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All politics may be local. All social impact is personal.

As Amy noted in her recent blog post, the Community Wealth Partners team has begun to study transformational efforts in the social sector. Over the next few months, we will be interviewing leaders who have not only had the courage to set bold goals to end social problems, but have made substantive strides in achieving those goals.

We recently spoke with Christine Benero, CEO of Mile High United Way, who gave us a glimpse into Denver’s Road Home (DRH), a city-wide plan to end homelessness in Denver.  We learned from Christine that rallying the masses was and continues to be a critical component of their success in ending homelessness.

So how do you engage the unengaged? If a mass of people are needed to drive change, how do you connect with those people who, on the surface, have no reason to connect?

You have to make it personal. For everyone.

As the owner of a downtown restaurant in Denver, John Hickenlooper saw the homeless population rise just outside his door. He saw the impact on the individuals themselves, on his customers, his business and the downtown streets and was struck by the growth and injustice of the issue. As a man who was committed to improving his community, he was touched by the injustice of this issue and sought to bring together those that could help to make a difference.

John decided that this was an issue the city could address. And John, who happened to be the Mayor of Denver in addition to being a restaurateur, decided that this was an issue the city would change. Together.

John had the foresight to know that just as he saw and touched the issue, the community needed to have the same experience in order for this initiative to take hold.  John and Denver’s Road Home have fostered such personal connections through three key mechanisms:

  • Education: Through the use of community ambassadors and a focus on facts, DRH has helped to break down many stereotypes around homelessness. Community members are provided with tools and opportunities to spread the word.
  • Tangible Reminders: Creative initiatives such as Denver’s Donation Meter Program (86 parking meters across the city repurposed to collect change to end homelessness), the city’s Annual PJ Day (consisting of races and fundraisers) and bumper stickers commonly seen through the city help to maintain the community’s interest in the issue.
  • Participation: From mentoring a family to sponsoring an agency, to participating in town hall meetings there are ample opportunities for the members of the community to be a part of the initiative.

The issue of homelessness and the effective solutions available have gained traction because John and DRH fostered personal connections and built widespread support across the city. The unengaged became the engaged.

By building a mass of supporters DRH was able to gain the attention of policy makers and to secure government funding, enabling the organization to begin implementing effective solutions and system changes for ending homelessness.

We’ll continue to discuss the relationship between policy and social change throughout this series.


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Renee Baiorunos

About Renee Baiorunos

In her role as director, Renee Baiorunos engages in strategic partnerships with leadership teams, provides client engagement oversight and supports the overall growth and development of the firm. Renee has worked extensively with organizations in the areas of education and youth development, community and economic development, health and hunger. She leads client engagements with a core focus on strategy design and implementation, growth planning and stakeholder engagement and management.

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