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In 2010 Lakewood’s Fallen Owl Tattoo Studio and its owner Adam Rose were looking for a way to give back to the community during the holidays.
“Because we’re a tattoo shop, a lot of businesses didn’t want anything from us,” Rose remembered. “But we used to share a parking lot with the Action Center’s old building, and Mag Strittmatter and the rest of the people there were happy to get toys from us.”
That’s how Fallen Owl’s annual Tattoos for Toys drive was started. And, an example of how, for more than 15 years, Strittmatter, executive director of The Action Center has been forging long-lasting relationships with the community to help those in need.
• • •
On Dec. 6, Strittmatter announced that she would be stepping down from her role at the center, which is a Jefferson County nonprofit that helps low-income and homeless families attain financial stability. Her last day will be Jan. 12.
“Telling this amazing staff was the hardest part, because this was really a surprise for me,” she said. “For 15 years, I loved working here. We’ve gone from being a $700,000 cash company with 14 employees to $4.3 million with about 50 employees.”
Strittmatter has been named President and Chief Executive Officer of Roadrunner Food Bank, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Roadrunner, the largest food bank in the state, provides a variety of services to all 33 counties and feeds an average 70,000 people per week across the state.
“Taking this position was so compelling to me because New Mexico is one of the states with the highest percentage of childhood hunger,” she said. “I’m looking forward to being able to make an impact on a statewide basis, and working with the legislature to help the residents there.”
The Action Center Board President, Ben Wiederholt, will lead the search effort to identify the next executive director, along with help of the rest of the board and from Strittmatter herself.
“This isn’t the same job it was five, 10, or 15 years ago,” she said. “We’re an organization with thousands of volunteers, and an executive director needs to be able to communicate passionately about our mission and care about our participants.”
Shirley Bradsby is one of The Action Center volunteers who has been an eyewitness to the organization’s evolution over the years. She’s been helping since it was created in 1968, when it was called Jeffco Support Inc.
She first met Strittmatter in 2005, when she was the director of development and communication. Strittmatter went on take over as executive director in January 2006.
“Not long after she started, we had the 2008 economic down turn where our services were more in demand than ever,” Bradsby remembered. “It’s remarkable how were able to get through that with our staff and keep administrative costs low.”
As someone who has worked with Strittmatter often over the years, Bradsby reckons the status of The Action center is the best testament to Strittmatter’s legacy.
“People know what The Action Center is, and what we do to help the community,” Bradsby said. “She’s built this into a big business with a bigger heart.”
Strittmatter’s love affair with the nonprofit world began when she was hired to do development for a public radio station in Fort Collins. From there, she worked at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, the University of Colorado Foundation, and Metro State University.
But it was the 2008 recession and its effect on Jeffco families that inspired Strittmatter to change the way thing were done at The Action Center.
“We were serving 250 households a day, but that’s not the best we could do for the community,” she remembered. “As a board, we had a moment of honesty where we said, `What can we do for people?’ And the answer was, let’s be big and bold.”
That decision led to the start of a capital campaign to raise $4.2 million to purchase the Cottonwood office complex and turn it into its new Program Services Building in 2015.
The two-story building is now home to the Action Center’s new grocery store, household items and clothing shops, and space for participants to work with Action Center staff, along with representatives from other organizations like Jefferson County Human Services and Jefferson Center for Mental Health.
“It’s a great honor for us that The Action Center is based in Lakewood, but all of Jefferson County benefits from the work they’re doing,” said Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul. “Not only has Mag worked to help those who are most vulnerable and unheard, but she brings them out of the shadows. This helps to restore dignity, and let everyone know that people they know might be on the edge themselves.”
The Action Center serves about 20,000 people a year, and one of the major focuses of the work that goes on there is breaking the cycle of poverty. And for many, that means getting an education.
“Years ago, I had to go to The Action Center when I was going through some hard times,” said Heather Marsh. “While I was there, a volunteer advocated handed me a Red Rocks Community College brochure and asked me if I had ever thought of going back to college.”
Not only did Marsh decide to pursue a college degree, but she is now a student ambassador for Red Rocks at the center, where she helps participants find a program and pathway that is right for them.
Strittmatter has been a major advocate of working with Red Rocks, and estimates that more than 110 of the participants the center has seen this year have enrolled at the college.
Red Rocks helps, not only through the efforts and resources of ambassadors like Marsh, but by also providing a variety of programs for students, ranging from fine woodworking and arts to sociology and engineering, explained Lisa Fowler, vice president for student success.
“I’m in awe of Mag, because this isn’t just a job for her,” Fowler, who also serves on the center’s board, said. “She’s so committed to helping her neighbors, and I know her staff and whoever comes next will continue that dedication.”
On the wall in Strittmatter’s office is a sticker for Penn State University. And while that might just seem like a simple memento from her alma mater, Action Center board member Cindy Baroway knows there’s more to the story.
“There are many things Mag’s good at that she doesn’t talk about too often,” Baroway said. “She’s an absolutely beautiful singer, and she set records playing basketball at Penn State.”
Strittmatter was indeed among the first group of women to receive athletic scholarships at Penn State in 1974. She led the team in rebounding all four years, and she set a record with a career average of 10.3 rebounds a game. She led with 18.3 points and 15.3 rebounds a game as a freshman. Her 260 rebounds in 1977-78 set a single-season record at the school.
But in Jeffco, it’s her work to make the lives better for those who need it most that will stand the test of time.
“It’s been a blessing to meet such amazing people,” Strittmatter said. “Together, we’ve taken The Action Center from an organization that could to the organization that is the go-to organization for people in our county.”
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