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New & Next: Mi Casa Resource Center Tackling Poverty with Integrated Approach

Christine Márquez-Hudson, CEO of Denver's Mi Casa Resource Center, says there's no one-size-fits-all approach in the fight against poverty.
Colorado has the eighth-highest Latino population in the country and in Denver nearly one out of every three people is Latino. It is the fastest-growing population in our state and an increasingly important economic driver. According to a 2014 report published by The Partnership for a New American Economy, Hispanics in Colorado spend more than $12.3 billion each year in the state and contribute $3.7 billion in combined federal and state tax revenue.

Despite this growing economic power, many Latinos continue to lag behind their Anglo peers in income, assets and educational achievement. This is a problem not just for Latinos, but for everyone wanting to make sure that metro Denver is a vibrant, economically thriving place with an educated, prepared workforce and equal opportunities for all.

That is why Mi Casa Resource Center is working to change the way our community is addressing this important challenge. For nearly 40 years, the nonprofit organization has been a leader in culturally competent workforce training, small business development and youth and family programs. But we realized that providing those services alone didn't tackle the many barriers and issues facing our community. We needed to do more and we couldn't do it by ourselves.

Several years ago, we began to bring together strategic organizational partners to operate out of our facilities and provide their services: mpowered to provide financial coaching (part of the Financial Empowerment Center initiative, for which the City and County of Denver is the fiscal agent); the Denver Asset Building Coalition to offer free tax preparation services; Community Resources and Housing Development Corporation for home-ownership education and loans; the Community College of Denver to provide GED preparation; the Spring Institute to conduct ESL classes; and the Colorado, Denver and Hispanic bar associations to offer legal consultations.

As partners joined our work, we realized that co-locating services was also insufficient. We needed services to be integrated so that when families walked through the door, they experienced one organization, not seven.

For the past year with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Mi Casa has been working with its partners to create an "integrated system." Families meet with a navigator to create financial plans. Navigators then shepherd them through the services they need to ultimately reach their goals, and also connect families to community services like transportation, child care, emergency housing and mental health. Mi Casa and our partners are also creating systems to share data so that we can all understand the impact of multiple services. We call this new model a Family Economic and Education Center, one where youth through adults can access the services and supports they need to achieve their goals. Our vision: to develop our locations into full-blown Family Economic and Education Centers in Denver's most challenged communities in the southwest, northeast and northwest corners of the city.

In August, in partnership with Gorman & Company, an affordable housing developer, Mi Casa will break ground on a new headquarters facility that will feature our Family Economic and Education Center and administrative offices on the ground floor and 42 units of affordable housing overhead. The facility will be located one block west of Federal Boulevard and West Alameda Avenue in the Westwood neighborhood, which is 81 percent Latino and mostly low-income. This new facility will provide a beautiful, culturally rich, dynamic place where families from youth through adulthood can come to learn, grow their skills and access resources to achieve their goals.

We are also working to ensure that this vision benefits the whole community, not just Latinos and other low-income families. Given the growing Latino market in Denver, many businesses are looking to increase their bilingual and diverse staff. Mi Casa is working with local companies to provide educated, prepared candidates that are ready to work. Our Bank Teller, Customer Service and Healthcare Professions programs are meeting some of the bilingual and diversity needs of area employers. New small businesses are needed in growing communities to provide goods and services as well as employment. So, we are working with local entrepreneurs to create successful business plans and facilitate access to capital.

Mi Casa understands that the issues and reasons that people struggle are complex. Poverty doesn't have a silver-bullet solution. We have to bring together the right partners and services in the right system to really work together with families to change things. If we can all come together -- families, government, education, nonprofits, and corporations -- to create a dignified, streamlined system that truly works, we can make a difference.

For more information on Mi Casa Resource Center and its catalytic work, visit www.MiCasaResourceCenter.org.
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