By:Brendan Landry Issue: Collaborative Leadership Section: Community
Denver’s Approach to Prosperity
Raise your hand if you’ve been affected by our “current economic situation.”
Okay, I won’t bother counting all the hands. We know it’s a problem and they tell us it’s going to continue to be a problem. And we can harp on that until we are blue in the face, if we are so inclined. But let’s not; let’s instead flip the script and talk about some solutions.
Allow me to throw a word out there to get us started…Prosperity. Refreshing, isn’t it? Long before our slight economic lull turned into an out-and-out recession, community leaders in Denver were looking for long term solutions that would bolster the local economy by taking advantage of existing assets in the Denver community, and this idea of prosperity was exactly what they had in mind. City Councilman at-Large Doug Linkhart and Andre Pettigrew, then executive director of Denver’s Office of Economic Development, were the masterminds behind the Economic Prosperity Task Force, a group convened in March 2008 to tackle this issue and brainstorm innovative avenues to greater prosperity citywide. Linkhart and Pettigrew brought together an impressive roundtable of policy makers, business representatives, nonprofit agencies, and community leaders and started the conversation about ways these different sectors should be collaborating to better support individuals and families moving toward economic prosperity.
One of the most innovative solutions that arose from those conversations was the Economic Prosperity Center at King M. Trimble, a collaboration between local government agencies, banks and credit unions, and a handful of nonprofit organizations that centralized "building block" services and offered a one-stop shop for economic success. The goal of the project was to increase citizen access to a coordinated system of career advancement opportunities, financial information and products, and asset developments services. “My vision for the Center,” offers Councilman Doug Linkhart, “is to have a place where someone who dropped in from outer space could go and find out everything there is to know about how to earn and manage money, a place for people to go, in which nonprofits and government work side-by-side to help people become financially secure and prosperous.”
The initial task force recognized that most of these services exist in Denver, but the missing ingredient was a convenient central access point. From research on similar projects going on in other cities, the core partners knew that the idea of "intentional integration and bundling of services" in a convenient location was central to the success of the project.
Therefore, the partners began eyeballing the King M. Trimble Center in Denver’s historic Five Points neighborhood to be that convenient location. The Mile High United Way, Denver Asset Building Coalition, the Office of Economic Development, and Denver Housing Authority are the most prominent partners, but several other service provider partners have pitched in to round out the menu of services that can be accessed at the center on a weekly basis. These service provider partners include Wells Fargo Bank, Denver Community Credit Union, College in Colorado, College Invest, and the Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute, and on any given day, Denver residents can access a wide variety of services that includes résumé writing and job search support, basic computer classes, financial education workshops, business development support, and free tax help. The center also refers people to related services that are not offered directly at the center.
The beauty of the entire model is that typical users can gain immediate access to a huge amount of resources and opportunity simply by walking through the door. For example, job seekers would get help with their immediate needs, but also would get exposure to the entire mix of services at the center. Instead of just getting one-time employment support, job seekers can access multiple forms of support and all of a sudden, their resume is improved and they are exploring the possibility of business ownership, opening a bank account, or learning about identify theft protection. And, before they leave, they set up appointments to get their taxes done, which will ensure that they receive a solid return later in the year. Okay, so it isn’t always going to happen this way, but the possibility exists. True prosperity comes when support services offer options and stability to the clientele, and that is the aim of the center.
The core partners believe it is this service mix that really sets the Economic Prosperity Center at King M. Trimble apart from similar projects. While most projects do provide some level of support services, the focus is mostly around making public assistance systems more accessible. At the center, the focus is based more on increasing self-sufficiency of Denver residents. “The service mix the Center offers,” says Project Director, Ursla Null, “is an innovative approach to helping families build self-sufficiency, stabilize their finances, and move ahead.”
The center serves as a pilot project for this bundled approach to providing these economic support services, and the core partners hope to eventually replicate the center in other Denver neighborhoods so that, in the long run, families and individuals all across Denver have increased access to similar types of services. While the model will remain true to the "centralized location" theory, the replication process will add in a new wrinkle, relying heavily on web-based and social media resources to keep families and individuals connected to resources and opportunities that are important to their economic situation. The web-based approach will provide a new level of connectivity for families at all stages of the economic strata, and it serves as a cost effective approach to scaling up the work that is already being done at the Economic Prosperity Center at King M. Trimble.
Hopes are very high for the impact that the center will have on Denver’s economic prosperity, and the partners across all sectors are fully committed to the model. “Mile High United Way is proud to be a founding partner in the creation of the Economic Prosperity Center at King M. Trimble,” says Christine Benero, president and chief executive officer at Mile High United Way. “This innovative, neighborhood-based model provides the knowledge and the tools individuals and families need to navigate toughhttp://www.icosa.co/magazine/wp-admin/post.php?post=1072&action=edit economic times and set themselves, and our entire community, up for success in self-sufficiency that goes far beyond the short-term.”
There is no doubt about the lingering and widespread effects of the economic downturn. It is a reality that must be dealt with in a manner that may render our once failsafe tools ineffective. But at least in Denver, the conversation has changed and the building blocks to prosperity are beginning to fall into place. To learn more about the mission and the partners at the Economic Prosperity Center at King M. Trimble, visit www.denvergov.org/economicprosperitycenter or call 720-865-2430.