to be held on Saturday, March 16, at Longmont High School, will also be the last major OUR Center event she’ll be overseeing as the center’s executive director. “I’m retiring soon, but I’ll still attend Empty Bowls every year.”

Salazar announced her impending retirement earlier this year but plans to stay on until a month or so after a replacement is found. The Longmont Observer spoke with her recently about her years at the OUR Center, her decision to retire this year and the bucket list she’s anxious to get started on.

Longmont Observer: What attracted you to this sort of work?

Edwina Salazar: At the OUR Center, we do meaningful work that keeps me going and gives me energy. We get to see participants making changes in their lives, and the progress is observable. We started as an organization that provided just the basic needs, but now we offer a more holistic approach. Our food program is important, but we do so much more than that. We join people with the services and skills they need to be self-sufficient, not just today but in the future. I love seeing families impart resiliency onto their children.

I’ve always felt altruistic and creative, so this position, with the ability to develop such important programs, always felt ideal to me. I think program development is what I’ll miss most. And we couldn’t have done any of it without community support. I love Longmont. It’s such a compassionate and giving community.

LO: The biggest project during your tenure was relocating to your new building in 2016. Tell us about that.

ES: That was a five-year process, but it was worth it. We purchased the building before the flood in 2013. We then put our fundraising on hold because our community was busy raising funds for survival. When we were finally able to move in, it was a highlight for me. Our kitchen is three times larger than before, so we can feed more people. We also have space for other programs like our food pantry, the Community Closet [clothing bank] and wellness activities.

The biggest advantage to the new building is seeing how it makes people feel. We once saw a woman in tears who had just walked in, so we rushed over to see if we could help. She said, “They’re tears of happiness. I feel so dignified coming in here for help.” Just because they’re struggling doesn’t mean they don’t deserve dignity.

LO: Why retire now?

ES: There’s never really a good time to retire when you love what you do, and I never really feel as though I’m “done” with anything. But I didn’t want to retire because I was sick or burned out. I wanted to retire when my health and my bucket list were still intact. We have a stable staff, a wonderful board of directors and amazing volunteers, some who have been here longer than I have. So it seems like the right time.

LO: What will you miss most about coming to work every day?

ES: Walking in the door and seeing people getting their needs met. The daily meal brings together people who might not ordinarily interact with each other, and I get to see them developing relationships, making friends and truly caring about each other. I will also miss observing the success stories firsthand. Once, I was in the grocery store and a former client approached me. She said, “You haven’t seen me lately because you helped get me what I need and I’m able to do it on my own now.”

LO: What’s the first item you’ll cross off your bucket list?

ES: Travel! I’m going to Australia later this year, and I’d like to visit Croatia and Iceland. I have family in California so I’ll spend some time there. I’m on the board of directors for the Boulder Bach Festival, so I’ll have more time to help with that. I’d also like to honor my creative streak; I like to write poetry.

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