Nonprofit, service club work reroute GJ woman’s life

PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON—Amanda Cryster with the United Way of Mesa County working at Taste of the Grand Valley at Two Rivers Convention Center.Sent as POR Cryster 2.

Armed with her BlackBerry and trademark red Sharpie, Amanda Crysler is on the move.

Exactly where the motivated do-gooder is headed next is anybody’s guess.

“She is working for something bigger than her,” Julie Hinkson said.

Hinkson is the executive director for United Way of Mesa County and Crysler’s immediate supervisor. Even Hinkson admitted Crysler is hard to track because of the young woman’s busy schedule.

Crysler is the full-time development director at United Way, where she is responsible for spearheading all the fundraising efforts of the county’s large nonprofit organization.

However, United Way is hardly the only organization that occupies Crysler’s time.

Crysler has been a member of the Grand Junction Junior Service League since 2007 and became a board member last year.

Also in 2010, Crysler was selected board president of Grand Valley Young Professionals, a social group dedicated to helping young professionals network and find volunteer opportunities.

In August 2007, Crysler co-organized a Grand Junction branch of the Roteract Club that is sponsored by the Grand Junction Rotary Club. A charter member of Roteract, Crysler also has served as president of the local service organization, which is aimed at motivating volunteerism and community involvement among people 33 and younger. Crysler turns 34 in August.

“I’m getting kicked out of my own club,” she said, laughing. “But that’s OK. I’m ready to go to Rotary.”

As committed as Crysler is to Mesa County, some might assume she’s a native to the area. That assumption would be wrong.

Originally from Camden, Maine, Crysler’s life goal “was to be a newspaper reporter on Capitol Hill.”

Plans changed when Crysler moved from Maine to the Washington, D.C., area in the late 1990s to attend college. Once she got to the city, she decided to major in history and change her focus. She realized she no longer wanted to cover politics but instead wanted to work in politics. Upon graduation from the University of Maryland in 2000, she got a job with a public relations firm in the city.

National politics enthralled Crysler. She immersed herself in the buzz of the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore and the monthslong fallout of the contentious, close election.

“It was an exciting time to be in D.C.,” Crysler said.

After unsuccessfully circulating her résumé for months in a place where “it’s so hard” to find employment unless “you know people,” Crysler got her break when a friend of a friend got her an interview with former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado.

Crysler got the entry-level job in the senator’s federal office in March 2001, answering phones and handling correspondence with return addresses from places such as Grand Junction.

“I got things like 712 H 3/10 Road,” Crysler said, pointing out the letters and fractions that label many area roads. “I always kept wondering what the heck this place was.”

As exciting as 2000 and the beginning of 2001 had been for Crysler, the end of 2001 changed everything.

She was working on Capitol Hill in Sen. Nighthorse Campbell’s office in the Russell Senate Office Building when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Hysteria ensued as people poured into the street from her office building after a mass evacuation. People just stood outside numb until someone, Crysler still does not know who, screamed for people to get as far away from the Capitol as possible. Speculation began to swirl that another plane was headed toward a crash landing.

“I remember thinking it was the last time I was ever going to see the Capitol,” Crysler said. More than nine years after 9/11, the day’s events still bring tears to her eyes.

“From that point, Washington changed,” Crysler said.

Suddenly, Crysler wanted out of the only city she ever wanted to live in. She loved her job, and believed in the work of her boss. She had been sent to Colorado on several previous occasions to visit Campbell’s territory and constituents, and thought the state was lovely. She asked to be transferred out West.

In late 2003, Crysler moved to Grand Junction with plans to help open the senator’s new office in the city as he eyed a re-election bid in 2004.

She settled in, opened the office in January 2004 and bought a house. In March 2004, Sen. Nighthorse Campbell announced he no longer planned to run.

With few ties to western Colorado, it would have made sense for Crysler to abandon her post and move back to the East Coast. But it only took several months of western Colorado sunshine and scenery to convince her otherwise.

“I knew I wanted to give it a chance after Campbell dropped out,” Crysler said. She put a two-year deadline on her stint in Mesa County.

That was seven years ago.

Crysler worked for the Clifton Water District and the Grand Junction Economic Partnership when she first got involved with Grand Valley Young Professionals in 2006.

Also in 2006, bitten by the travel bug, she applied to go to the Czech Republic through Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange. Crysler was not accepted. However, she was introduced to Rotary and Roteract.

In 2007, she re-applied to the program and was accepted to go to India.

In early 2008, she spent six weeks traveling around the country as a young professional and ambassador with Rotary to share her life experiences. In India, Crysler’s eyes were opened to the work that service organizations and nonprofits could do.

She returned to Grand Junction motivated to make a difference in the lives of others. She hasn’t stopped since.

“It’s genuinely in her to want to make things better,” said close friend Heather Benjamin, who was one of Crysler’s first friends when she moved here seven years ago. The pair tries to get together once a week.

“I can’t imagine this community without her,” Benjamin said.

It is difficult for Crysler to imagine herself outside Grand Junction.

“My life has taken me in a completely different direction than I thought I would go, but when you look at the path I have taken so far, it makes sense,” Crysler said. “I’m excited to see where it will take me in the future.”


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