Exploring Life & Business with Lorez Meinhold of Caring for Denver Foundation

Voyage Denver

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lorez Meinhold.

Hi Lorez, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I have always been passionate about making an impact. I believe that we all have the potential to make a difference in the world, so I strive to live in a way that honors everyone’s assets and leverages my own.

That’s why I’ve dedicated my personal and professional life to working with the community so I can be an agent of change toward expanding health access and equity, creating opportunities for better integration of mental and physical health, and putting people’s needs ahead of systems. My career history has spanned grantmaking, health policy, and advocacy, and in every role, I am driven to embed equity and engage community voices in my work. It’s critically important because we need authentic relationships and connections with each other to build stronger and healthier communities that represent everyone.

Caring for Denver Foundation, where I am the founding executive director, is a perfect example of a community voice making an impact. Our organization was created out of a ballot initiative that voters approved because they saw a need to address mental health and substance misuse, and they were ready to stand up for their community. I’m so proud of the fact that within four short years, our amazing team and board of directors have built an organization that is directed by community values and needs, with a mission that is dedicated to embedding equity, lived experience, and authentic partnerships to make a difference. It has been an incredible experience stewarding the organization, and I am dedicated to balancing a strategic approach while also taking time to slow down to ensure all voices are heard and understood.

I also love to volunteer with several non-profits outside of my work at the foundation, in both official and non-official roles. At the heart of it, I am all about making connections and giving support, and anytime I can do that I feel like I am fulfilling my purpose. The key to my story, what drives me, is making an impact – with the motto of raising my hand, showing up, listening, following through, and building inclusive processes to earn trust.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
When Denver voted to launch the Caring for Denver Foundation, it couldn’t have been more timely. Shortly after we finalized our funding areas with the community, the pandemic amplified the importance of mental health and substance misuse care in nearly every aspect of our community. It put a spotlight on both existing and new barriers to accessing services and worsened inequities in care for communities.

One of my biggest challenges was laying the groundwork for our organization while simultaneously being responsive to the urgent and emergent needs in our community. I have always looked at obstacles as opportunities. My team and I were able to set up processes to distribute funds to the community quickly, while at the same time building a new organization and creating strong relationships with city and community partners. From the start, we saw how important it was to navigate the storm with this community-centered approach. Because we were already building strong relationships within the community, it enabled us to move quickly and ensure we were supporting health care that reflects all populations and needs.

I put a lot of effort into ensuring we are listening first and hearing individuals and understanding where they are so we can meet them there. I understand that I may not always have the answers, but I am always here to listen. I believe you do not always have to be perfect, but to help, you have to move forward with the best information you have and center the decision around the community’s needs first.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
We are founded and funded by Denver, by people who said, “We need better resources for healing and recovery in our community” and stepped up to support this work. That’s at the core of what philanthropy is – all of us taking care of each other. We take that commitment very seriously, and we’re consistently living out that value by building relationships, earning community trust, and including diverse voices in every step of our work.

Since our inception, Caring for Denver has awarded grants totaling more than $128 million to 235 organizations that are committed to healing and recovery in Denver, and they are making an impact. For the grant participants reporting to date, 71% demonstrated or reported reduced substance misuse; 76% reported improved or maintained mental health; and 94% were diverted away or did not re-enter the legal system because of mental health or substance misuse.

Our work will always be driven by the communities that are impacted by our funding. We’re committed to creating connections among communities, organizations, and systems by: Ensuring community members play a meaningful role in directing the use of Caring for Denver funds. Exploring and investing in capacity building to ensure sustainability of work and trusted organizations. Partnering with grantees to determine how to measure their impact, so they can focus on collecting data that is meaningful for them and our community.

As a foundation funded by taxpayers, Caring for Denver takes our responsibility as stewards of community resources to heart. We are consistently and intentionally working with stakeholders from throughout the city to ensure that our funding has the greatest possible impact.

How can people work with you, collaborate with you, or support you?
One of the best ways to learn about opportunities to collaborate with us is to sign up for our monthly #PowerTo e-newsletter at http://eepurl.com/gQdsRH. We always include our upcoming funding opportunities and stories from our grantees, as well as calls for community grant reviewers.

You can learn about the incredible people and organizations supporting Denver’s healing and recovery on our Instagram, LinkedIn, or TikTok channels. We’re also always happy to meet and connect in person with Denver organizations to understand people’s experiences or share about our work, so reach out to us by emailing info@caring4denver.org.