Evan Weissman calls his Warm Cookies of the Revolution a "civic health club." What better place to stretch your community-minded muscles than its 'hood-hopping Stompin' Ground Games?
In 2013, Evan Weissman wanted to spur Denverites to civic action. So he cooked up Warm Cookies of the Revolution, a "civic health club" that uses quirky public events with speakers, entertainment and snacks to encourage citizens to actively engage with their community. The events have been laid-back and social in nature, and often feature a comedic bent, such as Civic Stitch 'N Bitch or Sunday School for Atheists.
In 2015, Weissman wanted to take his concept to the city's streets and looked to Rose Community Foundation for support. Last year, the foundation launched Innovate for Good, a charitable challenge to find and fund new ideas that broadly better Denver. The call to action was met with roughly 400 community responses.
"When we think about innovation, we think about helping to move the needle," says Sarah Indyk, the philanthropic initiatives manager at Rose Community Foundation. "There's this aspiration across the foundation to not just fund business as usual, but to help strengthen the community and do things differently."
In 2015, the program awarded $250,000 to nine different Denver-based projects that were "simple, but ambitious and inspiring," says Indyk. One such project was Weissman's Warm Cookies and his year-long "neighborhood Olympic" event: the Stompin' Ground Games.
Civic fitness eventsThe Stompin' Ground Games won funding from Rose Community Foundation's Innovate for Good program.
Innovate for Good presented nearly $40,000 to Weissman to set his plan into motion. He put the money toward marketing, rental fees, food and beverage and paying the artists that performed at each of the monthly events. "Basically we wouldn’t have been able to do the Stompin' Ground Games without the Innovate for Good support," he says.
"If innovation is about taking a new approach to addressing a community issue, then this is it," says Jennifer Moe, Rose Community Foundation's director of marketing and public relations. "Evan is a wonderful community organizer and relationship-builder. . . . The idea of civic engagement and encouraging people to know their neighbors better and be active in making a better place is not new, but it resonates with the heart of the Rose organization."
Weissman kicked off the Stompin' Ground Games last September at Ruby Hill Park, and continued with events in Globeville/Elyria-Swansea, Columbus (La Raza) Park, Capitol Hill and Green Valley Ranch. The goal was to bring together community partners and groups and residents of each neighborhood to learn what issues most impacted people, and introduce attendees to each community's culture and concerns with a mix of performances and problem-solving challenges.
The Elyria-Swansea/Globeville event was centered on food. "We met some of the residents there and there's a group of about 50 women who want to start a cooperative," says Weissman. "We had them provide food for everyone and then we had a cooking competition. If you wanted to enter, you had to use three ingredients: something green, something that somehow represented a story or culture and you needed to borrow an ingredient."
Entertainment over the course of the last 10 months has ranged from dance to storytelling, as the events brought together diverse groups -- including vintage car clubs, comedians and LGBTQ advocates -- to talk about such topics as immigration, homelessness, ethnicity and development.
Weissman says his ideas "shot for the moon," and as he tried to wrap his head around the changes in Denver, conversations touched on issues of race, class and geography. "It was such a breath of fresh air, to get to tackle these things so broadly."
"He asks questions and listens," says Moe, referring to Weissman's "secret sauce," and why he's been successful. "He asks, 'What do you want?' 'What captures the mood of this neighborhoods?' 'How can we encapsulate the culture of this neighborhood?' And what came from these communities was just mind-blowing."
More to comeNeighborhood change and public space was explored at the Stompin' Ground Games at La Raza Park.
The next Stompin' Ground Games will take place in August in the Whittier and Five Points neighborhoods. According to Weissman, the event will include a mashup of a walking tour and a scavenger hunt to explore the area. The grand finale will be held in September in Westwood in conjunction with the neighborhood chile fest.
One measure of success is turnout: The events regularly reach capacity, even though promotions are primarily confined to word of mouth and social media.
As the yearlong games come to a close, Weissman says neighborhood pride has been evident consistently throughout the city. Looking ahead, he says he wants to keep these conversations going as Warm Cookies continues its programming.
Weissman also has a new event on the drawing board slated to start in December. "We're working on doing a music series for all ages," he says. "The working title is Boogie Down. We'll invite some of the best musicians and bands in the community. It'll be a Sunday morning set for families."
And with Innovate for Good's success over the past year, Rose Community Foundation is now focusing on initiatives to empower local youth and youth-adult partnerships. Applicants submitted their ideas in May and finalists will present their concepts to judges in September.
This story was underwritten by Rose Community Foundation.