RIDGWAY, Dec. 26, 8:18 a.m. – If you want to get to know Jim Nowak, you have to get to know his work. He’ll hardly talk about himself unless it’s in the context of how he and wife Kim Reynolds were inspired to found the dZi Foundation (pronounced “zee”), a Ridgway-based international nonprofit organization that brings health care and education to communities in
Both accomplished mountaineers, Reynolds and Nowak organized an expedition to
It wasn’t Nowak’s first time on the peak.
“I had been on Pumori once before in 1989 and got 600 feet from the summit when my partner took a rock in the eye,” Nowak said.
While planning a return trip in 1989, with a six-person team that included Ridgway residents Sarah Ballantyne and Chris Holland, Nowak and Reynolds learned about the Friendship House, a safe house formed to protect girls at risk of being sold into prostitution. Several of the girls’ sisters had already disappeared, and the shelter was in financial trouble.
“Kim and I had been going to
Nowak thought his work was done, but in fact, it was just beginning.
Because they’d done such a good job raising money, the U.S.-based organization that had previously funded the home “disappeared,” according to Nowak. The couple continued doing minimal work to fund the home, but one thing led to another, and Nowak left behind a life of climbing expeditions to embark on an expedition of another type.
“I’d been climbing for over 30 years, and there was a time in my life when it was absolutely all I did,” he said. “In order to be good you have to completely dedicate yourself to it and it’s completely self serving. But when you realize what you are capable of doing as an individual to help other people, that’s the greatest expedition I’ve ever been on.”
The dZi Foundation wasn’t Nowak’s first foray into public service.
Having come from Vail after 14 years of watching that community “lose its soul,” in his words, Nowak decided to get involved and spent two years on Ridgway’s Town Council.
“It was intensely rewarding,” Nowak said. “I wish I still had the time to stay involved in local government.”
Nowak points to mayor Pat Willits and mayor pro-tem and longtime Planning and Zoning member John Clark as “ferocious public servants.”
For Nowak, public service is one of the most rewarding aspects of life, but most people are missing the boat despite their best intentions.
“It’s interesting to me that I hear a lot of people say they want to do something, and they think it’s going to happen when they’ve got things just right and all aligned,” he said. “It’s never all aligned, you just have to dig in and do it. It’s not a question of wealth; it’s a question of will. Whether people are involved internationally like I am, or John and Pat locally, if you aren’t giving back you are really missing a big part of life’s experience.”
Nowak isn’t missing out on much, if dZi’s success is any measure. The foundation has grown from supporting 14 girls in 1998 to over 30,000 in 2007, according to preliminary numbers provided by
When asked for stories that stand out, Nowak cited the cases of two dZi graduates who are now dZi staffers. Prema Tamong started out at the original Friendship House. She subsequently graduated from Katmandu University, spent two-and-a-half years as the executive director of a halfway house for women, and now is dZi’s liaison for all projects in Katmandu, a job that includes tracking and reporting on the welfare and education of girls sponsored by individual donors.
Similarly, Karma Sherpa received a scholarship from the dZi Foundation, got his bachelor’s degree from
The dZi Foundation offers a gifting program, perfect for the Christmas season that provides a means for people to support dZi financially while increasing awareness of their work. Donations may be made at several financial levels and to a variety of projects. Each gift-donation recipient receives a letter acknowledging that a donation has been made in their name, a description of the project gifted, and a dZi Foundation brochure and DVD. For the more materially oriented, dZi also offers a Marmot jacket emblazoned with the dZi logo.
Nowak has seen a positive shift toward this type of giving.
“People are a little over buying one more unnecessary thing for friends and family,” he said. “I’ve seen a huge shift in the last five years in people’s attitudes towards consumption. They recognize that that we have so much in
On Thursday, Jan. 3, Nowak will give a presentation on the dZi Foundation at the Ridgway Town Hall Community Center. The presentation starts at 7 p.m. and is free to the public.