Health equity advocate Beka Warren receives state recognition
One doesn’t necessarily need to know Beka Warren personally to recognize her name as one of Northwest Colorado’s biggest champions of health equality for underserved populations and a tireless advocate for ensuring local resources exist for victims of crime and trauma.
Earlier this month, the Colorado Health Foundation recognized Warren with the 2019 Dr. Virgilio Licona Community Health Leadership Award, a community health leadership award program that honors the life and legacy of the late Dr. Virgilio Licona. According to the Colorado Health Foundation, Licona was a nationally recognized advocate for social justice and worked to improve the health of the neediest populations in Colorado.
Warren’s former role as executive director of Open Heart Advocates — a Moffat County nonprofit that specializes in working with victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking and other crime and trauma — is the icing on the cake for a resume that otherwise includes everything from vice president of quality at Memorial Regional Health, deputy coroner for Moffat County, and a technician for Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank, among dozens of other paid and volunteer roles in the community health realm.
“Beka has spent her entire adult life serving people,” said Dan Bingham, the crime and victims advocate coordinator at Open Heart Advocates. “She has such a heart for this community.”
Warren stepped into the executive director role in March 2018 at a time when the organization was struggling to keep its doors open.
“We had just lost funding from one of our major sources and we were fighting to service,” Bingham said. “She literally was a knight on a white horse who rode in and saved us. If she hadn’t done what she did we wouldn’t be here, I guarantee it.”
While Warren doesn’t view herself as anyone’s savior, she saw the struggles of Moffat County’s most vulnerable citizens and felt compelled to act. More than 40% of Advocates’ clients identify as Latino, a population that can be very hard to reach.
“We have the same issues here that other places have — we aren’t isolated,” she said. “There is just so much need. The domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking is really bad here, especially with Latino populations. It’s much more common than people think.”
She also firmly believes that once anyone knows about a problem, they own it and they should try to do something to help.
“Rather than turn our backs or shun victims, we need to help,” she said. “We’re all still people.”
As part of her award, Warren received $20,000 for a nonprofit of her choice. She chose Open Heart Advocates. Although she doesn’t know exactly what they will do with the award, her hope is that some resource will be dedicated to a growing homeless population in Craig.
“Twenty thousand won’t even operate the agency for one month,” Warren said. “But Craig has a very difficult time with homeless people because there are just no resources. I hope this will help.”
Warren’s impact and influence will be a heavy burden now that she has relocated to the Front Range to be near her children and grandchildren.
“She never lost sight of continuing to make Advocates stronger and more solid every step of the way,” Bingham said. “She was focused on taking care of our clients and the community and she did whatever it took to makes sure everyone who needed help got it.”
Though her tireless work to improve protocols and processes and to ensure that the agency had all of its ducks in a row for grant kept the organization moving forward, it was often her after-hours commitment that made her the truly unsung hero.
“She would work countless hours after everyone else had gone home just making sure the details were taken care of,” Bingham said. “She would do things like check all of the expiration dates on goods in the food pantry and make sure we had infant care kits for our victims. She never wanted credit for anything she did. She just did what needed to be done.”
The C.R.A.I.G. Group has selected its final round of grantees for 2019.