The Buell Foundation is the current (and continuing) land owner of the land where Cherry Creek West will be located. As a key partner, we’re devoted to creating a community that helps further their mission to invest in Colorado’s future through childhood development. We sat down with Susan Steele, President & CEO of the Buell Foundation, to learn more about the work they do and what it means to them to be a part of the Cherry Creek West team.
- How did you first get involved with the Buell Foundation and what inspired you to want to lead this Foundation?
I was working at a family-owned business and one of the board members was the Executive Director for the Buell Foundation. At the time, I knew very little about the Foundation, but there was an opening in their accounting department, which was my background. Simultaneously, they were opening an events center and looking for someone to manage it. I also had some hospitality experience. It was truly serendipitous! I’ve now been with the Foundation for almost 30 years.
When I joined, the focus was widespread across community services. Over time, we narrowed it down to early childhood development (ECD) and have since led some of the largest funding efforts in Colorado. I really enjoyed being involved in this process so it was a natural progression to step into a leadership role where I was named Executive Director. In 2019, I accepted the role as President & CEO, which is my current position at the Foundation.
- In your own words, what is the Buell Foundation’s mission?
Simply put, we want to help all kids reach their greatest potential. We focus on supporting optimal skill development for young children, and also the parents, caregivers, providers and systems that support them. We believe that if children are provided with these opportunities, they’ll have a good foundation to be successful in work and life.
- In 2010 and 2014, two new programs emerged: Executives Partnering to Invest in Children (EPIC) and Early Milestones Colorado (Milestones). Can you tell us what these are and what’s been your personal contribution to these programs?
The Buell Foundation co-founded both programs alongside five other organizations. EPIC, where I’m an active participant on the Governing Board, was created to inform, support and encourage businesses and employers to become advocates and active participants in ECD. EPIC’s purpose is two-fold:
- To strengthen the bond between business leaders and their involvement supporting the future workforce and,
- To recognize the importance of having access to high quality, reliable and affordable childcare facilities that cultivates ECD, that allows working parents and caregivers, to perform at their best.
Early Milestones Colorado, or Milestones, was developed to bridge the gap between government and private institutions that were often colliding in their efforts to support ECD by providing structure, efficiencies and funding streams that generate better results for children. Milestones was recently awarded a grant to be the manager of CIRCLE Grants. The grants will support Colorado’s efforts to make childcare more equitable, inclusive and sustainable.
- How does Cherry Creek West align with the Buell’s long-term mission to support childhood development?
Our founder, Temple Buell, was not only a visionary but also extremely hands-on and understood the needs of the community around him. In fact, he was one of the pioneers in obtaining the first zoning plans in Denver. As a true ‘mover and shaker’, Mr. Buell saw potential where others couldn’t and was known to say ‘I want the Foundation to meet a pressing need of the time’. Cherry Creek West is just that – a pressing need of the time that will be designed with a level of excellence, beauty and community awareness. These are all motivations that are deeply rooted within our mission. Some of the programming that is envisioned for Cherry Creek West also aligns with our focus on the development of young children in areas such as physical health, appreciation of the outside world, cultural exposure, and more.
- What is an initiative that the Buell has spearheaded recently that you are really excited about?
There’s been a huge effort in Colorado to create a universal pre-school program and the Buell Foundation has been actively involved since the beginning. Starting in the fall of 2023, a new funding source will allow all 4-year-olds to attend pre-school for at least 10 hours a week at no cost to families. Over the last year and half, I’ve been co-chairing the Early Childhood Leadership Commission (a federally mandated advisory board for early childhood) to help develop the program and create an early childhood department at the state level. This initiative means a great deal to me and it’s where I’ve been dedicating a lot of my time.
- What project in 2022 are you looking forward to?
Continuing the efforts to finalize the universal pre-school program tops my list. And also, the workforce is a major priority for us. There’s not enough ECD employees. The shortage existed well before the pandemic, but the pandemic fueled it even more. This industry isn’t the only one to feel the post-pandemic effects, but we’re facing a real crisis with limited staff where classrooms aren’t able to open, therefore, creating a burden on present employees. As mentioned previously, if there aren’t enough childcare facilities, then people can’t work. We’re looking to amplify our workforce support efforts by targeting our funding to where we can be most effective, leverage new funds and get folks into jobs as quickly as possible while maintaining quality.
- When thinking about East West Partners’ partnership with the Buell Foundation and Taubman, what are you most excited about?
It’s not only all of our reputations, but also our expectations that if you’re going to do something, do it well. And, I know this project will be done very well. It’s both a challenging and exciting opportunity to maximize the space at Cherry Creek West. We’ve referred to this area as being the gateway to Cherry Creek, and if we can maintain the grace, beauty and sophisticated style, this will be something to be really proud of. Mr. Buell would’ve loved this as he once had visions of what he was going to do with Cherry Creek.
- What’s something about the Buell Foundation that people may not know?
We are dedicated to the idea of equity. We want all kids to develop to their optimum potential and we know what we do works. In some cases, we lead the efforts, while in others we collaborate with terrific partners which allow us to expand our resources to make things happen. We have a 12 person team, but that doesn’t stop us from living by our guiding principles to be flexible and accessible, and recognizing what a privilege it is to be in our line of work.