August 13, 2010

Carraher builds self-sufficiency for families

2010 Women of Distinction - Nonprofit, Health and Human Services

Mary Carraher has always been on the side of the underdog.


From her first job right out of college with the Denver Department of Social Services to her position as executive director of Project Self-Sufficiency, Carraher’s compassion, experience and leadership have been used to better the lives of struggling Coloradans.

For more than 20 years, she has worked tirelessly to grow Project Self-Sufficiency’s program and services so that low-income single-parent families could build the skills and get the education necessary to become independent and self-reliant. Through Project Self-Sufficiency, parents attend life-changing and affirming self-esteem classes and can get help with college tuition, child care and career planning. Her vision created the “Cool Kids” back-to-school clothing and car donation and repair programs, among others.

In 1989, the nonprofit organization had a $60,000 budget that somehow paid three staffers and served 60 families. Carraher relied heavily on volunteer case managers to handle clients’ needs. Now, the agency has 12 staffers, is supported by an annual budget of over $1 million and helps more than 150 Northern Colorado families each year.

“I was touched to learn that I had been nominated and selected as an honoree for Women of Distinction,” Carraher said. ” My work at Project Self-Sufficiency has been inspired by the single parents enrolled in our program. It has been a pleasure to contribute to the success of such courageous and determined women. Seeing them complete their career goals and secure living wage employment has been amazing to behold!”

In addition to the countless hours Carraher spends with Project Self-Sufficiency, she has been active with the United Way of Larimer County’s Pathways Past Poverty Steering Committee, The Women’s FAN Coalition of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, the Council of Human Service Agency Directors and on the Advisory Committee to the Colorado State University College of Applied Human Sciences.

“Mary Carraher is one of the finest nonprofit leaders I know,´ said Gordon Thibedeau, president of United Way of Larimer County. “She is incredibly effective with great business sense and tremendous compassion. Her achievements in this community are unrivaled.”

Nicole Gawronski, an adviser with Project Self-Sufficiency since 1992, agreed. In her nomination letter, she wrote: “Mary is truly devoted to doing everything possible to assist, support and empower families struggling economically. She works a truly grueling schedule to secure funds and promote the mission of PSS in the wider community but is never too busy to be kind and generous to whomever she encounters along the way. Her heart is very open to Participants and Staff and her many friends.”

“Mary is an amazing mentor and teacher-she has taught all of us about being fair and compassionate and committed to our purpose,” Gawronski added. “It is difficult to measure the impact Mary has had on our community. She has created hope and opportunity for so many families who are frequently isolated, stigmatized or forgotten.”

Click here for a list of the
2010 Women of Distinction and links to their profiles.

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