New Low-Cost Courses Help Small Business Owners Grow to the Next Level

Katrina BoldryIt’s easy for entrepreneurs to get caught up in the day to day activities of running a business and have little time left to focus on the strategic, long-term vision of growing a business. That’s why Mi Casa offers Listening to Your Business, a workshop specifically designed to help business owners, who have been in business 1 to 4 years, establish a 3-year vision.

After participation in this course, entrepreneurs are encouraged to continue their business development through a 7 week Business Breakthrough class.

Katrina Boldry, owner of Denver-based specialty leash and dog harness company Bold Lead Designs, discovered ways to improve her business performance and identified her most promising growth opportunities through the Listening to Your Business workshop and then later through the Business Breakthrough course. She left the class equipped with a strategic action plan, which helped her more than double sales within a year.

“Having a resource like the low-cost classes at Mi Casa to help navigate the world of business, keep moving in the right direction and find the most efficient way to do things is a tremendous service,” said Katrina.

In the Business Breakthrough course, established small business owners learn how to analyze their current business situation, identify the best growth opportunities, and develop leadership and management skills. Business owners leave the class with a workable business plan to meet growth objectives.

“With a strong focus on strategy and networking, these courses help entrepreneurs overcome challenges and grow to the next level,” said Elena Vasconez, Director of Mi Casa’s Women’s Business Center.

Katrina said the Business Breakthrough class helped clarify details and keep operations running smoothly while she was expanding her business. She now sells custom leads, collars and harnesses online through her own website, as well as through, and at nearly a dozen retailers throughout the Denver area.

“Launching and growing a business is an overwhelming process,” said Katrina. “It’s really helpful to have ongoing access to classes and workshops for learning and support.”

Katrina is just one of the many local entrepreneurs Mi Casa has helped grow operations to the next level. In fact, Mi Casa has become a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs throughout the Denver community looking to expand their businesses.

“The high level of business expertise we offer, as well as connections to community resources, allows business owners to turn their dreams of growth into a reality,” said Elena.

Mi Casa’s next Listening to Your Business workshop is offered August 22. The registration fee is $15, but only $10 for the first 10 who register. To secure your spot, please register online here. To learn more visit or call 303-573-1302.

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Carmen's Story

Carmen- BBT

Carmen first heard about Mi Casa as a recent high school graduate while searching for her first job. A friend of her mother’s had a daughter who had recently completed Mi Casa’s Bilingual Bank Teller training program and Carmen jumped at the opportunity to do the same.

“As a high school graduate, if you don’t have job experience it is really, really hard to get a job,” said Carmen. “But completing Mi Casa’s Bilingual Bank Teller training program gave me the tools and skills I needed to succeed.”

Carmen appreciated how Mi Casa’s Bilingual Bank Teller program equipped her with far more than basic banking skills. The training also covered resume writing, interviewing techniques, and how to behave professionally.

“Mi Casa helped me prepare for the aspects of launching a career that I was not ready to do on my own,” said Carmen. “I learned how to create a resume, what it means to be a professional and much more.”

Carmen is approaching her first year anniversary at Young Americans Bank, a Denver bank serving youth aged 21 and younger. Alongside her duties of bank telling, Carmen also gives bank tours to Denver youth, educating them about managing money.

Carmen credits Mi Casa with helping her evolve from a full-time student to a professional employee, explaining that Mi Casa not only equipped her with the necessary skills to be successful, but also continued to check-in with her after she got the job to ensure the transition was smooth.

“Without Mi Casa, my life would be so much different. The main reason I was hired was because I had completed bilingual bank teller training,” said Carmen. “Mi Casa’s career training program gave me a huge advantage over other candidates.”

Carmen has become an advocate of Mi Casa’s career training programs, encouraging others to turn to Mi Casa for support in achieving their professional aspirations. Carmen’s older sister recently applied to Mi Casa’s Healthcare Professions training program after seeing Carmen’s positive experience with Mi Casa and subsequent success.

And Carmen is quick to recommend Mi Casa to her friends. Carmen said, “Whenever my friends tell me they are interested in working at a bank, I tell them to go through Mi Casa’s training program first.”

To learn more about Mi Casa’s career training programs, click here.

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Mi Casa Volunteers Make Big Difference

Volunteering at Mi CasaVolunteer & Outreach specialist Amanda Steinken (pictured at far left discussing volunteer opportunities with a volunteer) has nothing but great things to say about Mi Casa’s amazing volunteers. Without the support of the community, Mi Casa would not be able to serve thousands of low-income individuals and their families every year.

Wondering how you can partner with Mi Casa to empower low-income families to become economically self-sufficient or what makes a valuable volunteer? Read Amanda’s answers to volunteering FAQs below.

1) How do volunteers contribute to Mi Casa?

Volunteers offer administrative support, help with facility upkeep and maintenance, provide event planning support, and much more. Volunteers can also work directly with Mi Casa participants providing job search assistance as Career Coaches. Additionally, volunteers help raise community awareness of Mi Casa’s mission and services, and demonstrate community members are dedicated to combating economic disparities. In 2012 Mi Casa received more than 4,000 volunteer hours, which substantially increased our capacity to serve the community.

2) What does Mi Casa look for in potential volunteer?

We look for volunteers who believe in Mi Casa’s mission of increasing the economic success of Latino and working families. And we seek volunteers who desire to learn and grow from their experience with Mi Casa.

3) What volunteer qualities are most important?

It is very important for volunteers to follow through with their commitments. Flexibility is also a must since our programs constantly adapt to participants’ needs.

4) In what ways can volunteers get involved at Mi Casa?

Mi Casa offers both continual and one-time volunteering opportunities, including:

• Career Center: Volunteers serve as Career Coaches to community job seekers, providing resume, cover letter, and job search assistance through weekly or bi-monthly appointments. Both English speaking and bilingual Career Coach volunteers are needed.

• Events: Volunteers can help secure donations for events, or provide one-time assistance with day-of logistics.

• Maintenance: Mi Casa offers group volunteer opportunities for maintenance projects including painting and grounds upkeep.

We love to help community members get involved with our organization and mission, and can create custom volunteering opportunities.

5) What advice do you have for someone interested in volunteering?

Find an organization and position where your skills and passion are needed and you enjoy giving back, that way the volunteering relationship will be mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

6) What is one way volunteers have made a big difference at Mi Casa?

Mi Casa’s Career Center coaches, who assist community job seekers with finding employment, are all volunteers. The most effective Career Coaches are those who love working with job seekers are are able to connect with them on a personal level, by providing encouragement and expertise. Some Career Coaches meet with the same job seeker multiple times, researching community resources and relevant jobs before their next appointment to provide the best service possible.

Mi Casa staff recently discussed making changes to the Career Center and asked our Career Coaches for feedback. Due to their high level of commitment to the Career Center and Mi Casa’s mission, we gained valuable insight garnered from their experience working with job seekers and their thoughts directly shaped how the Career Center evolved to better meet community needs. In 2012 alone, Career Coaches provided free job search assistance to over 220 community members.

Interested in partnering with Mi Casa to further our mission of helping Latino and other working families trade poverty for lasting economic stability? Contact Amanda at 303-539-5631 or

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Free Educational Opportunities

free educational opportunitiesToday hardly anything is free, especially when it comes to pursuing higher education. But Open courseware (OCW) programs have been quietly changing that since the late 90s. OCW courses are developed by universities, then collected and uploaded to a website accessible to anyone worldwide.

Though these courses don’t involve real time professor to student communication, deadlines, required assignments, or credit, the classes are free and allow people the flexibility to start and stop whenever they wish. OCW makes education a viable option for self-learners and those who lack the time or resources to take traditional classes. And an increasing number of top colleges around the globe are contributing OCW courses, which means OCW offers fairly expensive content completely for free.

OCW courses can be used to:

  • Enhance personal knowledge
  • Compliment a current course
  • Plan a course of study
  • Explore areas outside of your professional field
  • Review basic concepts in your professional field
  • Prepare for future course study
  • Keep current with industry developments
  • Gain knowledge to complete a work-related project or task
  • Help bridge the transition to universities for first generation college students

Free classes that occur both offline and online are also offered by numerous community organizations:

  • Mi Casa provides free classes, including financial fitness workshops and computer literacy.
  • Denver Public Libraries offers free computer workshops.
  • G.O.A.L Academy provides free, guided online academic learning that assists high school students aged 14 to 21 in earning their high school diploma, and also provides free online college courses and workforce certifications.

For more free educational opportunities, check out The Denver Post for a list of free classes. To learn more about OCW courses, please see the infographic below from


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Immigrants Don't Think with an Accent

Business students at Mi Casa Family Resource Center (l to r): Elena Vasconez, Luis Ramos, Ever Pizarro, Rosie Juarez, Luis Moreno, Patricia Lepiani, Beatriz Boulton. Credit: Lee Hill/Katharine Brenton

Business students at Mi Casa Family Resource Center (l to r): Elena Vasconez, Luis Ramos, Ever Pizarro, Rosie Juarez, Luis Moreno, Patricia Lepiani, Beatriz Boulton. Credit: Lee Hill/Katharine Brenton


I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS has found that in some cases, gaps in income, home ownership and education are larger now than at the time of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. These findings have driven Colorado Public Radio’sLosing Ground Series,” which examines the growing disparities between whites and minorities in Colorado. This series took reporters to those at the heart of these disparities and they turned to Mi Casa’s Éxito para Negocios (Business Success) class for insight.

Éxito para Negocios participants revealed immigrants face numerous challenges to starting a successful life in another country, which can result in economic struggle. In fact, on average for every dollar white families earn in Colorado, Latino families earn 50 cents. The challenges exposed in CPR’s discussion with Mi Casa are outlined below.

Lack of education can cause cyclical poverty.

“There is a cycle of poverty, often Hispanics earn less money because they have lower education,” said Patricia Lepiani, Mi Casa board member and president of The Idea Marketing. “When you don’t have much education, you cannot break the cycle of poverty.”

Mi Casa works to help immigrants and other struggling families overcome obstacles to success by providing opportunities for education and training, including business classes and counseling. But combating the barrier of education requires a community effort.

“We have to invest in education and parental engagement in their kids’ education,” said Patricia, explaining that immigrant parents are often unaware of how America’s educational system works or how to support their child’s education.

Education does not always transfer from one county to another, limiting the type and level of jobs immigrants are able to find.

“The American dream for me was freedom to live in a country where life is respected and to live without fear,” said Mi Casa business student and Venezuelan immigrant Beatriz Boulton.  Beatriz left Venezuela to escape the country’s communist government and high prevalence of violence.

“Freedom is a very nice sensation, now I don’t have to be afraid that I will be killed just for my shoes, or for a cell phone,” said Beatriz. But she also said living in America hasn’t been a walk in the park.

“It has been hard for me to find a job at the same level as the one I had in Venezuela,” she said, explaining she discovered her marketing degree and job experience in Venezuela did not transfer over to America.

Elena Vasconez, director of Mi Casa’s Women’s Business Center, said Beatriz’s case far from an anomaly and many immigrants find their education is not validated by American employers.

The inability to speak English well inhibits many immigrants from gaining outside employment.

Lack of English skills drives many first generationers to start small businesses in order provide for their families. Often, taking the time to perfect their English to gain outside employment is not an option for immigrants with children.

“It’s hard to learn another language,” said Patricia, “When you have two kids at home you  cannot wait five years to learn English well enough to get a job, you have to find one now.”

Prejudice and discrimination are still a reality for many immigrants.

“Many people believe that you not smart enough when you have an accent. I speak with an accent but I don’t think with an accent. My mind is brilliant,” said Patricia, who revealed many are surprised at her high educational attainment and career success due to her Hispanic heritage.

The mentality that Hispanics are second-level citizens can greatly affect economic and career success.

Luis Ramos, a Mexican immigrant who owns a concrete construction business, said discrimination has cost him jobs. He said though his estimates are typically the same or cheaper as white construction businesses, companies often choose white workers to do their jobs over minorities.

“One of the companies told me I do a much better job than the white guy, but we are going to give it to him,” said Luis.

Despite these obstacles, immigrants often display great strength and determination in the face of barriers and adversity.

“We can see the commitment of Mi Casa Business participants, for them it’s a matter of survival, it’s not a choice,” said Elena Vasconez, director of Mi Casa’s Women’s Business Center.

Beatriz explained the root of this determined commitment.

She said, “An immigrant has the power to believe and work harder than the people who were born in the country, we didn’t leave family, friends and a life in another country just to repeat the life we had.”

Do these reflections echo your own experiences, or do you have a different perspective? Share your thoughts at the CPR’s Public Insight Network.

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Mi Casa Youth Entrepreneurs to Debut at Black Arts Festival

Rather than wasting away lazy summer days, high school youth in Mi Casa’s Emerging Entrepreneurs Summer Camp have been hard at work starting their own businesses. These youth have been learning business best practices and leveraging their passion to apply these tools to grow their own enterprises. Meet the bright entrepreneurs behind three new businesses, which will debut at the Colorado Black Arts Festival.

These youth will be featured at the Black Art Festival’s Watu Sokoni People’s Marketplace on Friday, July 12 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m at City Park.

Jammin Peach Guy“Jammin Peach Guy”

My name is RuiZavier Estrada, or as you’ll come to know me as the “Jammin’ Peach Guy!” I am an entrepreneur who owns a peach jam business that offers two different kinds of peach jam. I started this business because I am extremely passionate about the idea of Denver and Colorado youth making their own products whether it be homemade or handmade. I pursued peach jam making because peaches are one of my favorite fruits, and I wanted to share the flavor of peach in a jam form with the rest of Colorado. My original recipe contains organic and all natural Colorado grown peaches with sugar and a hint of lemon juice. My other unique jam is made for people who still want to eat peach jam, but stay healthy. This recipe has all of the same ingredients as my original jam, but instead of sugar I add agave. Agave is a much more sweeter, more healthier alternative to sugar. I sell full pints of jam for $8 each, and I do hope to see any and all Coloradans at the Black Arts Festival.


“303 Kidz”???????????????????????????????

Let us introduce ourselves, our names are Santiana Martinez and Shania Quintana. Our business is 303 Kidz and we make t-shirts for kids varying in size 2T to 6x. We picked the name 303 Kidz to represent our business because we are the youth of Denver and the t-shirts are for kidz by kidz of Denver. Our t-shirts are non-toxic and machine washable. Every t-shirt is unique, and every design has its own unique touch. All the t-shirts also have our logo, which is our business name followed by the Denver skyline. This t-shirt will make any toddler the coolest kid on the playground. We hope to have the opportunity to show you what 303 Kidz is all about at the Black Arts Festival!



???????????????????????????????“The Super Reusers”

Hello we are Devon Soto and Ariel Price. We are both young entrepreneurs who run a business called The Super Reusers. Recycling is very important to us and many people. We have all heard of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. But not many people have heard of upcycling. Upcycling is basically making something out of nothing. Our product is made out of recycled water bottles and old comic books. We make gift boxes and storage containers. Our product is shorter than a water bottle and has many uses. It can be used as a gift box, pencil holder, piggy bank, penny saver, jewelry box, toy storage or anything your imagination can think of. Our product is a way to show others how recycled goods can be made into beautiful things. Our mission is to show what upcyclilng can do through our products. Thank you and we look forward to seeing you at our booth during the Black Arts Festival.

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Before the Plunge: What to Consider Before Starting a Business


Though starting a small business can be a profitable and rewarding alternative to traditional employment, 80% of new businesses fail within the first 5 years, and most within 2 years. Why? The majority of businesses fail due to poor management. Taking the time to prepare before jumping into business ownership is essential to creating a well-run and successful enterprise.

There are numerous ways to lower entrepreneurial risks and equip for business management, including:

  • Gaining industry experience
  • Researching potential competition and market trends
  • Developing a thorough business plan
  • Getting finances and credit in order
  • Basing decisions on facts, not emotions
  • Developing strong management skills
  • Ensuring adequate funding before launching
  • Using community resources

Starting a business takes passion, independence, confidence, and perhaps most importantly, a clear vision. Quantifiable goals, coupled with a strategy that connects those goals with the enterprise’s vision, will go far in ensuring success.

A business plan is a helpful way to get goals, strategy and vision on paper, marking a road-map to success. Business plans serve to:

  • Focus ideas
  • Formulate a blueprint for management
  • Quantify specific business objectives
  • Measure progress and overall performance
  • Make a new business attractive to lenders and investors

Networking also decreases the risks of starting a business:

  • Contacts within the same industry provide valuable manufacturing and customer knowledge
  • Contacts within other industries offer fresh perspectives and out-of-the-box ideas

Numerous free and low-cost community resources are available to help aspiring entrepreneurs achieve their dreams:

It is vital to avoid rushing into starting a business. Learn as much as possible from as many as possible before taking the plunge of business ownership. Ample thought about what the new business will represent, do, and achieve will allow messaging to be clear and consistent, whether in print material, online or in-person. The more a business owner understands their business, the easier it will be to sell to customers and potential investors.


photo credit to

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Volunteer Profile: Matt

Did you know Mi Casa’s Career Center is entirely volunteer driven? Community members with job search assistance skills volunteer as Career Coaches and work one-on-one to help community members initiate promising career paths.

Career Coaches provide assistance with:

  • Resume creation/editing
  • Cover letter writing
  • Job searching
  • Basic computer skills
  • Interview skills

Thanks to our amazing volunteers, Mi Casa is able to provide FREE job search assistance to hundreds of job seekers every year.

???????????????????????????????Meet Career Coach Matt:

  1. Hometown: Pueblo, CO
  2. Occupation: Legal Shield
  3. Motivation for volunteering: I am passionate about continuing my family legacy of helping improve the lives of those in my community.
  4. Greatest challenge facing the community and why: I believe the greatest challenge facing our community is the lack of access to the legal system. People are often unaware of their rights, as well as how to access and enforce their rights.
  5. The country you would most like to visit: Japan, Brazil (tie)
  6. Best concert you’ve ever attended: Earth, Wind and Fire

If you are interested in volunteering as a Career Coach or setting up a job search appointment, contact Amanda Steinken at 303-539-5631 or

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Research Reveals CO Women & Girls on the Edge of Many Issues

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Mi Casa attended the 2013 Research Summit of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado (WFCO) to learn how to better help female Coloradans reach their full potential.

WFCO’s research revealed that much of the state’s female population face obstacles to financial security and career path advancement. As WFCO CEO Louise Atkinson said, “Colorado’s women and girls are on the edge of many issues, and if we don’t make a change, they will fall off the cliff.”

The facts:

  • More than 580,000 Colorado women are poor or near poor
  • Lack of work supports (ie child care assistance, paid sick days, etc.) prevents some women from entering the workforce, or forces them to work part-time
  • The average fee for an infant to receive child care in a center is 48% of the median income for a single mother
  • The average salary for a Latina is $28,000, compared to $40,656 for Caucasian women
  • Denver county has a 14% poverty rate for women
  • Education helps protect women and their families against poverty (27% of women with less than a high school diploma live in poverty, compared with 4% of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher)
  • Full-time women earn 80 cents to the dollar compared with men, and the gender wage gap has been growing for minority women

The Research Summit also focused on The Cliff Effect, when a small increase in income results in a drastic reduction or termination of government benefits, pushing families into greater economic distress. A quick overview of this phenomena from Rocky Mountain PBS is below:

  • Working families can lose government benefits such as subsidized child-care worth thousands of dollars a year with modest raises, plummeting the family into worse financial shape.
  • Colorado is the only state in the nation that lets counties set income levels for child care assistance eligibility, creating major disparities from county to county in available assistance levels.
  • Most experts say higher education is the essential key to escaping poverty. Yet, eleven counties don’t give child-care help to parents attending college
  • Some families facing the cliff effect report employing strategies such as declining raises, promotions or better jobs elsewhere to avoid losing an essential benefit.
  • Most proposed reforms center on phasing out payments gradually as family incomes rise toward self-sufficiency. Yet, when Colorado lawmakers twice tried to require counties to phase out the benefits, the proposals were watered down after lobbying by Colorado counties to make them voluntary.

The Hope of the WFCO is that its research will enable individuals and organizations across the state to focus efforts and create “bold change.”

WFCO’s recommendations for change include:

  • Education young girls about the effects of their educational and career decisions on their long-term economic security
  • Advising employers on how to implement best practices for recruiting and retaining women
  • Holding public authorities accountable for establishing gender balance in training and education
  • Increasing the accessibility and affordability of child care for working parents, and especially single mothers pursuing continued education and training
  • Supporting the efforts of organizations that provide mentoring, networking, and training to prepare women for leadership roles

How can you help? To learn how you can partner with Mi Casa’s work to help women and their families trade poverty for lasting economic stability, click here.

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Women's Empowerment Fund Luncheon Helps Mi Casa Continue Legacy

???????????????????????????????Mi Casa welcomed more than 70 guests to its first annual Women’s Empowerment Fund Luncheon to help expand the organization’s resources to support and empower women and their families to achieve lasting economic success. The event raised more than $30,000 in current and multi-year pledges, with more gifts expected in the coming weeks.

One of Mi Casa’s original board members, Carol Hildebrand, as well as Mi Casa’s first official director, Juana Bordas, was among the women community leaders in attendance.

In her opening remarks, CEO Christine Marquez-Hudson highlighted Mi Casa’s legacy of supporting women, and how this work carries on today. Explaining that Mi Casa was originally founded by women for women, she said many women continue coming to Mi Casa for educational, entrepreneurial or career training opportunities.

“Today, we open our doors to the whole family as ‘Mi Casa Resource Center,’ with a mission to advance the economic success of Latino families,” said Christine. “But women continue to be at the heart of so much of what we do. In fact, 68% of Mi Casa’s overall population is women.”

While enjoying delicious salads from Work Options for Women, guests had the chance to talk with Mi Casa participants seated at each table to learn their stories before hearing from the event’s keynote speaker and Digital Connector alumna Aide.

Aide (pictured at top with Mi Casa Board President Benita Duran) explained how Mi Casa’s Digital Connector technology learning program for high school youth become her second family and helped her through a rough move and challenging home life. This program provided a safe space for Aide, a place for her to be a kid and make new friends while learning valuable skills. Mi Casa’s youth program also helped Aide stay in school and excel academically.

“If it wasn’t for Mi Casa, I would be another teen mom,” Aide said. “Instead, I will be attending Colorado Mesa University in the fall on a full-ride scholarship.”

If you are interested in how you can partner with Mi Casa to help students like Aide or other women in the community, please contact Jennifer Johnson at 303-539-5609 or

Mi Casa is deeply grateful to UBS Financial Services Inc. for sponsoring this event and would also like to extend a thank you to the luncheon’s guest emcee, award winning 7NEWSanchor Theresa Marchetta.

See event photos here.

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