INSPIRED IMPACT is an ongoing blog series that gives voice to social entrepreneurs and leaders of mission-driven organizations who are making an impact in their communities, industries, and around the world.

 



 

Karen FoxKaren Fox Elwell is the President & CEO of Growing Home in Westminster, CO. Follow them on Facebook and LinkedIn and learn more at growinghome.org.

 

WHAT DO YOU DO?
I am the President & CEO of Growing Home, a 20-year-old nonprofit organization working to break the cycle of poverty for families. We do this by strengthening families by providing basic needs services, nurturing children by educating parents on their children’s development, and creating community through community organizing and advocacy to bring about systemic changes. This comprehensive approach allows Growing Home to address the needs of the whole person, whole family, and whole community to reach better and longer-lasting outcomes. We primarily serve families living in Adams County.

 

WHY DO YOU DO IT?
The seed that started Growing Home began when founder Kathleen Drozda met a homeless woman, who was fleeing a domestic violence situation, living in her car parked at the hospital where Drozda worked. This chance meeting awakened Drozda to the problem of suburban homelessness and was the spark that led her to start Growing Home. Over the years, Growing Home evolved from a temporary housing program to offer wrap-around services and dual-generation programs. This growth was conscious and intentional, as Growing Home’s leadership recognized that family homelessness has many contributing factors, and successfully addressing this problem requires multifaceted interventions that address the root causes of poverty. Today, Growing Home provides a wide variety of programs and intensive support to overcome obstacles to family self-sufficiency.

 

WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
In 2017, Growing Home served more than 6,000 families through our holistic services.

Our Strengthening Families basic needs programs had the following impact in 2017:

  • More than 1,100 families visited our food panty over 3,500 times, receiving enough food to prepare more than 155,500 meals.
  • We provided temporary housing to 18 families experiencing homelessness, and 72% of them moved into stable housing following our program.
  • 47 families avoided homelessness and remained stably housed through rent or mortgage assistance

Our Nurturing Children’s programs had the following impact in 2017:

  • We trained more than 400 caregivers on the development of their child.
  • As a result of these programs, parents increased their abilities to provide developmentally appropriate activities for their children; increased their use of positive parenting techniques; and increased their ability to provide a safe, welcoming environment for their child.

Our Creating Community programs engaged 75 community members in leadership development and/or community actions. Growing Home’s community group took action in areas of housing justice, food justice, and educational equity.

In addition to these impacts, Growing Home uses a neighbor-to-neighbor approach in two of our programs, tapping into a large cadre of volunteers from the community. Taking this approach raises awareness of the issue of poverty in the north metro suburbs and establishes a deeper understanding of the importance to act locally.

 

WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE THIS IMPACT?
I have many inspirations for this work. First, I am inspired every day by the families we work with at Growing Home. They have tremendous strengths, resilience, and hope for the future. Secondly, I am inspired by the Growing Home staff, volunteers, and board of directors. They are so passionate and dedicate countless hours to accomplish our mission of guiding children and their families on a path to a brighter future. Last, I’m inspired by my own family and life situations. My family planted in me a deep commitment to community involvement early in life. Then, a few years ago, I had an experience that made me understand first-hand how quickly things can change and how a family could find itself in a situation that made it hard to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. Two weeks before my due date, when I was pregnant with my son, I found out that my son potentially had a severe heart defect that would require three surgeries before he was thre-years-old. Right after birth, my son was rushed to the cardiac intensive-care unit and monitored closely for his first two weeks of life. We were lucky, and things didn’t turn out as badly as the doctors thought they might have been. But, had we not had health insurance, my husband and I would have gone into more than $100,000 worth of debt, all due to having a child with high medical costs! While we were fortunate to have health insurance, many other families who find themselves in that situation don’t have the same luxury, making the work we do at Growing Home so vital.

 

WHAT’S YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
The work of Growing Home is needed now more than ever. As families are being priced out of Denver proper, more families flood our community every day, and those families already living here are holding on with white knuckles to stay in their community and ensure their families thrive. Adams County is experiencing exponential growth; over the past decade, Adams County had a 10% increase in population. It now takes 2.7 full-time jobs at minimum wage to pay fair-market rent on a two-bedroom unit in Adams County. This puts the most vulnerable families at risk of not being able to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Despite this great need, Adams County does not have the resource network of Denver proper. While organizations in Denver maintain that they serve Adams County residents, families experience significant barriers to accessing those services. I dream of a day where every family in Adams County has the resources and supports that they need to thrive. We aspire for families to thrive where they are, leading to stronger communities. We want children to have improved stability at home and in their community. We imagine a community stabilized by its long-term residents infused with a strong feeling of pride, and lastly, we seek policy and legislative changes which will correct systemic problems that keep families in poverty.

 

WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU NEED TO MAKE THOSE DREAMS COME TRUE?
We know that the best way for us to accomplish our dreams and help more families is to increase our network of people who know and care about us. We need more people who are interested in supporting our mission through giving of time, talent, and treasure. We believe strongly in all that we do and that every one of our programs could be scaled up to help more families. The secret to this is growing our resources to support infrastructure growth, that in turn will support program expansion to serve more families.

 

WHAT IS (OR HAS BEEN) YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
We are currently facing some challenges with our Canopy Temporary Housing Program, Growing Home’s initial program on which the organization was built. This program provides a safe place and connection for families experiencing homelessness. Our model depends upon partnerships with faith-based congregations to host the families for a week at a time. We currently do not have enough congregations to cover all the weeks in the year, and for each week that we don’t have a congregational partner to provide food and/or space for the families, we have to pay to put the families in motels, taking away from funds available for homelessness prevention. We are in great need of recruiting more congregational partners in the north metro Denver area to assist with this program.

 

WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LEADERS LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT?
Find your passion and get involved! There are so many worthwhile programs and organizations in the area making a meaningful impact in the community.

 

HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Growing Home offers tours for the community to learn more about our work and how you can get involved. For more information and to sign up for a tour, please visit growinghome.org. Additionally, financial donations can be made at growinghome.org/donate/.

 


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