Innovate for Good: Organizations at Work in the Community

Local Denver businesses use their creativity to promote culture, education, food, health, justice and sustainability

Being a part of a community means helping the people around you—this is a concept that the Rose Community Foundation wanted to bring to life in 2015. So the foundation created the Innovate for Good venture last year, where they asked local Denver organizations to find real solutions to real problems by answering the following question: What new and innovative idea would you bring to life to make the Greater Denver community a better place to live? The responses came flooding back.

After receiving nearly 400 submissions, a team of 130 community members came together to select nine organizations that they thought had the best ideas. The winners include Arts Street, Be the Gift, Bright by Three, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, The Greenway Foundation, Groundwork Denver, Shorter Community AME Church and Warm Cookies of the Revolution. The nine winners received $250,000 to fund their projects in June 2015, and now the organizations are ready to share their progress with the public.

“These nine organizations embody the heart of why this initiative was originally created: to find people with ideas for innovative and inspiring work, then encourage them to implement their vision,” says Sheila Bugdanowitz, president and CEO of Rose Community Foundation. “We are inspired to see them helping guide Denver’s health, environment, education and community leaders on real solutions to real problems.”

THE WINNERS AND THEIR PROJECTS
Workshop on Wheels

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Workshop on Wheels makes a difference in single mother families. Courtesy Be the Gift

This project, created by the organization Be the Gift, completes home repairs for single mom families. Using an actual truck as a workshop, Be the Gift travels around Denver assisting families in need. They have created three repair trucks so they can as many places in Denver as possible. On May 14, the organization completed three different home repair projects for three different single mom families, all on the same day. This was the first time all three Workshops on Wheels were at projects at the same time.

The Stompin’ Ground Games
With the brilliant use of comedy, Warm Cookies of the Revolution combines arts, culture and history to discuss homelessness, immigration and queer history.They created the Stompin’ Ground Games as a monthly, year-long Olympic-style competition between neighborhoods in Denver where attendees are entertained by artists and cultural groups in the community and learn about community history, as well as current issues affecting residents. Participation and attendance has sky-rocketed since receiving their grant.

Fresh Food Connect

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Home gardeners donate extra produce to food banks delivered by volunteer bikers. Courtesy Groundwork Denver

Created by Groundwork Denver, this Innovate for Good winning project can be downloaded right onto your personal iPhone. Fresh Food Connect is an app that helps feed families, reduce food waste and provide income to low-income youth. How can an app do that, you may ask? Simple, by connecting gardeners to youth. The app links gardeners to youth, who are then employed to pick up and deliver donated produce using bikes and trailers.

Home gardeners can use the app to let Groundwork Denver know if they want to donate extra produce for distribution at food banks and through affordable sale. A second version of Fresh Food Connect that allows for the participation of backyard gardeners launched in May.

Clean River Design Challenge

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Clean River Design winners put their device, the Nautilus, to the test. Courtesy The Greenway Foundation

The Greenway Foundation started a design competition for students attending Metro State University of Denver, challenging them to think outside the box by creating a mechanism to remove trash from the South Platte River. The Greenway Foundation’s ultimate goal is to raise awareness about trash in Denver’s urban waterways. On December 4, 2015, 11 teams presented their designs to a panel of judges, and, after careful consideration, five teams were chosen to receive funds to create their devices. After testing these devices on April 30, a winner was chosen: the Nautilus by Mara Maxwell and TJ DiTallo.

Race, Policing and Community Justice Advocates
This project was the idea of Shorter Community AME Church, and it engages high school students by encouraging them to become peer presenters on racial equality, community-based policing and justice-advocacy work. Since receiving funding, Shorter Community AME Church has given law enforcement officers, community leaders and local organizations the opportunity to hear from students directly about their own take on racial, policing and justice issues. Students have also been participating in a program called Bridging the Gap: Cops and Kids, which also works on the interaction between students and police officers. On April 16, students hosted a workshop with an attorney to help the community better understand their legal rights.

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot

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Romeo and Juliet perform for students in the school parking lot. Courtesy Denver Center for the Performing Arts

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot is what Denver Center for the Performing Arts calls a food truck for the arts. Focusing on promoting culture, DCPA provides affordable, high-quality theatrical performances for high schoolers. Following the parking lot productions, there are actor-led workshops to support classroom teaching and learning. After receiving their grant, DCPA has provided the Shakespeare in the Parking Lot programming to 12 schools at no cost to the learning institutions. Over 5,000 students attended both in the fall and spring of 2016. Learn more in this profile from our March issue.

Veterans in Food Deserts
Here’s the inside scoop on what the Denver Botanic Gardens have done for their innovative project: Veterans in Food Deserts strives to help military veterans grow and sell fresh produce, along with giving them the tools to share knowledge about planting, harvesting and nutrition at farm stands in neighborhoods with limited access to healthy foods. With the grant money the Denver Botanic Gardens received, they have created more programs for veterans, including vocational opportunities in farming, community engagement, relationships with other service members and financial compensation for participation. Their current food season begans May 24 and goes until August 5.

Creative Youth Take Flight — La Alma Connection

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Students in the program created this piece of temporary fence art. Courtesy Arts Street

Arts Street used their grant to start the program Creative Youth Take Flight — La Alma Connection, a project that gives underserved youth the opportunity to learn about urban design and economic development by enabling them to produce a master art plan and public art series. One example, encouraging pedestrians to use the light rail in the La Alma neighborhood. These classes have cultivated skills and confidence in neighborhood youth by building a community through art.

Bright by Text
Bright by Text is an educational text-messaging system created by the organization Bright by Three. In the system, parents are sent evidence-based tips to support the development of very young children. Topics include newborn, infant and toddler care, nutrition and eating, sleep, health safety, developmental games and milestones, language learning and behavior and positive discipline. With the grant money, Bright by Three has also been able to provide parents with localized community resources and information.

Innovate for Good 2016 applications were submitted by May 31.

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