Jill Korkowski has been involved with the Mountain Family Center for more than 13 years, first as a volunteer, then board member, then director.
In 2003 she became the executive director, a position she has held ever since.
The years have come with their triumphs and challenges, but even the best of journeys must end, as Korkowski's will in November when she plans to resign from the Mountain Family Center.
How has she reached the top of this mountain, built upon years of achievement? How does one look back and see and measure the progress that's been made? The answer comes from Korkowski's favorite quote:
Q: How do you get to the top of a mountain?
A: You push someone else up it.
Loving the job
Korkowski moved to Grand County in 1996 and quickly became involved in community service, adopting a family for a holiday project put on by the Mountain Family Center. She was hooked.
"It's the best organization in the county, maybe the world," Korkowski said. The best part about it, she says, is that in this organization, "you see results."
One particular memory involves a homeless man who was just passing through.
"One time this gentleman came in. He was a transient, and he was filthy. There was no other word to describe it," Korkowski recalled.
"He shared that he had Hepatitis C, and didn't want us to touch him. I don't think he understood everything about his disease, [but] he was more protective of us than we would have imagined."
They did what they could for the man, giving him food and water to help him on his way. It was a strange and fleeting moment, and afterwards, Korkowski shared a look with Judy Benson, the center's administration assistant.
"I looked at Judy and she looked at me and said, 'We never know what Jesus looked like. You handled him with dignity.'"
The moment was a revelation for Korkowski, who emphasizes the importance of respect when it comes to dealing with the Mountain Family Center clients.
"That's what made me realize how important it is to treat the people who walk through this door with dignity," Korkowski said. "Then, even if we can help them with nothing more than a bit of food, they can leave with their dignity intact."
A family affair
Volunteering and community service runs deep in the Korkowski family. Her husband helps with all kinds of projects, from lifting and carrying items to being supportive and offering ideas. Even their children have shown an aptitude for supporting the community.
Korkowski recalls a particular Christmas when she recruited her son, at that time a middle school student, to help her deliver food to families needing holiday meals.
"I dragged him all over this county, knocking on doors," she said, clearly moved by the powerful memory. "Finally, he looked at me and said, 'Mom, I see why you love your job. You put a smile on everybody's face today and made their Christmas a little better.'"
During more than a decade of working at the center, there are plenty of memories to look back on, both those she experienced, and those she helped create.
Judy Benson has worked at the Mountain Family Center for 19 years as the administrative assistant. She shared that working with Korkowski has been "fantastic."
"She's just a really caring person, she's real easy to work with," Benson said. "We've had lots of good times here."
Mandi Appelhans, the Family Development Specialist, agrees.
"She's a great director; she has her heart in the right place. She loves what she does, loves to be able to help people. ... She really cares about the center."
Her colleagues aren't the only ones to sing her praises.
"She's done amazing things," said Bob McVay, president of the Mountain Family Center Board. "The respect that she has in the community is amazing. She's definitely a big part of the entire county."
It's clear that the new director will have some large shoes to fill. The board hopes to start interviews around the end of October. They will start their search locally, then expand statewide and further, if necessary, though McVay expressed his hope that a local candidate could be found.
"If we can find someone locally who has the background or qualifications, that would be ideal," McVay said. "It's another job for somebody in our county, [and] that's always been our focus, to help someone in our county."
While Korkowski hasn't figured out everything she wants to do with her retirement yet, she does know two things. One, she's sticking around Grand County, and two, she will continue to support the Mountain Family Center however she can.
"I just really appreciate the fact that the community has allowed me to be in this position for so many years. I feel really honored that I've been trusted with this," she said.
Her colleagues all agree that, though she will be missed, she deserves some rest and time for herself.
"I hate to see her go," said McVay, "but I don't blame her doing it. She's been there a long time."
Though leaving will be hard, Korkowski has faith in the people she's leaving behind.
"The Mountain Family Center staff is so committed, and our board of directors is absolutely devoted to making sure this agency continues to be a strong helping force in this county, and that's part of the reason that I'm really comfortable leaving right now, because of their strength and commitment."
As for advice for her successor, Korkowski urges whoever it is to focus on what's important.
"Just remember that the people of this community come first. It's not about the leader of the organization or the board of directors; it's about the community and the populations we serve. If you can just focus on their needs, you can move mountains."