There’s cause for gratitude this holiday season as CU Denver celebrates a $10 million gift and official name for its new landmark, the Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center.
Denver philanthropists Lola and Rob Salazar have made a $10 million gift to guarantee a lasting legacy for the “space of our own” student leaders first envisioned in 2013. The gift makes the facility the first named building on campus, a milestone for the university.
The Salazars chose to invest in CU Denver in part because the student body reflects their belief in the power of hard work and determination to achieve success in life. Homegrown, self-made success stories, the Salazars attended Denver Public Schools — and, in Lola’s case, CU Denver for a master’s degree — and credit their modest Denver upbringing not only for their success, but also for implanting in them a commitment to pay it forward.
A legacy of giving
“We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but watching our parents work so hard to give us everything that we did have was inspiring. Our parents were always stressing the value of education, about giving back, and about the importance of truly being kind,” said Lola. “We started the Salazar Family Foundation because we’ve been fortunate in our business success and because education has always been the number one priority for our family.”
“Our upbringing instilled in us the value to set goals, work hard, and ultimately to use the successes we achieve to help others from similar backgrounds,” said Rob. “We hope that when students see the wellness center and learn about our background, they can relate to our story and realize that they are no different from us. We’re hoping to set an example with what we’ve been able to achieve, and if we can do it, it’s achievable for them as well.”
The Salazars are also inspired by the center’s purpose – promoting student health and wellness and nurturing a sense of community and belonging on campus.
“You’ll notice that most of our grants have gone to organizations that helped us get to where we are today, and this grant is no different because our family has been a part of the CU System,” said Lola, who recalls that the campus felt like a supportive community when she was a student here. Lola served on the alumni association board of directors, and the couple’s two children attended CU.
Endowment for future expenses
Part of the gift, $2 million, will immediately fund construction costs to ensure that the center incorporates features to complete the vision of the original design conceptualized by the Student Wellness Center Oversight Committee, which was made up of university stakeholders and student leaders. The remaining $8 million establishes an endowment for the center’s future expenses, with a goal of keeping student fees at their current rate.
“On behalf of all of us at CU Denver, I want to thank the Salazars for their vision, their generosity, and their belief in the potential of our amazing students,” said CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell. “The Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center is proof that CU Denver students are fully equipped to turn their dreams into reality.”
Student-led journey to wellness
Four years ago, student government leaders, having identified a need for a greater sense of community on campus, asked university administration to evaluate the feasibility of a new student wellness center, to be funded by student fees.
“Building community on our campus was the number one charge when the idea for a wellness center was born,” said CU Denver alumnus and 2015-2016 president of Student Government Association (SGA), Scott Cao, who now attends CU Anschutz. “I am very thankful and very grateful that the Salazars see the positive impact to our campus and want to donate to our school.”
A feasibility study was conducted in fall 2014. In focus groups and surveys, students indicated a strong preference for a CU Denver-specific facility to promote health and wellness, provide a haven for students between classes, and offer fitness opportunities. They wanted the center to boost school spirit, foster connections and strengthen CU Denver’s identity.
In spring 2015, SGA prepared a student referendum to move forward with the center and engineered a “get out the vote” campaign. The Board of Regents approved the CU Denver Student Wellness Center in spring 2015, shortly after the student vote that drew a record-setting 20 percent turnout and a landslide 61 percent victory. Construction has been underway ever since, and the campus community has gathered to celebrate the center’s groundbreaking and topping-off ceremony.
“I’m proud of the vision, determination and hard work that CU Denver students demonstrated throughout the process of making the wellness center a reality. They were able to drive record voter turnout and pass the initiative by an overwhelming majority by making a great case and doing the hard work to convey it to their fellow students,” said CU President Bruce Benson. “In my conversations with Lola and Rob, they were moved by the intensity of our students’ desire to make their campus a better place, and they were impressed with their ability to make it happen.”
Opening in spring 2018, the Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center will be an 85,000-square-foot facility featuring a 36-foot climbing wall, three-court gymnasium, six-lane pool, weight room, fitness studios, reflection rooms and an outdoor adventure center. Designed to promote multiple dimensions of student health and wellness, the center offers programs and activities that address students’ social, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
“Students need to be well-rounded, and we want them to know that there is a home for them and a place on campus for all of their needs,” said Lola. “Making this donation is also inspiring me to live healthier and to embody wellness myself.”
Student fees cover the facility’s use by current CU Denver students. Memberships are also open to university faculty and staff as well as alumni and their sponsored guests. Students who have paid the Student Wellness Center fee from spring 2015 to spring 2018 will have access to the facility for the number of semesters they paid the fee. One semester is equal to four months of facility access.
“My biggest takeaway from this project is that if you want change, it is possible as long as you engage everybody and you get the right people in the right place. Get the right people, get the community mobilized, and anything is possible. The wellness center is a testament to that statement,” said Cao.