Rose Community Foundation is Empowering Change

Rose Community Foundation supports young leaders with Innovate for Good program


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“The children are our future” isn’t just another phrase for the people at Rose Community Foundation. It’s a call to action, implemented through philanthropic initiatives like Innovate for Good, begun in 2015 to find and fund ideas to make Denver an even better place to live. The challenge’s current cycle focuses on “giving our youth a platform to make a real difference,” says RCF’s director of special projects, Sarah Indyk.

To do this, the foundation invited students ages 13 to 18 (working alone, in groups or with adults) to design projects that could be implemented within a year. Winners would share $250,000 to make their ideas realities.

Sixty-five proposals were received last May, with 10 winners announced in September. “Our applicants ranged from 14 to 70,” Indyk says. Each winning project, she adds, promotes human connection and “makes a powerful statement about how young people from a digital generation view giving back to the community.”

One team, Indyk says, hoped to use art to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline; another planned to teach those living in “food deserts” to create backyard vegetable gardens. Another developed a bike repair workshop and “lending library.”

Four projects in the youth category received $5,000 grants, while six youth-adult partnership proposals received $30,000 each. They all received a year’s worth of training from the San Franciscobased Youth Leadership Institute.

Focusing on young people was championed by Sheila Bugdanowitz, the foundation’s president/CEO until her unexpected death in December. “Sheila saw young people as natural innovators who think outside the box,” Indyk says. “She loved putting questions to them and seeing what came back. She truly believed their voices needed to be heard.”

Empowering Native American youth in Denver was a youth-adult partnership winner. This collaboration between teens and adults of Spirit of the Sun resulted in the Native Youth Leadership Conference, held March 11-12 at the University of Denver.

“Leadership conferences are a dime a dozen, but few of them are like ours,” says Mason Estes, a junior at Broomfield High School and member of the La Jolla Band, Luiseño Mission Indians. “We combined the energy of young people with the wisdom of elders.” This led to an event offering workshops like “Defending Your Cultural Capital” (how Native American youth can defray false stereotypes) and “How to Connect with Other Native Students Across Metro Denver,” about social media.

“Our theme, ‘Listen to the Beat of the Drum,’ conveyed the spirit of taking pride in being part of the Native American culture,” says Micco Waisanen, a Seminole and sophomore at Dakota Ridge High School, adding that skills will be carried forward to the United National Indian Tribal Youth conference in Denver in July.

COMMUNITY CYPHER (Creative Strategies for Change): Members use the arts to address the school-to-prison pipeline.
COMMUNITY INTERPRETERS PROJECT: The Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning is training refugee and immigrant teens to be interpreters for their families and communities.
NEIGHBORHOOD HARVEST, YOUTHBUILT GARDENS: Adults with Greenleaf Denver are partnering with young people to help low-income residents create home vegetable gardens.
BUILDING BRIDGES: Performance coach Lainie Hodges and students from Manual High School are working to build relationships between students and law enforcement.
BICYCLE REPAIR WORKSHOP: Members of Westwood Unidos are creating a youthled bicycle library and repair workshop in the Westwood neighborhood.

ARTSC: East High School theater students offer tools to equip young people to explore difficult social issues in a safe, honest way.
CEC EARLY COLLEGE MENTORING PROGRAM: High school freshmen are matched with upperclassmen mentors.
JUNIORS FOR SENIORS: This program builds one-on-one relationships between teen volunteers and nursing home residents.
STORIES WORTH SAVING: Teens record and document stories of assisted-living residents.

“We have been inspired by the innovation and courage these young people have brought to solving tough issues,” says Lisa Robinson, a Rose Community Foundation trustee and chair of the Innovate for Good 2016 committee.

The Rose Community Foundation was established in 1995 with $170 million derived from the sale of Rose Medical Center. The foundation uses leadership, grantmaking and donor engagement to invest in innovative, strategic solutions to enduring problems and emerging issues. 600 S. Cherry St. 303.398.7400

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