As the Denver community pushes forward in this new stage of the pandemic, the need for community services and resources is more dire than ever.
Representative Leslie Herod saw this need to do better for our local communities, in relation to mental health, substance misuse, and structural issues. The idea was simple: for every $100 spent in Denver, put 25 cents toward addressing these needs.
The ballot initiative passed, and Caring For Denver was born. Caring For Denver is a nonprofit that works to give away grants to support programs that have an impact on Denver communities in need.
Executive Director Lorez Meinhold says part of Caring For Denver’s model is meeting people where they are, creating alternative pathways for folks who have touched the justice system, and reflecting the unique cultural needs, values, and beliefs of the community.
“It creates a significant and an enduring investment over $30 million a year toward mental health and substance misuse, and we really have a frame of, community authored and learning driven,” Meinhold says. “So many times, we build systems for systems’ sake rather than really thinking about the person. How do we put the person at the center of everything we do?”
Caring For Denver is moving to three funding cycles a year for organizations in need. To understand the current needs in the area, they talk to community members before making a call for proposal. It is typically open for about a month, and during that time, Caring For Denver also likes to open up pathways of communication, like Facebook live events, so local organizations can ask questions.
Their community reviewers go through the applicants, moving forward to a staff review, and finally, Caring For Denver will inform applicants within four months on whether or not they receive funding for that funding cycle.
OFM was able to catch up with some of these organizations about how these grants have allowed them to elevate their work.
Queer Asterisk started out as a small, grassroots, nonprofit mental health organization and counseling center, as a space for queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming people to receive mental healthcare without explaining or working around their identities. They also looked to create an alternative to the gatekeeping individuals sometimes experience when seeking letters to begin hormone replacement therapy.
“So the idea is, how amazing would it be if folks could sit down with a provider who is also trans, who can happily bear witness to their story of what their identity is, what they want their transition to be like, and then also provide the necessary legal support in order to make that happen,” Program Director RP Whitmore-Bard says.
Whitmore-Bard says the pandemic has drastically exacerbated the need for these services: “There are not enough providers or not enough facilities to meet the need at this moment, largely due to the pandemic,” they say.
Queer Asterisk introduced their outpatient program through grants from Caring For Denver, which allows folks to come in for their therapy appointments as needed, with the option to attend additional drop-in groups providing more supportive care. They hope to be able to open the program in September.
Whitmore-Bard says another benefit of this support is building the infrastructure for the program and expanding into more creative arts, like starting a queer artists’ residency to introduce dance therapy, drama therapy, and other expressive arts practices.
“As historically disenfranchised people, we freely recognized the importance of having therapeutic programming that’s different from the medical model that many of us have experienced before, that doesn’t necessarily serve our best interest,” Whitmore-Bard says. “We’re really emphasizing an enrichment and a community and a learning approach … so that the youth who go through our programs don’t necessarily consider themselves to be the problem, but rather can kind of point to and look at larger systems at work, that are creating distress for them, and then giving them just creative tools and resources to be able to, to not only cope but also honestly to like thrive and be leaders.”
For more information on Queer Asterisk, visit their website at queerasterisk.com.
Youth Seen began when Founder and Executive Director Tara Jae saw the lack of mental health and wellness resources for queer and trans people of color, specifically Black folks, in the community. Jae says oftentimes therapy in communities of color can be more stigmatized than in mainstream culture, in that many therapy frameworks are still very colonized and white-centered.
“In order for us to heal, we need to be able to decolonize that, break that down, and meet individuals where they are,” Jae says. “So, therapy is not the one-on-one talking; it is however folks really need it.”
Jae also co-created Denver’s Black Pride event, and they say that this type of community building, where people are able to come together, see each other, and see representation, is essential to Youth Seen’s approach.
Youth Seen was able to focus more on the needs of trans and nonbinary Black folks through the Caring For Denver grant. They are specifically focusing on acquiring lands to have a space specifically for queer and trans Black communities to retreat and heal, without worrying about how other people might show up in a space that isn’t meant for them.
“We need that space,” Jae says. “We need an organization that we can come in and, like, tear things up, in the sense of, like, ‘This is what’s going on; this is how I’m feeling,’ being able to be seen and then also being able to go back out to a community, be representation, and have that stigma around mental health, and what that means, broken down, so that people aren’t hesitant in asking for that support,”
Jae says they have been very strict around Youth Seen’s boundaries when it comes to taking space in the community, and resounding response from the community they serve is “thank you,” for building that space and providing a place to be heard.
The majority of Youth Seen’s funding comes from organizations like Caring For Denver, and Jae says they appreciate Caring For Denver’s specific approach.
“When we’re talking about equity, and the way that they are making sure that they are walking next to you, instead of just saying, ‘Here’s some money,’” Jae says, “… they will drop whatever they’re doing to be able to have (deeper) conversations, and it’s because of those relationships, and the way Caring For Denver is doing things, and how they are restructuring and, for lack of a better word, decolonizing how philanthropy is working—that’s what actually makes us more successful. My hope is that other foundations will follow them.”
To learn more about Youth Seen, visit youthseen.org.
LGBTQ people often face discrimination, violence, and poor mental health outcomes when they seek support for their behavioral health or treatment for substance use disorders. Envision:You was co-founded in 2018 by Steven Haden with that truth in mind, addressing the unique needs of LGBTQ people and working to support, educate, and empower people in the community as they take the steps they need to take care of their health.
To help support their mission, Envision:You works to educate the community and raise public awareness around LGBTQ behavioral health concerns through statewide, community-informed initiatives and promotes likeminded policy and legislation. Envision:You also looks to help enhance resources by collaborating with other nonprofits, government agencies, and institutions of higher learning to promote access to resources and advance research, education, and training.
“We know that when the community works together to address mental health concerns, individuals are able to move from a place of surviving to thriving. When that happens, we all benefit,” Haden says.
Envision:You used funding from Caring For Denver specifically to support their How to Have the Talk campaign and their LGBTQ+ Behavioral Health Provider Training Program.
How to Have the Talk is a public awareness and social media campaign that helps to open up the conversation of having “the talk” when reaching out to someone in need of behavioral health services and understanding the challenges that the LGBTQ community faces. The funding allowed Envision:You to increase their advertising capabilities around the campaign to reach more people. For example, Envision:You sent out postcards and pocket-sized tip cards to members of the LGBTQ community, behavioral health providers, pharmacists, and community clinics statewide, which walk through the essential steps in approaching these conversations about behavioral health.
Envision:You’s Behavioral Health Provider Training Program is a multi-phase, in-person, and online training program with three program levels. It was designed to help registered and licensed mental health clinicians, addiction counselors, and certified peer specialists to develop new skills and knowledge to enhance the delivery of quality, culturally relevant, and affirming behavioral health interventions for LGBTQ people.
“We are fortunate to have developed a meaningful relationship with Caring for Denver Foundation. The initiative, one of the first in the nation, prioritizes spending in support of mental health programming in the City and County of Denver. We are grateful the Foundation has prioritized funding to ensure communities like LGBTQ+ folks, which have increased risk factors and decreased access to care, are an important area of focus,” Haden says.
To learn more about Envision:You, visit envision-you.org. To learn more about the How to Have the Talk campaign, visit how-to-have-the-talk.org.
For more on the training program, visit
The Delores Project
The Delores Project has a storied history, initially operating as an overnight, emergency shelter. They now boast more than 60 beds for unaccompanied women and transgender folks across the gender spectrum and 35 units of supportive housing, where they provide case management for folks who are chronically homeless (five years or more) and living with a disability or health challenge.
They also now operate 24/7: once you have a bed with them, you can stay as long as you need it.
With COVID-relief funds, they were able to launch a rehousing program in November and have since rehoused 38 people, forming an aftercare program providing at least a year of regular check-ins and support.
“We’re just trying to make sure that we’re catching the folks who would otherwise fall through the cracks,” says Robin Wood-Mason, director of development and communications. “It’s pretty easy for someone who’s got moved into an apartment, six months down the road, having an issue like your washing machine breaks or your dishwasher dies, and you spun out because you don’t have the support or know how to negotiate with your landlord to get things taken care of.”
Wood-Mason says that the pandemic has also pushed for the City and County of Denver to do more, faster, and helped The Delores Project to move toward a 24/7 model, prompting more conversations about shelter capacity and what shelter programming in Denver looks like.
“It’s been an exciting catalyst in a time that a lot of folks are struggling, you know, we’ve actually seen our agency budget has grown significantly,” Wood-Mason says. “We hear anecdotes now from folks coming into the shelter that were on the street, as you come to The Dolores Project, we’re gonna make you work on getting into housing and then staying stable, you know, it’s no longer the stay here for two weeks, bounce to another shelter and then come back, you know, we’re gonna push you to get to a better place in your life.”
He says that Caring For Denver’s funding has helped The Delores Project especially in investing in their staff. Because of this funding, they can ensure that none of their frontline staff are making less than an annualized $40,000 a year.
Looking forward, Wood-Mason says they are eager to continue building The Delores Project, especially their rehousing program and opening up the conversation to landlords around destigmatizing people coming out of shelters.
“What does it really mean to have lost your way and access shelter services? And how we can really lean into the fact that unhoused folks are—they’re still someone’s kid; they’re still someone’s sibling; and they’re our friends and our neighbors,” Wood-Mason says. “Just because they’ve had to access a service like ours doesn’t mean they’re bad people, and they can make perfectly fine tenants. We’re here to support them and help them live into being good, respectable tenants.”
For more on The Delores Project, visit their website at thedeloresproject.org.
The Gathering Place
The Gathering Place (TGP) has been around for 35 years, dedicated to serving women, trans people, and their children experiencing poverty and homelessness in the Denver metro area.
They use a substance abuse and mental health services administration recovery model, which recognizes that recovery is not just about substance misuse or mental health, but recovering from any kind of trauma or barriers leading to a fulfilling, self-directed life. They work to meet the basic needs of folks, alongside long-term needs like housing, comprehensive wellness support, and employment assistance. Members are never charged for programs and services.
TGP President Julia Stewart says equality and equity lie at the heart of TGP’s work, while ensuring they foster a supportive space for people who may be denied services and support, or don’t feel safe elsewhere, because of their gender identity and/or gender presentation.
Caring For Denver’s funding was crucial in the creation of TGP’s peer wellness navigator role. The role went to Sky Lee and involves designing and launching a peer support program, conducting outreach across the community, working with program leadership to develop standardized assessments and tracking systems, and developing rapport with TGP members.
“One of the wonderful things about the program is how Sky designed the program assessment—people are asked to identify strengths, supports they have in place, and also goals they want to work on. It’s a lovely, strengths-based, collaborative approach that is really member-driven. Sky often was a ‘listening ear’… this helped build trust and to transition to actionable steps towards recovery.”
In late-June, TGP shared the passing of Sky. Stewart says TGP wants to highlight his work and positive impact on the community, emphasizing that the Peer Recovery Program is a result of Sky’s dedication.
“Sky was brilliant and uniquely qualified to be a peer navigator, as he had lived experience with homelessness and substance abuse. His lived experience enabled him to connect with TGP’s members in a way that others of us could not, and that is why having peer support in this program is so vital. Sky breathed life into this program and brought joy into every room that he entered and heart that he touched. While his life was more than his work at TGP, the magnitude of his efforts will be forever felt in this community.”
TGP will continue to offer the program, and the work will look very similar. They are looking to strengthen the support to their peer navigators in that role to better help the person in that role feel safe sharing their struggles and the resources they need in their own life.
To support the work of TGP and learn more, visit tgpdenver.org.
To learn more about Caring For Denver’s community-informed solutions and get involved, visit caring4denver.org.