Chocolate for the Greater Good

Damaris___KatelynWhen local chocolate maker Katelyn and pastry chef Damaris combined their passions of chocolate, Fair Trade, and helping others, The POMM (Product of My Mind), LLC was born.

“We decided to start our own chocolate making business, creating chocolate straight from the cacao bean,” said Damaris. “We felt we could make a unique contribution to the food industry, using products that were not only Fair Trade and organic, but also offer a variety of goods that no other company could offer.”

The POMM’s chocolate products are a creative spin on the simple flavors of traditional Mexican cuisine, inspired by the cooking of Damaris’ grandmother. Damaris and Katelyn roast, grind, and refine cacao beans to make 10 pound micro-batches of chocolate.

“By making everything on a small scale, we are able to preserve the integrity of our products,” said Damaris. “We use the chocolate to make chocolate bars, truffles, Mexican drinking chocolate, and authentic mole poblano sauces. And instead of disposing of the cacao shells, we use them to make cacao infused teas.”

To gain the skills necessary to successfully launch The POMM, Damaris attended Mi Casa’s Business Success class. After graduating, she enrolled in Mi Casa’s Greater Good Academy to learn how to use triple bottom line principles to make her business more efficient and environmentally friendly, while giving back to the community.

Currently employing two young adults with autism, Damaris and Katelyn plan to hire more special needs individuals as their business grows.

The POMM operates and sells its bean-to-bar chocolate out of the indoor Denver Urban Homesteading Market. Products are also available for purchase at a variety of Denver Metro locations, including local restaurants, specialty shops, and farmer’s markets, as well as the Denver Art Museum.

“Last year we mastered the craft of chocolate making,” said Damaris. “This year we plan to strengthen our company’s branding by developing a new brand image and product packaging, and expanding our marketing efforts.”

In the future, Damaris and Katelyn hope to open their own retail shop and develop direct relationships with cacao farms across Central and South America.

Damaris and Katelyn were recently approved for a $5,000 Kiva Zip loan to purchase a chocolate bean grinding machine to increase their capacity more than 250%. The loan will also be used to expand their marketing efforts and purchase a die mold to create chocolate boxes.

“Damaris and Katelyn are fully committed to creating a socially responsible business and giving back to the community,” said Mi Casa. “We strongly believe they will be very successful in their business efforts because they have demonstrated great passion, commitment and resourcefulness. And this loan will allow their business to reach its next level.”

If you would like to help fund or learn more about The POMM, LLC, please click here.

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Join Mi Casa for the First Annual Women’s Empowerment Fund Luncheon

Women's Empowerment Fund LuncheonMi Casa was founded in 1976 by women who envisioned a supportive environment to help families get the education and support they needed to become economically self-sufficient.

Today – though Mi Casa’s doors are open to all people regardless of gender, ethnicity or any other factor – Mi Casa is celebrating our legacy of women supporters.

The first annual Women’s Empowerment Fund Luncheon will be held on Thursday, June 6, with the goal of expanding Mi Casa’s resources to support and empower women and their families to achieve lasting economic success.

Through career training, small business development services, and programs for youth and their families after school, Mi Casa has impacted countless families in Denver. In 2012 alone, we served 2,300 individuals – that’s over 1,100 families.

But we need the support of our community to continue this important work.

That’s why on June 6 Mi Casa will host a luncheon event to share the stories of women who have been empowered to achieve their goals with the support of Mi Casa programs. Guests will hear firsthand from Mi Casa alumni the impact Mi Casa’s support has made in their lives and the lives of their families.

At this luncheon, 75 of Denver’s top women leaders will be in attendance as Mi Casa establishes a Women’s Empowerment Fund with generous commitments to of $1,000 a year for five years. Inaugural members will receive exclusive volunteer and mixer opportunities throughout the time of their pledge, and also be recognized on the Mi Casa donor tree.

Smaller donations are also welcome and deeply appreciated!

The Women’s Empowerment Fund is not exclusively for women! Men can make a gift in honor of a spouse, daughter, mother or any special woman in their life.

The luncheon will take place Thursday, June 6, from 11:30 am to 1 pm in Mi Casa’s Community Hall.

To learn more or RSVP, please contact Jennifer Johnson at 303-539-5609 or

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Small Business Institute Partnership Gives Business Grads New Strategies

Dr. Hoffman at Mi Casa

Metro State professor Dr. Lynn Hoffman has been teaching for the Small Business Institute – a national organization that allows business students and community entrepreneurs to collaborate- for over 25 years, but this is the first year he has partnered with Mi Casa’s Women’s Business Center.

Partnering with Hoffman’s Organizational Management Consulting class provided a unique opportunity for several of Mi Casa’s Business Success graduates to access free business counseling and technical assistance, and gain a deeper understanding of their business and industry.

Four teams of business students were each paired with one of Mi Casa’s Business Success graduates. Teams were cross-disciplinary, consisting of students concentrating on accounting, management, marketing and more.

“This is a win-win program,” said Hoffman, explaining the team structure allows students to discover how different business disciplines tie together in a real world setting, and also provides small business owners with a more extensive consulting experience.

Hoffman’s students and Mi Casa business participants met once a week, allowing the students to gain a deep understanding of their client’s business and goals.

Throughout the semester, Hoffman’s students worked with Mi Casa business participants to create a comprehensive report, including a company overview, industry analysis, and competitive analysis. Armed with this knowledge, the class culminated with students sharing recommendations with their client through a presentation and final report.

“Students give their clients a number of options for recommendations, putting the ball in their court,” Hoffman said.

This semester long partnership between the consulting team and their client resulted in high-quality counseling, worth an estimated $6,000 to $10,000.

“Students worked to understand both their client’s business goals and their personal goals, to see if there was an opportunity to merge both,” said Hoffman, noting that one business owner’s individual goals led her consulting team to suggest she consider turning her business into a non-profit.

“The consulting teams each put in 70 to 90 hours of work and research, giving our graduates fresh perspectives, new strategies and a broad view of their business,” said Mi Casa’s Women’s Business Center staff. “It opened their minds to a new way of thinking, and really reinvigorated and encouraged them in their entrepreneurial endeavors.”

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Marketer Starts Business to Connect People

Sheridan Working 1After spending 14 years in marketing, Sheridan realized she wanted to pursue her passion of foreign languages. While going back to school to become a certified translator, she fell in love with subtitles during an elective media and translations course. It was then that she decided to start a subtitling translation business.

Last fall, Sheridan launched Silver Screen Translations, specializing in Spanish and English subtitling services for film, television, and advertising. Since then she has been concentrating on networking and building her portfolio to grow her business, and recently translated the Spanish side of Mi Casa’s website as a pro bono project.

“The more I translated Mi Casa’s website, the more I grew impressed by what they are doing,” she said. “I felt great to have a part in getting the word out about Mi Casa’s services to the Spanish speaking community.”

Sheridan said her passion for translation stems from its intrinsic way of bringing people together. One of her recent projects involved subtitling Cuban-American television episodes for a Latin American and Caribbean studies college course highlights translation’s ability to connect differing groups.

“Translation bridges people in a way that might not otherwise be possible,” Sheridan said, explaining that English speaking college students were able to gain a deeper understanding of Cuban-American culture as a result of her subtitles.

Though her job as a business owner is much different than her past work, Sheridan is able to meld her marketing background seamlessly with her new business venture.

“Subtitles are a tool to help your product reach a wider audience,” she said. “They have a lot of marking value in that it’s not just about translation words, but adding value to your product.”

Sheridan’s marketing and corporate background, coupled with her personal entrepreneurial experience, allows her to give rich advice for aspiring small business owners.

Here are some of her tips:

  • Develop a clear and cohesive marketing strategy: Before launching, put a lot of thought into what you want your business to represent and do in order to develop a consistent message across mediums, whether in print material, online or in-person.
  • There is much power in networking: There is nothing more powerful than being introduced to somebody because of someone else.
  • Don’t underestimate the kindness of others: Sheridan has been pleasantly surprised by how many fellow small business owners are willing to help her out, whether with networking or advice.
  • Talk to anybody and everybody you can: Don’t be afraid to talk to small business owners who do something completely different than you, they can give you fresh perspectives and out-of-the box ideas.
  • Don’t rush into starting a business: A well thought-out and developed business plan gains the trust of others.

If you are interested in learning more about starting or growing your small business, check out Mi Casa’s entrepreneurial programs. And don’t forget to visit the Spanish side of our website!

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Mayor Michael B. Hancock Visits Mi Casa Youth Programs

Group shot with the MayorThe Mayor of Denver, Michael B. Hancock, paid a visit to the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center this week!

Accompanied by City Councilwoman Susan K. Shepherd and Representative Dan Pabon, Mayor Hancock spent time mingling with the kids from Lake International School and Strive Prep and answering questions about his life as a middle schooler and his job as mayor of a major city.

When asked what the best part of being mayor is, he replied: “This – having contact with the people and the youth of this great city.”

In addition to learning more about Mi Casa’s out-of-school time programs, Mayor Hancock’s visit called attention to the 2A measure approved by voters in the 2012 election. With additional revenue, Denver is investing in services including afterschool programs, business incentives, child care assistance, parks and recreation, services for seniors, libraries, and much more.

Posing with LIS girlsMi Casa will receive funding from the 2A measure in summer 2013 to offer expanded summer programs for middle and high school students that provide both enrichment opportunities and academic support programs that combat summer learning loss.

Mi Casa has operated school-based afterschool, evening and summer programs on the campus of Lake Middle School for the past 15 years. In 2012, Mi Casa launched the Neighborhood Center at North High School. Each year, Mi Casa serves over 800 youth in high-quality afterschool programs.

“The City of Denver is proud to partner with Mi Casa Resource Center to provide a safe, healthy place for you all to go afterschool,” Mayor Hancock told the kids. “We want you to have the support and opportunities you need to prepare for productive lives.”

Asked about his favorite subject in middle school, Mayor Hancock answered that he loved social studies and history. In fact, he advised the kids to pursue history and current events if they are interested in a career in politics or the public sector.

“If you want to become mayor one day, my advice is number one to stay in school and also read as many newspapers as you can to stay on top of current events because being a mayor is all about addressing current issues.”

Fist bumping with the MayorThe kids asked Mayor Hancock what his favorite sport is (football), who is favorite team is (the Broncos), and what he likes to do in his free time (hang out with his wife and three kids).

Councilwoman Susan Shepherd, a former Mi Casa volunteer, suggested that Mayor Hancock visit the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center. Councilwoman Shepherd recounted to the students her volunteer project to get raised gardening beds built outside the Neighborhood Center.

“And I just heard you have some sunflowers and vegetables growing out there – that’s awesome!” She said.

Though many of the kids at the Lake Neighborhood Center hadn’t heard of Mayor Hancock prior to his visit, that didn’t stop them from becoming a bit star struck when the mayor walked through the door! The full visit could have easily been taken up by fist bumps, handshakes and high fives, which the Mayor doled out generously.

The youth and staff at the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center were honored to host Mayor Hancock and his team. His visit was a powerful testament to the great positive impact of Mi Casa’s programs on the lives of youth in Northwest Denver.

Click here to view more photos from Mayor Hancock’s visit to the Neighborhood Center.

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Woman-owned Glass Company Fights Larger Businesses to Stay Competitive

Brandy_Armijo1Founder of Interior Glass Design, Inc. Brandy’s interest in designing and creating beauty began at a young age.

“There are many women interested in design, especially fashion and interior design, but I wanted to create with my hands and do something more innovative instead,” she said.

The road to finding how best to use her talents was paved with tools and sawdust. Starting in a customer service position in the construction industry, Brandy soon began doing actual construction work. But she realized that instead of building homes, she wanted to make them beautiful.

“I loved going into a room and thinking about what kind of custom glass installation I could create to make that room look elegant and unique,” said Brandy.

After working in the construction industry for 15 years, Brandy decided to start her own interior glass design business. And with nearly 25 years of construction experience, her husband became her business partner to help with installations and other tasks.

With only $1,000 to start-up the business, her money soon dwindled after renting a space for a showroom. Undeterred, Brandy immediately began networking, allowed her to get much of the needed supplies donated.

glass doorArmed with passion and the drive to succeed, Brandy soon began custom-designing various interior glass fixtures including wine cellars, doors, mirrors, tabletops and more. She has now been operating her business for more than three years, and to her knowledge, is the only woman in Colorado to own a glass company.

Brandy’s competitors are large businesses, which she says has been a challenge for her small business. To compete with these larger companies, Brandy realized she needs to create a concrete business plan and expand her knowledge of business and finance. Brandy received free one-on-one business counseling from Mi Casa to learn how to apply business best practices and identify how best to overcome the challenges her business faces.

“I want to continue expanding my company and become an increasingly strong competitor in the glass design field,” said Brandy, who will also enroll in Mi Casa’s Business Success entrepreneurial training course to gain the skills needed to strategically grow her business.

In order to stay competitive with larger businesses, Brandy also needs funding to support the necessary expansion of her business and cut costs. She was accepted to receive funding from Kiva Zip to purchase a polishing machine and glass cutting table, and make a deposit on a larger rental space. By polishing her own glass, which typically has a 300% mark-up, Brandy will save about $2,500-$6,000 per month in costs.

“Brandy’s business is at a crucial point, where she has to grow to satisfy the demand of the market,” said Mi Casa. “Therefore, this Kiva Zip loan will prove instrumental in helping her business succeed.”

Though competing with larger businesses is no small task, Brandy is not short of determination and passion.

“Because of Brandy’s commitment, dedication and work ethic, we have no doubt she will be very successful,” said Mi Casa.

And Brandy’s words speak for themselves. She said, “I have fought to prove myself over and over again as a strong competitor in this field, due to my high caliber of work.”

And we at Mi Casa have no doubt she will keep up a strong fight.

If you would like to help Brandy’s business grow through her Kiva Zip loan, please click here. To see all Mi Casa’s business participants currently approved for Kiva Zip funding, please click here.

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Mi Casa Joins May Day March for Immigration Reform

936264_10151366446367307_61184693_nDespite the snow May 1, Mi Casa joined hundreds of community members marching for national, comprehensive immigration reform in recognition of International Workers Solidarity Day.

International Worker Solidarity Day- often marked by protests for better working conditions and human rights- has united workers around the world for more than 100 years.

Mi Casa joined the crowd rallying for immigration reform Wednesday morning on the west steps of Colorado’s Capital, which served as a backdrop for speeches from state legislators, advocacy leaders, and labor groups.

The speeches kept the crowd’s energy high, recounting the current successes and remaining challenges of the establishment of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

936264_10151366446362307_1470449473_nThe crowd then marched along a path to Sunken Garden Park, displaying their support for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., chanting, “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,” and, “A people united will never be divided.”

Despite the weather, the crowd’s united voice was strong, proving once again that, Sí se puede!  Yes, we can!

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Mi Casa Attends Judicial Center Dedication with Sonia Sotomayor

Kevin & Josh Selfie with Sotomayor SIZEDOn May 2, a group from Mi Casa was invited to witness the dedication of the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Building with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Justice Sotomayor insisted that Colorado youth be at the focus of her visit to Denver, so Mi Casa brought along six students from the Neighborhood Centers at Lake Middle School and North High. Other participants from Mi Casa’s business and career programs were also in attendance.

In introducing Justice Sotomayor, the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, Michael Bender explained, “Justice Sotomayor feels an urgent need to instill hope, dreams and the fruition of achievement among young people.”

In fact, after the event, Justice Sotomayor happily posed for a few “selfie” photos with youth from the North Neighborhood Center!

Group with Monica Marquez and CMHThe event also highlighted the legacy of former Colorado governor Ralph Carr, who staked his political ambitions on the value of equality for all Colorado residents, a stance that ended up destroying his career.

Carr was governor of Colorado from 1939 to 1943, a period marked by vitriolic hatred and bigotry against people of Japanese descent. Carr stood up for Japanese Americans whom he felt were unjustly interred in the World War II era. Carr famously stated that the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that ALL people are created equal – not just those of western European descent. It was a stance that at the time cost him his career, but one that has earned him an illustrious spot in Colorado history.

“We should be inspired by Governor Carr and try to live up to the principles he stood for,” Chief Justice Bender told the crowd.

Lake kids meet Governor HickenlooperGovernor John Hickenlooper added, “Carr sacrificed so much for the core values of quality and justice that we all share.”

The new judicial center that bears Governor Carr’s name houses not only courtrooms and legal offices, the building is a community center of learning and exploration of the U.S. legal system. The Carr building includes a learning center, a public law library and is open to the community year round.

As Chief Justice Bender introduced Justice Sotomayor, he summarized her humble upbringing in the Bronx and her steady rise within the legal world. Appointed to the Supreme Court by President Obama in 2009, the first Hispanic and the third woman to sit on the nation’s highest court, “Justice Sotomayor brings to the bench not just great intelligence, but concern for the public, for youth, and for the wellbeing of the country as a whole,” said Bender.

view from the Carr buildingIn her remarks, Justice Sotomayor praised the stately new Colorado judicial center with its huge windows and views of the State Capitol and City and County Building. “People bring momentous questions to courthouses for resolution,” she said. “This building impresses upon people the importance of the work.”

She commented that it was no coincidence that the judicial center faced the Capitol. “These equal branches of government – legislative and judicial – must sometimes face off and stare each other down,” Sotomayor said. “This is precisely the balance of power that the Founding Fathers intended.”

North in CO Supreme Court SIZEDJustice Sotomayor continued, “None are excluded, or should be, from the halls of justice. This building stands ready to serve the public whenever the need arises. Indeed, we exist, above all else, to serve the people. Colorado, this building is yours.”

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Business Success Student Approved for Kiva Zip Loan to Create New Perception of Latin American Cuisine

Daniel_Limache_1Daniel immigrated to America from Venezuela nine years ago seeking a fresh start after losing everything due to the country’s unstable political climate permeating its financial market.

He describes his first years in America as the classic immigrant story. Though he was the owner of two businesses in Venezuela and specialized in sales, lack of English skills meant he had to work his way up again. He was employed as a truck driver, dishwasher and construction worker while taking English courses so he could achieve his dream of providing for his family through operating his own business in the U.S.

After working in a contractor position for several years, he was laid off. Looking back, Daniel says this setback is actually proving beneficial, providing him with the time to pursue a degree and open his first business in America.

Daniel is currently studying psychology through Regis University’s dual-language program, and is also enrolled in Mi Casa’s Exito para Negocios (Business Success) course to organize his ideas for his new business and put his business plan in writing.

His new company, El Pimiento, will offer empanadas inspired by recipes all across Latin American. An empanada is flour dough, stuffed with a sweet or savory filling, and then baked or fried. Daniel believes his empanadas will gain popularity as lunch items, since they are small and convenient to eat.

Daniel has developed recipes for seven different empanadas, including meet, vegetarian and dessert options. Using fresh ingredients and organic local produce, Daniel will bake his empanadas on site. El Pimiento will begin offering empanadas at Denver’s Cherry Creek Farmers Market this summer. A variety of Latin American beverages will also be available for purchase, including horchata (a rice drink sweetened with cinnamon and vanilla), agua de jaimaca (sweet water with hibiscus juice), and limonada con pilocillo (limeade made with unrefined sugar).

“I want to create a new perception of Latin American food through El Pimiento,” said Daniel, who also started a successful empanada selling business while living in Venezuela. “I am striving to combine the many amazing flavors of Latin American cuisine, its mixture of European influence as well as the traditions of pre-Hispanic populations.”

Daniel was recently approved for a $5,000 Kiva Zip loan to purchase the equipment needed to start his business, including a portable convention oven, refrigerator, freezer and trailer. This loan will also be used to rent a commercial kitchen space and hire a graphic designer to create marketing materials.

“Daniel is really committed to starting and growing his own business,” said Mi Casa. “He has never missed a class and has been meeting regularly with a business consultant to develop a solid business plan. And he’s an excellent cook!”

To help support Daniel’s business or read his full story, click here.

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CEO Christine Marquez-Hudson Widely Recognized for Leadership Skills

blogYou might have noticed that Mi Casa’s CEO and Executive Director Christine Marquez-Hudson has been in the limelight a lot lately, especially with two video shoots this week! What is all the hype about? Christine is being recognized far and wide for her exemplary leadership skills.

Fireside Production and Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce stopped by Mi Casa to shoot a video for the chamber’s ATHENA Award. Christine is one of the nominees for this prestigious honor, which recognizes Denver women who possess exceptional professional achievement, devotion to community service, and generosity in actively assisting other women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills.

9NEWS also came to Mi Casa this week and shot video for a news story of Christine, the 2013 9News Leader of the Year!

“[Christine] joins a prestigious list of strong leaders who care deeply about our state’s future,” said 9NEWS’ Mark Cornetta.  “Christine is an outstanding business leader who is helping to elevate the Hispanic community for the benefit of all residents. “

When she came on board Mi Casa in 2008 as the CEO and executive director, Mi Casa was spread thin over numerous programs and hurting from reduced government and foundation funding.

With Christine’s passion and strategic planning, the organization has since tripled its participation rates from 800 to 2,300.

“What really sets Christine apart is her extraordinary vision for what she wants to achieve, her ability to design a strategy to reach that goal and her talent in inspiring all those around her to reach toward that goal,” said Olga Garcia, community affairs manager of the Denver Health Medical Center.

Tameka Montgomery, executive director of the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation, said, “Christine’s drive to get things done and her entrepreneurial vision have resulted in creative and innovative solutions to pressing challenges facing Denver’s Latino community. Indeed, we are fortunate to have Christine leading the way toward a better tomorrow for our community.”

With Christine’s leadership, Mi Casa has strongly established itself as a beacon of hope for low-income Denver families, advancing the economic success of Latino and working families through expanding opportunities for educational, professional and entrepreneurial advancement.

Christine isn’t about to stop there.  When asked about her future aspirations for Mi Casa she said, “We envision a Mi Casa in multiple locations throughout the metro-Denver area, providing integrated economic development services [and ]most importantly, we hope to help more people and families improve their economic health while development skills and advancing their education to increase self-sufficiency.”

Quotes are from an interview with Corona Insights and an article by the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation.

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