Four years ago, as student Rob Bingham gazed out the top-floor windows of the CU Denver Business School wondering how the booming metropolis below would help shape his future, he knew two things for certain: He wanted to give back to the Denver community he chose and support the veterans he honored.
Today, after venturing from his small, Midwestern hometown, first to the battlefields in the Army, then to the urban campus he passed up other universities to join, Bingham, 32, is running Denver’s annual Veterans Day parade through the Colorado Veterans Project (CVP) he founded, making his Mile High mark in a big and patriotic way.
“Our first year after taking it over, we were able to turn the parade from fewer than 100 attendees to about 7,000 people,” said the former ROTC cadet, who graduated with his business degree in 2014 as a commissioned officer. “We are now above 10,000 attendees, and this year, with our first official media sponsor FOX31, our goal is 30,000,” said Bingham, whose CVP runs the parade in partnership with the mayor’s office.
If anyone can reach the ambitious goal, Bingham and his CVP crew probably can. Crediting his CU Denver education for building a strong marketing foundation, Bingham, now a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in the Colorado Army National Guard and a Corporate Giving Representative for Xcel Energy, was showing his marketing and leadership skills long before he graduated.
An undergraduate who serves
While at CU Denver, Bingham created the student organization Cadet Community Leadership Association. During his freshman year, after being named race director, Bingham bumped participation in an annual campus Veterans Day 5K from fewer than 100 to upwards of 600. The race became so big, he was asked to continue leading it through his own CVP nonprofit when he graduated. The Denver Veterans Day Run is now held each year at City Park and attracts about 1,000 runners.
Bingham also served as a Colorado National Guardsman while earning his degree. During the disastrous Colorado floods of 2013, he was called out of classes for four days to help with flight operations. “I had tests. I had papers due, and I was literally sitting on the tarmac helping flights get loaded up and take off while doing my homework. I actually was taking pictures of my homework and texting them to my teachers.”
His professors were all supportive of his efforts then, just as the Denver mayor and other community leaders are today, a fact the veteran who served two deployments in Iraq and Kuwait finds commendable. “I think partnerships are important,” Bingham said. “I think our elected officials are a symbol to the city. So having the mayor or another elected official at your event shows the veterans: You are supported by the city.”
Pushing patriotism, giving back
Bingham’s CVP is event-focused rather than service-oriented, with the goal of raising funds and awareness and bringing community and veterans together. “It allows the community the opportunity to say thank you,” said Bingham, whose concept for CVP grew partly from his struggles to reintegrate into society following his first deployment and seeing fellow soldiers endure their own personal battles. “I always felt like I needed to help those people.”
CVP events are fun- and exercise-oriented, and the money raised goes to the service nonprofits that support veterans in various ways. CVP’s Memorial Day Run & March, held in Castle Rock, raised more than $45,000 and nearly 27,000 pounds of food to help feed homeless veterans.
Bingham has decided to show his appreciation for a CU Denver education by funding three scholarships for veterans in the first year of a pilot CVP scholarship program. “We have one other CU Denver graduate on the board, and we wanted CU Denver to be the first to benefit from the program,” said Bingham, whose wife, a designer, also serves on the board as brand manager.
Bingham also combines his marketing skills and service nature in his full-time job at Xcel Energy. “It blows my mind how amazing these guys are in supporting community. In my first week and half, I helped facilitate $7 million in community grants across the nation. It’s super rewarding.”
Bingham now works in the heart of Denver, in one of the same buildings he once looked at from the CU Denver Business School. “It feels like everything just tied together,” he said. “My goal is to continue to figure out how to keep giving to the community. I love Colorado. I love Denver, and I want to give back. There’s always more I can do.”