Innovate for Good: Making Denver Better with New Ideas

Rose Community Foundation's Innovate for Good initiative is entering its second year. The results of the projects from the first batch of grantees is impressive, setting a high bar for the new class that's to be selected in Sept. 2016.
Founded with assets from the sale of Rose Medical Center, a hospital formed by Denver's Jewish community in the 1940s, Rose Community Foundation was established in 1995 in the pursuit of philanthropy and serving the community in its entirety. Twenty-one years later, the Foundation continues to espouse its initial philosophy, using leadership, grantmaking and donor engagement here in Denver, a city that -- like all places -- has enduring problems and emerging issues.

In the last two decades, the Foundation has centered on education, health, child and family development and Jewish life. In 2015, seeking to move beyond its core grant categories, it launched the Innovate for Good initiative.

"Rose Community Foundation has always invested in innovation, in people and organizations with new ideas to make our community better," says Sarah Indyk, Rose's director of special projects. "With Innovate for Good, we took that commitment to innovation to a whole new level with the hope of reaching and engaging new people and finding and funding new ideas that could make a difference in our community." 

In its inaugural year, "Innovate for Good" asked, "What new and innovative idea would you bring to life to make the greater Denver community a better place to live?" Nearly 400 applicants -- nonprofits, businesses, government and community groups -- contributed suggestions of solutions. "The lines between sectors are increasingly blurred when it comes to creating social good," says Indyk. 

Of the entries reviewed, nine wore chosen and awarded funds totaling $250,000. The winners began working towards their goal last June, seeking justice and sustainability; promoting civic engagement and culture; and offering education, food and health. 

Year one"Romeo and Juliet" was performed for students in the school parking lot.

The 2015 awardees were Arts StreetBe the GiftBright by ThreeDenver Botanic Gardens,Denver Center for the Performing ArtsThe Greenway FoundationGroundwork Denver,Shorter Community AME Church and Warm Cookies of the Revolution.

From mobile theaters to teaching parenting skills via texts, each group took their project from start to finish -- an articulated idea transformed into a tangible service.

"There are few foundations that will fund a creative technological idea from scratch. The Innovate for Good process pulled us together to think through the idea, and the funds are allowing us to take the spark of that idea and make it a reality," says Wendy Hawthorne, executive director of Groundwork Denver. 

In collaborating with Denver Urban Gardens and Denver Food Rescue, Groundwork created Fresh Food Connect, an app that feeds more families, cuts food waste and offers low-income youth with job opportunities. Home gardeners donate extra produce for distribution to food banks, and youth are employed to pick up and deliver the produce. "Tackling multiple issues at once is the benefit of collaboration," says Hawthorne.

Evan Weissman, executive director of Warm Cookies of the Revolution, and his team created the Stompin' Ground Games, community carnivals and comedy performances to address such issues as homelessness and immigration. "Every program we create is a risk; that comes with the territory when you push boundaries creatively," he says. "But comedians are seekers of truth. We figured that matching up the best comedians in town with folks doing incredible work on these crucial issues would challenge and inspire them to think of new ways to be funny -- the same way that we hope residents will be challenged and inspired to think of new ways to address deep social issues." 

The Innovate for Good grant was critical in getting the concept off the drawing board, adds Weissman. "Funding was integral in making every event both fun and meaningful."

Be the Gift provides assistance to single mom homeowners who need home repair, by creating a fully equipped Workshop on Wheels. "Thanks to our funding, we now have a Workshop on Wheels fleet. Each one has the resources needed for the project that day, providing such a greater level of efficiency, convenience and ease to what we do. This impacts three times the number of single moms that we were able to reach before the funding. That's three times the hope, restoration and life for single mom families," says Be the Gift Director of Public Relations Amber Hayes.

Youthful energy

With such success over the past year, Rose Community Foundation is eager to reach out to a new, hopeful pool of community catalysts, a source of untapped resources.

"This year, we have a special focus on our community's youngest change agents and would-be change agents. We are excited to tap into the talent and energy of youth, to start a dialogue about what matters to youth in our community and what they want to do about it, and to invest in projects that will simultaneously empower young change makers and make a difference in our community," says Indyk.

The initiative asks youths ages 13 to 18, as well as youth allies (youths paired with adult individuals or organizations), to envision ways to make the community better as a whole. Winners will be awarded $5,000 and the opportunity to participate in an "innovation accelerator" program, while those working in partnership with a youth ally will receive $10,000 to $25,000 to facilitate their brainchild.

Applications will be accepted from May 2 to May 31 via an online platform. From June to August, committee review, semifinalist selection, second-round questions and finalist announcements will culminate in a September event where finalists will pitch, winners will be named and a celebration will kick off into their year-long mission.

By asking the right questions and trusting in passionate plans, Innovate for Good is poised for another year -- and likely many more -- of enabling remedies to prevalent problems.

"We are faced with engaging and serving a growing, changing metro Denver population," says Indyk. "Innovate for good counters this challenge by looking towards members of our community, by seizing those opportunities to make this city even better."

This story was underwritten by Rose Community Foundation.

Read more articles by Danielle Ennis.

Danielle Ennis, an East Coast transplant, enjoys writing about sports and great cheeseburgers. She teaches kids' ski lessons and is pursuing a license in classroom teaching. 
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