It‚Äôs National Volunteer Week, and we‚Äôre highlighting one of our long-standing supporters: Elliott Toan. Elliott is a Boulder-based entrepreneur and restaurant owner of Arcana
; a longtime Conscious Alliance volunteer, supporter and friend; and now a member of our Board of Directors! Elliott began his volunteer experience and relationship with Conscious Alliance through a friendship and connection with our executive director, Justin Levy, and we love to see how both of these individuals have landed at a deep and growing place within our organization.
We sat down with Elliott to hear in his own words how much his path in life was shaped by his experience with Conscious Alliance, from volunteering as a college student to now hosting our fundraiser event series including the upcoming¬†‚ÄòAn Evening With Joel Cummins from Umphrey's McGee'‚Äô
Conscious Alliance: When did you start volunteering with Conscious Alliance and what did you do?
I began volunteering with Conscious Alliance (CA) around 2006 as a college student in Asheville, North Carolina at Warren Wilson College.¬† Warren Wilson encourages volunteerism strongly and there is also a volunteer requirement in the "triad" program which is the centerpiece of the school's philosophy.¬† I started out joining CA as a volunteer at concerts in Asheville, which turned into a summer on the road with CA and more travel to further cities, shows and festivals.¬† Through interacting so frequently with CA's message, it became¬†a part of who I am and my own value structure,¬†which led to my current career in the food industry.¬† What I do at my business now is very different from the work CA is doing, but the idea of food being a universal need as well as an ubiquitous¬†cultural element is at the center of our approach at Arcana (my wife Annie and I‚Äôs restaurant in Boulder).
Why did you get involved with Conscious Alliance as a volunteer in the first place?
As I mentioned, volunteerism was a central pillar¬†of my college experience and I was lucky that one of my freshman year dorm neighbors was Justin Levy, your executive director. While he was rarely, if ever, trying to force the CA message on anyone, it was clear from talking to him that the work was both fulfilling¬†and FUN.¬† When I started going to concerts with Justin, I pretty quickly began volunteering.¬† At first, CA volunteering made me feel more of a connection with the people I was surrounded by, the bands who were playing, the community we were in for the night, the venue, and so on; that led to a very rewarding sense of personal pride and purpose.¬† As I spent more and more time volunteering with CA I began experiencing¬†a growing internal connection to the mission and values of the organization, which led me to begin my personal journey of learning more about food, agricultural systems, and why and how the food system in America worked (and how it didn't).¬† My ongoing engagement¬†with CA has deepened my connection to a lifelong journey to create food within a thoughtful and engaged business and community.
What is the most rewarding experience you‚Äôve had as a volunteer with Conscious Alliance?
That is a tough question.¬† Many of the volunteer experiences¬†all over the country kind of blend together.¬† I loved the summer that I got to travel so much of the country with Justin, his brother Adam, Justin Baker, and so many other friends; I will never forget that summer.¬† I have to say though, my most personally rewarding experience¬†was just last year when we teamed up for the first of many CA/Arcana collaborations.¬† Our soft opening parties were all fundraisers for CA, which was great, but Justin soon proposed having a full on concert/sit down dinner experience¬†at Arcana with well over 100 guests.¬† The first show was a huge¬†success¬†and we are quickly approaching our third event of its kind.¬† It has been such a long journey¬†for me personally, the past 10 years; I have changed and grown a great deal; I moved to Colorado, went to culinary school, got married, opened a restaurant, and now have a baby on the way‚Ä¶that's a lot in the past seven or so years.¬† Having this super strong thread of CA throughout all of that is very rewarding and puts all the changes and growth in perspective; I feel like we have accomplished¬†something and having CA as such a central part of that makes me happy and keeps me focused.
How did volunteering with Conscious Alliance eventually lead you to your current role on Conscious Alliance‚Äôs Board of Directors?
So much of my personal and professional trajectory was/is the result of the volunteer opportunities I had with CA, so it has been a natural progression.¬† Working with CA inspired me to look deeper into American food systems and eventually¬†got me to where I am today: a restaurant owner.¬† Being in the restaurant industry makes collaborating with CA easy and natural.¬† I'm enthusiastic¬†about CA and Justin knows that and encourages that so being on the board of directors is an opportunity for us to more closely execute our ongoing goals.¬† Additionally, Justin is just one of my best friends.¬† Justin let me live at his house when I moved to Boulder for culinary school and we have maintained that friendship.¬† It's easy to get excited about something that the Executive Director and the whole rest of the team are so fired up about! CA has a lot of heart so I feel lucky to be a part of that team and I can't wait to see what the future holds.