Volunteer Spotlight: Desiree Herrera

ImageIn Mi Casa’s Career Center, volunteers play a critical role in helping community job seekers build their resumes, find work, and develop important networking and interviewing skills.  Desiree Herrera, a student at the Community College of Denver (CCD), has been a committed and faithful volunteer in the Career Center since January 2011, donating more than 90 hours of service to the organization.  A Denver native, she grew up in the Westwood neighborhood, and her background was fundamental in developing her passion for people.  As a Latina, she felt that opportunities were denied to her mother and herself because of her race, as well as her socioeconomic status.  “It was a double-edged sword; the poverty jokes and the racism.  When I realized that there were programs that could help people get out of poverty, it hit really close to home.”

Desiree’s first encounter with Mi Casa came from a friend of hers, who graduated from Mi Casa’s Bilingual Bank Teller program.  This graduate told Desiree that Mi Casa was her “only salvation when all other doors closed on her.”  Desiree then decided to start volunteering in the Career Center.  She loves to work with such a diverse population here at Mi Casa, and finds helping individuals find jobs to be extremely rewarding work: “I love hearing the sound of a client’s voice on the phone when they finally get a job – they always sound like they’re jumping for joy, and I love that.”

Desiree is currently studying Human Services, and hopes to transfer to Metropolitan State College of Denver after graduating from CCD in May 2012, in order to pursue studies in criminology, as well as drug and alcohol abuse counseling.  She is incredibly passionate about giving back to her community.  Advancing economic prosperity for the family is not only Mi Casa’s mission, but also what Desiree would like to accomplish through her career.  Desiree’s commitment to the organization is truly admirable, and Mi Casa is grateful for her willingness to give her time and energy to help community members find employment.

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Thanks to funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service, Mi Casa was recently approved for a three-year AmeriCorps VISTA project!

With no direct cost to Mi Casa, the VISTA program enabled Mi Casa to add two full-time positions dedicated to building our capacity to deliver and sustain high-quality programs.

Earlier this month, Sara Alcid (right) and Molly Brooks (left) joined Mi Casa’s team as our first-ever VISTA members! Each will serve full-time for 12 months, working to build Mi Casa’s capacity to fight poverty and advance economic success.

Though Sara and Molly are working as hard as any other Mi Casa employee, they only receive a small living stipend for their hard work. They truly are Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA), and we are grateful to have them!
Sara is Mi Casa’s Fundraising & Communications Specialist, helping us raise vital operating funds to sustain programs and build our online communities. Molly is Mi Casa’s Volunteer Outreach & Event Specialist, focusing on building Mi Casa’s volunteer engagement systems and supporting event development.

AmeriCorps VISTA is the national service program designed to fight poverty. It was envisioned by President John F. Kennedy and authorized in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Since 1965, more than 185,000 VISTAs have served in communities across America, playing a key role in establishing many of the best-known anti-poverty programs, including Head Start, Upward Bound, and the credit union system.

Here’s a bit more about Mi Casa’s newest team members:

Sara Alcid grew up in Sun Valley, Idaho, and earned her degree in Political Science, magna cum laude, from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in December 2011.  She founded and led Bryn Mawr’s Amnesty International and Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance chapters.  Sara was identified by the U.S. Department of State’s Women in Public Service Project–an initiative of Secretary Hilary Clinton–as an emerging female leader in public service.  Sara plans to pursue a graduate degree in public health after VISTA service.

Molly Brooks, a Denver native, graduated from Eastern University, summa cum laude, in May 2011, with a double major in Sociology and Spanish, a language she speaks fluently. With broad experience in direct service and in various roles as a counselor and advocate, Molly has provided resource navigation and case management to immigrant families and women. In college, Molly was the president of the campus group Refuge, a member of SAGE (Students Advocating Gender Equality), a Resident Assistant, and a Teaching Assistant in the Sociology Department.

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Mi Casa Welcomes Four New Board Members

Mi Casa is delighted to welcome four new members to our Board of Directors:

  • Richard Gonzales,  GCR LLP
  • Rafael Medina, Entravision Communications
  • James Perez Foster, touchPoint Partners, LLC
  • Debbie Trujillo, KeyBank 

Richard Gonzales (far left) is a partner at the law firm GCR with more than 25 years of legal experience in the public and private sectors.  A graduate of Stanford Law, Richard specializes in public finance, real estate transactions and mergers and acquisitions. Richard was general counsel for Stapleton Development Corp., a public/private partnership that resulted in one of the largest urban developments in the nation.  Richard is also active in the American GI Forum, as well as other charitable organizations, including Girls, Inc., El Centro Su Teatro, and KUVO Public Radio.

Rafael Medina (far right) is the Marketing & Communications Director for Entravision Communications. He manages the marketing, promotions and community outreach efforts for Colorado’s leading Spanish-language television, radio, and online media properties. Entravision’s five TV stations and four radio stations in Colorado deliver more listeners and viewers than the any local competitors – regardless of language. Rafael, a Denver native and first generation American, is passionate about supporting the Latino community and volunteers for organizations that serve Hispanic families.

James Perez Foster (center left) is an entrepreneur and business executive. In 2004, he quit his job on Wall Street to move to Denver and start a bank to serve the Latino community. After four years and more than $20 million raised, Lakewood-based Solera National Bank opened its doors to the community.  Today, Solera is publicly traded and has more than 700 shareholders.  James also boasts expertise in new market penetration, board governance, public relations, and corporate social responsibility. James is also actively involved in community volunteerism.

Debbie Trujillo (center right) is the Vice President of Programs for KeyBank. With over 30 years of experience in the banking industry, Debbie is passionate about building bridges between Colorado’s businesses and the Hispanic community.  Debbie is also highly involved in community service. She has been on the Board of Directors for the Hispanic Chamber of Metro Denver for five years and was the board chair in 2011. Debbie is a board member of the Denver/Boulder BBB Foundation and in 2010 was the board chair.

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Reflecting on Denver Green Jobs Initiative


For two years, Denver Green Jobs Initiative (DGJI) has trained Northeast Denver workers for great careers in energy efficiency, sustainable construction, and solar.
DGJI was a collaborative project, led by Mi Casa and funded by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), to provide disadvantaged workers in Denver with new opportunities for career path employment. The project ended last month.

Though the green industry has not yet produced the volume of jobs once hoped for, DGJI was a huge success!

DGJI trained 513 workers, and of these, 206 were placed in full-time jobs. The project was recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor as one of the most successful in 2010-11 for job-placement. As a result, DGJI program strategies were included in DOL’s “Promising Practices” resource guide for workforce development.

“There is a gap between the skills employers need and the skills most workers have,” says DGJI Project Manager Rick Lawton. “Denver Green Jobs Initiative was able to bridge that divide for individuals who face barriers to employment.”

Dan’nail is a great example. When he sought training at Denver Green Jobs Initiative, he was just a few months out of prison and living in a halfway house. With a felony record and no transportation, Dan’nail applied for many jobs related to his skills in landscaping and warehouse operations, but he didn’t get any calls back.

Dan’nail is 35 years old, a native of Northeast Denver. He says he started getting into trouble in middle school and by the time he was 20 he was on probation. Dan’nail cycled in and out of prison until he was 33, serving seven years total.

At first Dan’nail’s halfway house was reluctant to let him enroll in training, since immediate employment is preferred. But Dan’nail’s case manager at DGJI advocated for him and convinced his halfway house to allow Dan’nail time to complete DGJI’s pre-apprenticeship program.

Dan’nail completed the pre-apprenticeship offered by the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers. The union identified Dan’nail as one of their top students, and he moved up the ranks quickly with his eagerness to learn and dexterity with his hands. Within 60 days, Dan’nail was sworn in to the union.

“They don’t look at a man for what he’s done,” Dan’nail says. “They look at a man for what he does, and I am not going to waste this opportunity.”

Dan’nail is currently working as a second-year apprentice Pipe Insulator earning nearly $21 per hour with full benefits, up from his starting wage of $18. Dan’nail will become a Journeyman Insulator in May 2013.

After his release from prison, Dan’nail knew he was ready to work toward a career and a more stable life, and he credits DGJI for giving him that opportuntiy. “Outside of my family and my support system, this program saved me.”

Dan’nail’s goal is to continue learning and building his skills so he will never have trouble finding work again. He also wants to be a role model for his two children, ages 13 and 18. Dan’nail hopes his kids can learn from his mistakes and that he can help them find their own opportunities for personal and professional success.

Though DGJI training has concluded, Mi Casa continues to focus on Career Development as a central strategy to achieve our mission of economic success.

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Mi Casa Video Takes Gold AVA Award!

In late 2011, Mi Casa and the Environmental Defense Fund contracted Fireside Production to create a video about the many positive impacts that green jobs are having on workers, the community, the economy and the environment. The final product is fantastic and was recently honored with a Gold AVA Award for Environmental Issue Video Production category. Check it out:

“Mi Casa is incredibly proud to see this video about our green jobs training program win recognition,” says Christine Marquez-Hudson, Mi Casa’s CEO/Executive Director. “It’s important for people to understand that the green sectors in Colorado are actively improving the environment and simultaneously creating valuable new employment opportunities for workers in need of a boost.”

Fireside Production specializes in creating videos that captivate and inspire. Fireside Production is a full-service company with award-winning production, videography and editing talent.

AVA Awards recognize outstanding achievement by creative professionals involved in the concept, direction, design and production of media that is part of the evolution of digital communication.

There were over 1,700 entries in the 2011 AVA Awards competition. AVA Awards is sponsored and judged by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals, an international organization comprised of thousands of production, marketing, communication, advertising, public relations, and free-lance professionals.

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Fundraiser Event Raises Most $ in Mi Casa History






On Saturday, January 21, Mi Casa held a fundraising event unlike any other in the agency’s history. Mi Casa teamed up with Pat Miller, The Gabby Gourmet, to present an unforgettable evening of Argentine wine, food and entertainment.

More than 150 people came to the Warwick Denver Hotel to enjoy the event, which featured a live and silent auction, as well as a four-course meal with wine pairings and live tango dancers.

Chef Hosea Rosenberg of Boulder, winner of Bravo TV’s Season Five Top Chef, created the courses, and Alamos Winery offered the complementary libations.

Joanne Davidson of The Denver Post did a great write-up in yesterday’s Sunday edition; check it out here: http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_19829364

The event raised nearly $50,000 to support Mi Casa’s mission of economic success for Latino families – more than any other event in Mi Casa’s history!

We are so grateful to our many friends who bought tickets, bid on silent and live auction items, or made a donation to Mi Casa during the live ask at the event.We could not have had such a successful fundraising event without you!

Stay tuned for detailsfor the 2013 Taste & Tango event!

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Community Learning Exchange Advances Partnership on Lake Campus

This month, leadership from Mi Casa’s Youth & Family Development programs traveled to Texas to attend a Community Learning Exchange event to support community-building efforts among the three co-located schools on the Lake Middle School Campus.

Mi Casa’s Cody Buchanan (far right) and Karen Fox Elwell attended the event, along with Ryan Kockler (second from right), Principal of West Denver Prep – Lake Campus, and Ronaldo Ortiz (far left), Assistant Principal of Lake International School.

Community Learning Exchange (CLE) events are funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.CLE views communities and people as the most effective instructors and texts for learning and brings together community change agents to share actions, practices, ideas and outcomes with each other.They are held three times a year in communities across the country.The knowledge gained at the CLE events has been essential in Mi Casa’s efforts to build community between the three schools and many partners currently operating on the Lake Middle School Campus.

Lake is a turnaround school and home to a unique model including a charter school co-located with two public schools (one of which is being phased out).As a result, developing a shared vision for the Lake Campus and community has been a challenge.As one of the few organizations that serves students and families from each of the three co-located schools schools, Mi Casa is in a unique position to drive this work.Attending the recent CLE event in Texas with members of the administration from schools on the Lake Campus was a great opportunity to create a shared vision of community for the children and families at Lake.

The CLE experience in Texas was a great step forward in the efforts to build a shared community on the Lake Campus.In addition to strengthening the relationships with school leadership that are the basis of partnership, the conference offered an opportunity to create a shared vision for the Lake Community.The structure of the event allowed for open discussion of challenges and conflict in a safe way, and when the conference concluded the Lake team left with a vision for future collaboration and an action plan to get there.

Once back in Denver, Mi Casa staff and leadership from the co-located schools on the Lake Campus held the first of regularly scheduled “Shared Campus” meetings.The first meeting was highly productive and the group addressed several issues that have affected collaboration on the Lake Campus.Though much work remains to be done, there is consensus that to serve Lake families with high-quality educational and extracurricular activities, all the organizations operating on the campus must commit to strengthening and advancing collaborative efforts.

Mi Casa has learned a great deal from its years of work with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Leadership for Community Change project, which includes CLE events.

Here are a few of the guiding principles supported by Kellogg and implemented around the country to create positive social change:

Collective Leadership: Collective leadership relies on the strength of relationships with an emphasis on inclusion. Collective leadership is possible when the members of a group, motivated by a common purpose, build respectful relationships with each other and co-construct their shared purpose and work.

Gracious Space: Developing collective leadership for community change requires the capacity to build effective partnerships that operate from a place of caring, connection, and purpose. In order to cultivate these relationships, we need safe, supportive space where trust can grow. Gracious Space provides a container for deepening relationships and having challenging conversations.

Racial Equity: Anyone involved in work that seeks to make communities healthier, more just and inclusive is aware of the effects of racism. Many institutions do not serve people of color well or have been unable to undo the lingering effects of past practices. Carrying out social change in communities requires that we address racial equity.

Youth Engagement: Youth are commonly viewed by adults as future leaders. But some take a different view, believing that youth have important gifts and perspectives to offer now to improve our communities. Adults who partner with youth to work together on critical issues of communities can achieve greater progress.

Learn more about Mi Casa’s work at www.MiCasaResourceCenter.org

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Celebrating the Success of Mi Casa's Case Management Program





The Mi Casa Neighborhood Center, located at Lake Middle School in northwest Denver, offers afterschool enrichment programs, including case management for kids who need extra support to succeed in school and make positive choices.

Recently, the families involved in Mi Casa’s case management program got together for a holiday party, organized by Mi Casa’sYouth Advocates Lauren Brown and Jereme Snidar. Thanks to a partnership with the Denver Police Department, Lauren and Jereme saw to it that each of the 20 families received Christmas presents for every child in the family, as well as a big bad of food to make the holiday meal even more special. In addition to enjoying a delicious and healthy meal provided by Revolution Foods, the families decorated holiday cards for kids who had to spend Christmas at Children’s Hospital.

Mi Casa collected feedback from families on the impact that the case management program has had in their child’s life. The comments were incredibly positive, proving that the case management program – and the afterschool enrichment programs at Mi Casa – is having a measurable impact in the lives of youth in our community.

Here is a sample of results from the survey:

  • 92% of parents strongly agree that the Mi Casa case management program is helpful to their child and valuable to them as a parent
  • 100% of parents agree or strongly agree that their child has shown improvement at home and at school due to participation in Mi Casa’s case management program
  • 100% of parents strongly agree that Mi Casa’s Youth Advocates are friendly, responsive, and approachable; respectful of them and their children; and highly trustworthy

Mi Casa also asked parents to comment specifically on how the case management program at Mi Casa has impacted their child. One parent said she now sees her son thinking before he acts. Another parent noted that social interactions with his child have improved, which makes working together easier. One mom said due to the influence of her children’s advocate, she now has better communication with her daughters; they can talk about problems and resolve them without fighting. Another parent said her daughter’s GPA has improved, and she sees her being more interactive with her teachers and counselors. And finally, one parent observed that his son is not only able to communicate better with adults, but is more able to control his anger.

Each case managed youth at Mi Casa is paired with a Youth Advocate that meets with the child several times a week, attends classes with her/him, and develops a relationship with their family through monthly home visits.

Mi Casa’s successful case management model relies on these key strategies for youth success:

  • Assess needs of youth and families and develop/implement a plan to meet the needs
  • Develop plans to reduce risk factors at home, including helping adults access training, services and therapy
  • Provide high-quality afterschool/summer enrichment programs for youth
  • Connect youth to tutoring and homework assistance; attend class with students for extra support.
  • Provide meaningful incentives for participation, reaching goals, and showing improvement
  • Facilitate positive relationships between law enforcement and youth; advocate for youth involved in the court system

The Lake Middle School campus is home to three distinct but co-located schools. Administrators from all three of these schools have expressed their appreciation of the support and guidance Mi Casa’s case management program provides individual students and the entire school community.

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Tim Marquez Offers Encouragement to Local Entrepreneurs




Tim Marquez, Founder/CEO of Venoco, Inc., was the keynote speaker at Mi Casa’s November 3rd Business Networking and Resource Fair. He spoke about his humble upbringing in southwest Denver and how he managed to build a billion-dollar company out of an initial equity stake of $3,000. “I could list 100 things I didn’t have going for me,” Marquez said of his early years at the helm of Venoco. “But I’m hard headed, tenacious and persistent – that’s what I had going for me.”

Marquez went on to say that he thinks starting a business to get rich is a terrible idea. “You have to start with something you are passionate about and build an organization around other people who are fired up and care about what they do,” Marquez told the crowd of about 130. “It was two years between the time I started Venoco and when I closed the first deal,” Marquez said. “There was a lot of pain and rejection along the way.”

“I made a lot of mistakes in business – I continue to make mistakes,” said Marquez. “But that’s OK, because as long as you don’t make the same mistakes, you’re good.” Marquez encouraged the entrepreneurs in attendance to continue to take advantage of the small business resources offered by Mi Casa and take every opportunity to network with each other and seek advice.

To the right are a few photos from the event:

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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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