Keep the Lights On After School!

Do you remember how important afterschool programs were to you as a child?

For many children, afterschool programs focused on sports, arts and crafts, technology, leadership, performing arts, and academic support are an essential extension to the school day – and the school year.

And at a time when budget shortfalls at every level of government are threatening the availability of quality afterschool programs, it’s time to fight for continued and increased investment in out-of-school enrichment for Denver’s kids!

Research shows that the hours between 3 and 6 p.m. are the most dangerous for youth, and afterschool programs provide a much needed safe and enriching place to go after school for thousands of children who would otherwise go home to empty houses and no supervision.

The importance of quality afterschool programs, which keep the school lights on long after the school day ends, is in the spotlight this week as Denver prepares to celebrate National Lights On After School Day on Thursday, October 20.

Mi Casa provides comprehensive afterschool programming for 500 students annually on the Lake Middle School campus in northwest Denver, now home to three separate but co-located schools. And on Monday, Mi Casa’s Director of Youth & Family Development Programs, Karen Fox Elwell, took a group of Lake students to the City Council meeting to make sure Denver’s city leaders understand the importance of quality afterschool programming.

“I am one of over 175 youth service providers from over 60 organizations throughout the greater Denver area providing essential out-of-school time programming to over 25,000 youth each year,” Karen told the City Council members.

Then she turned it over to three youth from the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center afterschool program. Students Isaac, Miguel and Maya spoke candidly to the City Council members about the impact afterschool programs have on them and their families. Miguel spoke of the new things he learned in Mi Casa’s afterschool program.

Maya had her remarks written down: “Hello City Council. I am very happy to be here. I think that it is good to have afterschool programs because it gives kids a chance to hang out and do your homework, play, do projects, and even break dancing. It helps our families because we have somewhere to go after school.”

City Councilman Paul Lopez then read a proclamation out loud at the meeting celebrating Denver’s afterschool programs and affirming the City’s commitment to supporting working families by keeping kids safe and engaged in the afterschool hours. Councilman Lopez then visited briefly with the Mi Casa students and congratulated them.

The events leading up to National Lights On After School Day continue throughout the week and culminate with a celebration to decorate the City and County Building with handmade luminaria bags crafted by children in Denver afterschool programs.

For the Mi Casa students who got to address the City Council, Karen said, it was an unforgettable experience. “It was a thrill for these students to see government in action and have the opportunity to address the City Council on issues that are important to them.”

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Strong Start to the School Year!

The new school year has gotten off to a great start, and considering strong improvement in student achievement in northwest Denver middle schools, the year promises to get even better!

Mi Casa operates comprehensive afterschool programs for students who attend the three co-located schools on the Lake International School campus in northwest Denver. And we are delighted to report that according to the latest CSAP standardized test results, schools in northwest Denver, including Lake, are leading the charge in terms of improvements in student achievement.

Last year at this time, sixth-graders in northwest Denver posted CSAP scores of 39% proficient or better in reading, 34% in math and 26% in writing. This year, among sixth-graders in the new schools in northwest Denver – including the schools on the Lake campus – those scores rose to 45% in reading, 45% in math and 43% in writing. WOW!

The credit for these extremely impressive gains in student achievement is well-deserved by the hardworking teachers, administrators, students and families in northwest Denver, and we tip our hats to your incredible accomplishments!

But we would be remiss to not toot our own horn (just a bit) for the role Mi Casa’s wonderful Youth and Family Development programs played in supporting students’ success at Lake. Studies have indicated that while education is a critical pathway out of poverty for students, the school day is not sufficient to provide youth with tools they need to be successful. In short, a coordinated effort is required to address the holistic needs of youth and families, and an integral part of this work is providing quality afterschool programs – like those offered through Mi Casa – that offer enrichment during out-of-school time.

To show you what we mean, here are a few of the 2010-11 outcomes from Mi Casa’s youth and family programs:

  • 544 youth served in out-of-school time programs
  • Core participants (who attend programs 30+ days per year) increased to 156
  • 22 youth and their families received intensive case management services
  • 62% of case-managed youth increased their GPA and 100% advanced to the next grade
  • 17 youth successfully completed the rigorous Digital Connectors technology and career exploration program
  • Digital Connectors students performed 700 hours of community service to bridge the digital divide in our community

Among Mi Casa’s 156 core youth participants:

  • 60% increased their GPA over the course of the school year
  • 97% advanced to next grade level
  • 66% achieved 90% or better school-day attendance throughout the year
  • 78% decreased or maintained zero suspensions during the school year
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Free Help for Job Seekers at the Career Center

Posted by Martha Tesfalidet, Mi Casa Intern

As friends of Mi Casa, you have gotten a glimpse of Mi Casa’s many programs – including career training, business development, and programs for youth and families.

Another great program Mi Casa offers that you might not be familiar with is the Career Center, a free resource for job-seekers where they can work one-on-one with a career coach to improve their resume, prepare for interviews, and hunt for opportunities online. The Career Center is located at Mi Casa’s main location at 360 Acoma Street and is utilized by our many program participants, as well as their friends and family and other members of the community. In keeping with Mi Casa’s mission to advance the economic and educational success of families, we provide individualized assistance to anyone wanting help with their job search and application process.

After setting an appointment with one of Mi Casa’s Career Coaches, job-seekers are then asked what they would like to gain from the one-on-one sessions. Many participants opt for assistance with resume revision or creation and often utilize the Career Coach to help them apply for jobs during the meeting. While Mi Casa cannot guarantee job placements, we do all we can to ensure Career Center clients have all the tools they need to be successful during the job search.

An added plus is that all services provided in the Career Center are free of charge!

Call 303-573-1302 and find out how easy it is to get individualized help with your job search from Career Coaches at Mi Casa!

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Mi Casa Leaders Attend NCLR Conference, Hear Obama Speak

Mi Casa’s Executive Director and Program Directors spent the weekend in Washington, D.C. at the annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) conference, which featured President Obama as the keynote speaker yesterday.
Picture: Director of Career Development, Karen Stran (left), Director of Youth and Family Development, Karen Fox (center), and Executive Director, Christine Marquez-Hudson, show off the wristbands that served as their tickets to hear the President speak.

The NCLR Annual Conference represents the largest gathering of the nation’s most influential individuals, organizations, institutions, and companies working with the Hispanic community. The NCLR Annual Conference provides a forum for people in the business of social change to learn about ongoing and emerging issues in the Hispanic community, connect with community leaders, and generate partnerships with Hispanic community-based organizations.

Mi Casa leaders attended a full weekend of conferences including these seminars:

  • 2011 Legislative Update: How Will Congress Make a Difference in the Latino Community?
  • Finding Their Voice: Empowering Latino Youth through Service Learning
  • Parents Supporting Children: A Model for Engaging Latino Parents in Education
  • Bridge to a Better Tomorrow: Strengthening Workforce Integrated Training Programs
  • The Business of Developing the Future Workforce: A Model for Entrepreneurship, Cultural Diversity, and Increased Earning Potential

Additionally, Karen Fox was on a panel to offer insight during a seminar titled, Dollars and Sense: Sustaining Learning and Enrichment Beyond School Hours.

When President Obama took the stage, he addressed the issue of immigration and the growing concern within Latino communities that comprehensive reform has now fallen to the bottom of the President’s list of priorities. Yet, the audience was invigorated to hear this strong promise from Obama regarding his intention to reform the nation’s immigration system:

“We need a movement that bridges party lines, that unites business and labor and faith communities and law enforcement communities, and all who know that America cannot continue operating with a broken immigration system. And I will be there every step of the way.”

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17 Youth Complete Program to Bridge the Digital Divide

Mi Casa is proud to announce the graduation of the second class of Digital Connectors! These 17 youth ages 14 to 21 successfully completed this rigorous nine-month digital technology training program, and their achievement was marked by a celebration on June 4.

The Digital Connectors program engages youth to bridge the digital divide – the gap between those with access to digital technology and those without – by educating youth about digital technology, financial literacy, and leadership and encouraging them to share their knowledge with the community. During the 2010-11 school year, Mi Casa’s Digital Connectors performed nearly 300 hours of community service, which benefitted nearly 400 community members.

The graduation ceremony was another opportunity for the Digital Connectors to share the skills learned in the classroom with members of their own diverse communities. Over 60 people attended the event, which included a screening of the students’ final video projects. These videos showcase unsung heroes and leaders in the Connectors’ lives who were identified and interviewed to produce a final video testimonial project. Though the videos are as unique as each Connector, common themes include encouraging people to recognize their own inner hero and the joy of paying it forward.
The 17 students who graduated from the Digital Connectors program this month all earned a financial literacy certification from EverFi, as well as a Cisco Authorization diploma. Armed with these valuable certifications, Digital Connectors graduates are poised to capitalize on the leadership and career-readiness skills they gained in the program to excel in school or in employment.

In recognition of their hard work, all Digital Connectors graduates receive a new netbook computer, a flip camera, a USB drive, and a $250 stipend. The Digital Connectors program is made possible by a collaboration between Comcast Foundation, One Economy Corporation and Mi Casa Resource Center.

Congratulations to the Digital Connectors Class of 2011!

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School's Out for Summer!

The Mi Casa Neighborhood Center at Lake Middle School held its Summer Orientation BBQ today (June 2) for youth participants in Mi Casa’s summer programs and their families. More than 35 families attended and enjoyed a lunch of hamburgers and hotdogs and hot sunny (if a bit windy) weather.

Mi Casa has 100 youth participants registered for summer programs with a waitlist already started for other interested youth. Following a Denver Public Schools turnaround strategy, Lake Middle School is now home to three seperate but co-located schools – West Denver Prep, Sixth Grade Academy, and Seventh/Eighth Grade Academy. The Mi Casa Neighborhood Center is a fun, safe place to go afterschool for children who attend all three co-located schools. Despite the big changes at Lake, the afterschool hours have become a time for building connections and friendships among students from the different schools.

Now that the school year is over, summer programs at Mi Casa are set to begin on June 6! Today’s BBQ celebration was to welcome families and kick off the summer in fun fashion. Arturo Jimenez, the representative on the Denver Board of Education for Northwest Denver, stopped by to chat with families and grab a bite.

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Celebrating the Last Family Night of 2010-11 School Year

Posted by Katie Ehrlich, Mi Casa Intern

This Wednesday, April 27, the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center hosted its third and final Family Night of the school year. Mi Casa’s Family Night events are generously sponsored by Target.

The family and friends of Mi Casa’s afterschool program participants enjoyed bean-bag tossing games, face painting, balloon animals, and a dinner catered by Revolution Foods. Nearly 150 people attended, 43 of those were families of Mi Casa’s afterschool program participants. Everyone got to see the kids’ clubs “Foco y Movimiento” (Focus and Movement), “College 4 U”, “Paint the Town”, and “Mouse Squad” perform, and there were some smaller student talent showcases as well. Mi Casa also gave out 14 awards to the students and five door prizes, including two $50 Target gift cards.

When asked about her time at Family Night, one student named Fernanda said, “It was really fun and the Family Night was really respectful and nice because everyone participated in decorating it.”

Another former “Student of the Month” award-winner named AJ commented, “The best part was just to be with family and share a meal together.” Everything went smoothly, and everyone is looking forward to the next Family Night, which will take place next school year!

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Mi Casa and Friends Celebrate Solar Energy

Mi Casa Resource Center welcomed friends and partners today to celebrate the completion of Mi Casa’s 40.5kW solar energy array, which will offset 24% of the agency’s total energy use at our Acoma Street home.

After a program including remarks from Stacey Simms of the Governor’s Energy Office, Doug Wells of Renewable Energy Ventures, Michele Weingarden of Greenprint Denver, Christine Marquez-Hudson and Benita Duran of Mi Casa, and Geronimo Adams, a graduate of Mi Casa’s Green Construction and Energy training program, we headed to the roof.

It’s not easy to put a ribbon across 180 solar PV panels, but we tried! At first we hesitated to take the group up to the roof – the only way up and down are ladders, which aren’t to be combined with high heels and dress clothes on a normal day. But our group was not to be deterred.

And the ribbon was cut on a beautiful, sunny Colorado day, with our panels pumping out energy in the background!

THANK YOU to the funders who made this project possible:
Governor’s Energy Office
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
Doug Wells, Renewable Energy VenturesMi Casa would also like to thank:
Jon Sullivan, 303 Solar LLC
Mike Pardun, Renewable Technology Partners
City Electric
Geronimo Adams
Shawn Larson
Josh Simpson
Posted in Denver Green Jobs Initiative | Leave a comment

College Friday at Mi Casa Neighborhood Center

Posted by Naia Posniak, Program Assistant The Mi Casa Neighborhood Center celebrated College Friday Lake Middle School on Friday, April 8, with students and staff wearing their favorite college gear. Joel Orozco, a student at Metropolitan State College of Denver and President of MCSD’s chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity, spoke to the students in Mi Casa’s afterschool program about the barriers he faced as an immigrant student getting accepted to and especially paying for higher education. Joel stressed that plenty of resources are available for the students who seek them out and encouraged students to start thinking about and preparing for college. After Joel’s speech, some students were asked what they thought of his experiences: “It made me think he’s right,” one female student mused. “It’s never too early to think about college. I also thought it was cool that he was the first person in his family to go to college.” “I liked that he was from Chihuahua,” one young man observed. “That’s cool because that’s where I am from.”

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U.S. Census Shows Continued Growth Among U.S. Latinos

Let’s take a moment to step back and think about why Mi Casa Resource Center does what it does. According to the newly released 2010 U.S. Census data, the Hispanic population in the United States is now 50.5 million, or 16.3% of the total population.

In fact, Hispanics account for 56% of the nation’s total population growth in the last 10 years (2000-2010). Yet, the unemployment rate for Latinos is far higher than that of the population at large. Hovering around 13%, the Hispanic unemployment rate is far higher than the current rate in Colorado of 9.3%. In Denver, 27% of the Hispanic population lives below the poverty line, and only 6% of businesses in the state are Latino-owned.

Discouragingly, statistics clearly show that women of all walks of life in this country continue to earn an average of just 75% of what men take home. And in Colorado, fewer than 30% of businesses in the state are owned by women, meaning fewer women are harnessing the power of business ownership and self-employment.

Despite these sobering statistics, Mi Casa continues to work towards closing gaps in economic achievement and business ownership for Latinos, women, and any other member of our community who needs a business- or career-related boost. For 35 years Mi Casa has been a part of efforts to address these disparities, and we plan to work for at least 35 more years toward our mission of economic success for Latino and low-income families.

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