History of Colorado ManREACH
The idea for Colorado ManREACH began in 2003, when representatives from two HIV prevention providers that serve the rural, mountain and frontier regions of Colorado, Northern Colorado AIDS Project (NCAP) in Fort Collins and Western Colorado AIDS Project (WestCAP) in Grand Junction, were introduced to a group in Northern California known as the Billy Community. The Billys are comprised of gay, bisexual, queer and transgender (GBQT) men and draws its inspiration for creating community from many sources, including the Radical Faeries. Billy events, referred to as “gatherings”, are hosted several times each year. They are volunteer driven, offer participants a safe, supportive, heart-centered environment, include both educational and recreational activities, and are recreational drug and alcohol-free.
Having experienced a Billy gathering first hand, NCAP and WestCAP, in cooperation with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), decided to build something equally meaningful for GBQT men in rural Colorado. At a meeting in Grand Junction in the summer of 2003, the idea of hosting statewide gatherings, in addition to local social and educational activities, came into being, and was called Colorado ManREACH. REACH is an acronym for Rural Education in Action for Community Health.
In the fall of 2003, a “dinner tour” was hosted by NCAP and WestCAP (also known as AIDS Service Organizations or ASOs), CDPHE and a consultant from the Billy Community. Six meals, one each in the towns of Ft. Collins, Pueblo, Vail, Grand Junction, Durango and Alamosa, brought together a total of 68 men. The dinners began with introductions and ice-breakers, followed by a two hour-long focus group that allowed the men to discuss their local community resources and opportunities to build social networks. The dinners concluded with CDPHE staff presenting a condensed program on harm reduction, HIV prevention interventions and behavioral theory so those in attendance could gain insight into the goals of the publicly-funded program.
A Community Vision
Based on the “dinner tour” findings, a visioning retreat was held at Red Rocks Ranch over the 2004 Memorial Day weekend outside Westcliffe. Twenty-five men, considered to be gatekeepers of local communities across rural Colorado, attended, along with CDPHE and ASO staff, and a consultant from the Billy Community. During the retreat, the mission of Colorado ManREACH was created. It is “to build heart-centered connections and community for GBQT men in the rural, mountain and frontier regions of Colorado.” Also at this gathering, the heart circle was introduced, a supportive community began to form and the seeds of a peer-based prevention program were planted. The visioning retreat in May 2004 at Red Rocks Ranch is considered the time and place when Colorado ManREACH was first established.
Another gathering was planned for summer 2004 in another rural location. This gathering would be known as Awakening. Sixty-three men attended the retreat that was facilitated by CDPHE and ASO staff, and Billy consultants. Awakening included opportunities to participate in workshops promoting healthy lifestyles, as well as creative and outdoor recreational activities. It offered delicious food, companionship, educational discussions, and the ManREACH program’s core activity, the heart circle. Much enthusiasm, motivation and inspiration was generated for future gatherings.
Two statewide gatherings took place in 2005, both on the Grand Mesa in western Colorado. Rising was held in July and was attended by 63 men. Forty-four men attended Autumn Balance in September. About one half of the participants were returning, while one half was new. These two gatherings, coordinated by WestCAP, gave Colorado ManREACH the opportunity to engage more men by offering participants a selection of dates.
Also during 2005, Colorado ManREACH created a steering committee comprised of community members to assist with organizing, marketing and managing various programmatic tasks. The committee convened for a planning retreat in December near Boulder. It was at this retreat that committee members developed the core principles and values for the ManREACH program, as well as the framework for the ManREACH curriculum. Additionally, ideas about how to sustain the ManREACH program emerged, including a suggestion to file for tax-exempt non-profit status in order to become eligible for other sources of funding in addition to those received from CDPHE.
In 2006, Colorado ManREACH further developed its programming, implemented additional outreach activities and coordinate three statewide events. The first gathering of 2006 was to be held in July at a retreat near Pueblo, but was canceled due to a hostile reaction from some individuals who did not want gay men to use their facility. The second was held on the Grand Mesa in August. Forty-three men attended this unnamed event. It was at this gathering that the ManREACH curriculum was piloted. The third gathering, Harvest, was held in October near Boulder and was attended by 48 men. The Harvest theme was chosen to remind us to celebrate the bounty of our lives and, ultimately, that we reap what we sow. It remained fairly consistent in 2006 that each gathering was approximately one half returning guests, and one half new arrivals
A New Chapter
In 2007, Colorado ManREACH applied for and received its tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) non-profit status from the federal government. The August gathering at the Cal-Wood Retreat Center near Boulder, A New Chapter, drew 42 men. A New Chapter referred not only to ManREACH’s new non-profit designation, but also to the new chapters that each of us begins at various points in our lives. Evolution, the September event at Camp Kiwanis on the Western Slope, drew 55 participants. Evolution honored the history of the ManREACH program and underscored how each of us is in a continual state of growth and change, and how each of us can affect our future by making decisions and acting in ways that support our long term goals.
A third summer gathering was added in 2008. It’s location was La Foret Retreat in the Black Forest north of Colorado Springs. Now Colorado ManREACH was hosting events in Northern and Southern Colorado and on the Western Slope anually. Unfortunately, Camp Kiwanis closed for repairs in 2008. In fact, ManREACH was the last group to use the facility in the fall of 2007 before it closed. That was the “rain-soaked and plumbing’s broke” gathering that was cut short due extreme wetness. After Camp Kiwanis closed, ManREACH began hosting its Western Slope events at Stone Forest Retreat in Cedaredge.
In 2009, ManREACH received a grant from the Colorado HIV/AIDS Prevention Program (CHAPP) that funded six, new, one-day gatherings and Yes, We Camp!, a multi-day campout. The one-day events allowed Colorado ManREACH to host gatherings around the state in the spring and fall to bridge the nine-month gap in between the summer gatherings. Conversations in the R.A.W. (Real Ass World) were the educational components of the new one-day events. The Conversations built on the trust ManREACH community members had built among themselves to discuss issues realting to our sexual heath.
The first Yes, We Camp! was held in June 2010 at the Angel of Shavano Campground near Maysville on Monarch Pass. Twenty-five men attended. Three other summer gatherings and six one-day events were held that year.
In the spring of 2011, Colorado ManREACH added the Sophia Peace Center in Dolores to its list of locations for its one-day events. It was the first time ManREACH had visited the Four Corners Region of the state. The response was great! Twenty-two men attended. In total in 2011, Colorado ManREACH hosted six one day events and four Summer gatherings, including Yes, We Camp!, Cal-Wood, Stone Forest and La Foret. 2011 was the last year ManREACH hosted Yes, We Camp! Looming federal budget cuts and other contract issues required ManREACH to combine Yes, We Camp! and the summer gathering at La Foret in 2012.
In 2012, however, ManREACH received a three year grant from the Colorado HIV/AIDS Prevention Program (CHAPP). That year, Colorado ManREACH hosted seven one-day gatherings, including an extra one-day event in the spring to make up for the low attendance at the 2011 summer gathering at Stone Forest Retreat in Cedaredge. Note that 2011 was the last year Colorado ManREACH hosted a summer gathering at Stone Forest (due to lack of lodging), but after hosting a spring event at Hotel Melrose in Grand Junction, ManREACH decided to continue using Stone Forest Retreats for some of its one day events. Locations for one-day gatherings in 2012 included Rock Ledge Ranch in Colorado Springs, Tamasag Center in Bellvue, Sophia Peace Center in Dolores, Hotel Melrose in Grand Junction, and Stone Forest Retreat in Cedaredge. Three summer gatherings were held, including the Cal-Wood Center in Jamestown, La Foret Retreat in Black Forest and the Sophia Peace Center in Dolores.
The Colorado ManREACH community continued to grow throughout 2013, and Cross Orchards in Grand Junction was added as a new, one-day location on the Western Slope in October. December 2013 brought another significant change, however. In support of the 2010 National AIDS Strategy and under the direction of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado HIV/AIDS Prevention Program shifted state dollars away from “rural” prevention programs to those located in Denver metro area. As a result, Colorado ManREACH did not qualify for state funding in June 2014. The loss did not prevent Colorado ManREACH from celebrating its 10th Anniversary at the Cal-Wood Retreat Center in June (see photos here) or its Labor Day Weekend gathering at La Foret Retreat in August. It has, of course, presented Colorado ManREACH with significant challenges and opportunities going forward.
In 2015, gatherings were held at Stone Forest Retreat in Cedaredge over Memorial Day Weekend, the Cal-Wood Retreat Center in Jamestown in mid-June and La Foret Retreat in Black Forest over Labor Day Weekend. The community’s new-found sense of self-determination was reflected in the depth of the heart circles, conversations and connections at each event. Through Community Conversations at each gathering, it became clear that the overwhelming majority of participants want Colorado ManREACH to continue – to thrive! – while ensuring that men from all walks of life can benefit from it.
Toward that end, Steering Committee and community members worked together throughout the year to create a new business model for the organization that ultimately will allow it to sustain up to three multi-day gatherings across the state annually. The new model included charging participants a registration fee in 2016 for the first time in the organization’s history and making scholarships available for those who need them.
THE ROAD TO SUSTAINABILITY
2016 was a year of significant change for Colorado ManREACH. An online registration and payment process was created, in addition to a Scholarship Fund, including a scholarship application and review process. ManREACH also launched its Local Potluck Initiative to help community members stay connected in between Colorado ManREACH’s statewide gatherings – and to entice new participants to check us out! Community members serve up eight Local Potlucks in 2016. Read more about Local ManREACH Potlucks here.
Also in 2016, the organization received another generous grant from the Gamma Mu Foundation to help it continue serving the unmet needs of GBTQ men in Colorado. With Gamma Mu’s help, ManREACH was able to host two statewide gatherings in 2016: one over Fourth of July Weekend at the Cal-Wood Center in Jamestown, the other over Labor Day Weekend at La Foret Retreat in Black Forest.
In 2017, Colorado ManREACH expanded its program offerings to include live, online Virtual Heart Circles and Men’s Forums via video conference. These new events along with several local potlucks gave men the opportunity to connect in a variety of places throughout the year, in addition to ManREACH gatherings. Colorado ManREACH hosted two multi-day gatherings in 2017, Fourth of July Weekend at Cal-Wood and Labor Day Weekend at La Foret. ManREACH also received another grant from Gamma Mu Foundation as it continued to transition from a publicly funded to a financially self-sustaining organization.
Over the next two years, ManREACH began hosting smaller one and two-night gatherings designed for a dozen participants each at two new locations in Colorado, the Bunkhouse Lodge in Breckenridge and the Tennessee Pass Yurts. The annual gathering at La Foret Retreat near Colorado Springs continued to be a three-night event for groups of approximately 20.
Due to rising rental costs, Colorado ManREACH dropped the Cal-Wood Center from its annual lineup beginning in 2018. It was difficult to say goodbye to this beautiful retreat center at the foot of Longs Peak at which so many of us gathered, laughed, cried and loved for over a decade.
The success of the smaller events in 2018 and 2019 has been encouraging, and they will continue in 2020. Meanwhile, after hosting several summer gatherings at La Foret’s Yurt Village, ManREACH is trying something new; rescheduling the event to May, and moving out of the rustic yurts into the comfort of Indian Paintbrush and Sage cabins.
As an organization, Colorado ManREACH has transformed itself in recent years, adopting a new business model in order to continue addressing the unmet needs of GBTQ men. Now an all-volunteer organization, its events are fewer in number and registration fees are now the norm*, but ManREACH’s commitment to creating heart-centered connections and community has not changed.
THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
Colorado ManREACH believes heart-centered friendships and relationships among men who love men are the cornerstone of a healthy, vibrant GBTQ community. From its founding in 2004 through 2019, the organization hosted over 100 in-person events at more than 20 locations across the state.
In 2020, however, Colorado state health department guidelines relating to the Coronavirus prevented ManREACH from hosting in-person gatherings. In response, the organization coordinated online heart circles throughout the year. In November, it released a Request for Proposals for Online Programs (RFP), hoping to expand its online offerings to the community.
A second RFP was released in January 2021, seeking online programs in the categories of Personal Growth, Health and Wellness, and Fun and Games. ManREACH plans to offer online programs until state health department guidelines once again allow in-person gatherings.
In anticipation of that day, Colorado ManREACH already has scheduled two gatherings in 2021. For more information, check out “Upcoming Events” on the right side of our homepage, keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned!
*A limited number of scholarships are available for most Colorado ManREACH events. For more information, click here.