Elycia Cook is the president and CEO of Friends First, which empowers teens with tools, knowledge and positive role models to make choices leading to healthy relationships and successful futures. She serves on our board of directors, and recently won a lifetime achievement award from the National Mentoring Partnership in Washington, DC.

How did you learn about SVP Denver?

We were grantees of DA 20-30 and they referred us to SVP Denver for a capacity-building engagement a few years ago. At the time Friends First was researching the viability of, and the ideal customer profile for, our peer-to-peer mentoring program. We also explored merging with another non-profit organization. (Current SVP Denver board chair Merrill Stillwell was the lead on our project and encouraged me to get involved in SVP education events, which I attended regularly for about two years prior to joining the SVP Denver board of directors.

What would you tell your friends and colleagues about SVP Denver?

When you work in the non-profit environment as I do, you often don’t get the opportunity for intentional engagement in the corporate space. SVP brings together non-profits and corporates, allowing me to hear others’ perspectives on business and non-profits. Often we hear that nonprofits should act more like businesses, and I try to say that that for me personally, sometimes businesses could stand to operate with a bit more heart like non-profits. SVP also gives me the opportunity to see that corporates do care, just in a different way.

Tell us about serving on the SVP Denver board of directors.

At first I had a hard time finding my place and my space there, but I’ve learned that my opinion matters and I have a lot to offer coming from the non-profit mindset. It has been great to learn the expertise of, as well as the diversity of interests and talents on, the board. I’m always learning fascinating things, especially about impact investing, from Mark Newhouse and others.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I was an exchange student for a year in Japan and it completely changed the trajectory of my life. Being raised by a single mom in one of the toughest parts of Detroit, she really pushed me to take advantage of the experience. I didn’t speak a word of Japanese, and was paired with a family living in the deep countryside in a home with a temple and a rice paddy … and an outhouse! I went back for another six years as a young professional, then returned later in life with my husband and two children who were one and four years old at the time. All together I lived there for about eight or nine years over those three different periods of my life.