This article was orginally published in the Winter 2020 edition of The Denver Foundation’s donor newsletter, Noteworthy, published in February 2020.
Hispanic Heritage Month is an annual celebration of the history and culture of the U.S. Latinx and Hispanic communities. The event, which spans from September 15 to October 15, commemorates how those communities have influenced and contributed to American society at large.
Successful in both business and philanthropy, the Salazar Family creates a legacy of kindness.
Isiah Salazar was 14 when he realized what it really meant to be a Salazar. He was in a tux, probably the youngest person at the Latin American Educational Foundation gala; he was excited that the baseball giant Sammy Sosa was there, too. At some point, all eyes turned to his mother, Lola, who received an award in her name.
“It was the first time I understood how important my parents are,” says Isiah. “But even before the galas and the awards, they instilled the ideas of giving and service. They pushed but didn’t pressure us to do well and give to the community.”
Isiah’s sister, Angelique, remembers those early galas, too. Her parents made her feel an equal part of things, even though she was in high school.
(From left to right: Isiah, Erin, Lola, Rob, and Angelique Salazar.)
“They would let us raise the paddle during live auctions, decide on which items to bid on,” she says. “Starting at an early age, we had that sense of belonging. And because of that, giving is just second nature now.”
That giving nature is manifest in the work of the Salazar Family Foundation, which has awarded more than $20 million since it was established as a supporting organization in 1999. The Denver Foundation is one of its supported organizations. The Salazar’s’ philanthropic impact can be felt across the city, including at the Salazar Center for Family Prosperity at Mi Casa Resource Center and the Lola & Rob Salazar Center for Student Wellness at the University of Colorado Denver.
Most of the family’s giving is connected to education and empowerment in the Latino community. They’ve consistently given to the Denver Public Schools Foundation, Latin American Educational Foundation, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the University of Colorado Denver, where Lola completed her master’s degree.
“Rob and I have always had dreams and goals, and we always told each other, ‘When we do succeed, it will be great to thank the people and organizations that helped us get to where we are,’” she says. “When we first started with our foundation, all of the organizations we chose were the ones that helped us in the beginning.”
Today, Rob and Lola live in a Four Seasons high rise residence with panoramic mountain views. But for many years, they were a typical family with roots in middle-class Denver neighborhoods. They married shortly after Rob graduated from North High School, Lola from Abraham Lincoln. Rob founded a CPA and consulting firm and, later, a healthcare management company. Lola taught in Jefferson County for eight years.
(Rob and Lola Salazar.)
By the mid-90s, Rob’s company experienced enormous growth. In 2000, he sold his share in the company and founded Central Street Capital, Inc., a private firm that manages the Salazar family’s investments. Today, Central Street Capital and the Salazar Family have investments in over 50 different companies.
“We didn’t grow up having a lot of money,” says Angelique. “I know what it’s like to show up at Taco Bell with $10 to buy dinner for everyone. I always saw my parents go to work and work hard every day; that was true before we were successful, and it’s true now.”
Like everything in their lives, the Salazar Family Foundation is a family affair. Rob sits on the board. Lola leads the organization alongside Carmen Lerma Mendoza, its Executive Director. Angelique, Isiah, and Erin Salazar (Isiah’s wife) attend board meetings and participate in all grant-giving decisions.
“We like to say that she’s the giver and I’m the grower,” says Rob. “After Lola and I provided the initial funding for our foundation, we decided that she would focus on giving and grantmaking and I would focus on growing the assets of the foundation. Our plan is for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to carry on our foundation’s mission well beyond our lifetime.”
As an engaged and intentional philanthropist, Lola’s involvement with the supported organizations allows her to connect closely and deeply with their work. She is also an active volunteer.
Every week, for example, she visits Escuela de Guadalupe School in North Denver, where she reads to students and shares stories from her life.
“We always told each other, ‘When we do succeed, it will be great to thank the people and organizations that helped us get to where we are.'”
“I always look forward to going and reading to the kids,” she says. “And I look forward to meeting with the scholars we support and talking about the importance of setting goals, and having a vision for your life. I want them to know that I’m a real person, that I still have things I want to accomplish in my life. I want them to hear hope in my story.”
(Lola Salazar with second graders at Escuela de Guadalupe, where she volunteers every week.)
Last November, the Salazars were awarded the Outstanding Philanthropist Award during National Philanthropy Day, an initiative of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. They are also members of the Latino Leadership Institute’s Hall of Fame, among many other honors.
While recognition is nice, Lola says the real pleasures of philanthropy lie in the connections she feels with the community.
“We need to focus on each other and be there for one another,” she says. “That can mean so many different things to people. Kindness and generosity can be anything. I keep one-dollar bills and mittens in my car to pass out. Whatever you do, it’s wonderful to know you made a difference.”