Yoli Casas & Marielena Suarez Named 2024 Recipients of Sheila Bugdanowitz Leadership Development Award

Rose Community Foundation is excited to announce ViVe Wellness Founder and Executive Director Yoli Casas and Organización Papagayo CEO Marielena Suarez as the 2024 co-recipients of the Sheila Bugdanowitz Leadership Development Award.

The award is named in memory of Sheila Bugdanowitz, who led Rose Community Foundation for 18 years before her passing in 2016.  Seeded by donations made to Rose Community Foundation in Bugdanowitz’s memory, the award seeks to recognize and empower emerging leaders in the Greater Denver nonprofit community whose efforts align with the Foundation’s mission and priorities. The award funds professional development opportunities through local or national programs, coaching or mentoring. Following a three-year pandemic-related hiatus, the Foundation has resumed the tradition of this annual award and, for the first time, is presenting it to two recipients simultaneously.

ViVe Wellness supports the health and wellness needs of communities that face significant disparities and lack access to physical activity and health education. Organización Papagayo operates programs entirely in Spanish, including support for Latino entrepreneurs and arts and cultural programming for youth. Yoli and Marielena’s organizations have distinct missions, yet the two nonprofits have worked closely together to support new immigrants arriving in Denver over the past 15 months.

While not all have stayed, 40,000 new immigrants have arrived in Colorado since December 2022, fleeing unrest and violence in South and Central America. Both organizations – under the leadership of Yoli and Marielena – have provided comprehensive support to arriving individuals and families including temporary and permanent housing, essential needs like food and clothing, employment opportunities, school enrollment and access to mental and physical health care services.

Additionally, ViVe Wellness, Organización Papagayo and other partners have organized legal clinics to help new immigrants who are eligible apply for Temporary Protected Status and federal work authorization, allowing them to obtain legal work in in the United States while waiting for their asylum applications to be filed and considered. The clinics offer free legal aid, expedited processing and support with application fees, helping to create a path for new immigrants to support themselves and build a life in Colorado where the private sector has expressed eagerness for new employees.

“Yoli and Marielena have navigated unprecedented times in responding to an international humanitarian crisis that has landed on our collective local doorstep, and in doing so, have set an example of what can be accomplished through collaborative leadership and partnerships,” said Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, president and CEO of Rose Community Foundation. “Through the Newcomers Fund, we have made repeated investments in their organizations’ abilities to serve new immigrants in our community, and we know that this ongoing and important work has not been easy. We are honored to recognize both Yoli and Marielena, while supporting their continued development as leaders in our community.”

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