Celebrating 75 Years of Student Success
For more than 75 years, Denver Kids has walked alongside tens of thousands of students, through opportunities and challenges that varied dramatically for each cohort and each generation. From the impact of war, to the ever-changing landscape of civil rights and social challenges, to a global pandemic—Denver Kids has always been attuned to the needs and dreams of the youth we serve, and has successfully pivoted through dramatically changing times to best support our students and ensure they achieve success.
In 2021, we celebrated our 75-year legacy, which includes always being prepared for what’s next. We’re constantly evolving how to strengthen our program to best meet the needs of the determined, brilliant students we work with every day.
Please come on a journey with us through the history of Denver Kids. As you do, we humbly ask you to consider what your role can be in our next 75 years, knowing the difference it will make for tens of thousands of young people who are full of potential and promise.
When Denver Kids launched in 1946—known then as Denver Boys—as a collaborative effort by the Rotary Club of Denver and Denver Public Schools (DPS), it was a tough time in the country and in Colorado. With WWII taking many fathers out of their homes—and sadly, with many of them not returning—there was an alarming trend of their sons dropping out of school to help support the family. Denver Boys’ core mission was to help these young men graduate high school and gain employment.
By the late 1940’s, Denver Boys began pairing students with Counselors and had established an annual Career Day event that provided more than 5,000 full and part time jobs to boys in Denver.
In just a few short years, the organization grew to employ five full-time Counselors and, with the support of the State Employment Service and the Denver Recreation Department, served as the only employment service in Denver for young boys.
Seeing the benefits of experiential opportunities even then, Counselors began to coordinate an array of youth development opportunities with Boy Scouts of America, YMCA, and several community centers, making it possible for 100 Denver Boys to participate in annual camping trips.
By the 1960’s, Denver Boys had evolved to serve as a major jobs pipeline. In the span of 18 years since the program launched, we had provided counseling support to 670 boys and placed 25,268 with jobs. As many as 188 Denver Rotarians served as “sponsors” to boys in the program, which was the very beginning of our mentorship program.
College loan funding was granted to 100 Denver Boys.
By the 1970’s, it became increasingly apparent that female students could also benefit from counseling, mentoring and educational opportunities. As a result, Denver Girls was founded by the Zonta Club of Denver and the Junior League, with the support of the Rotary Club of Denver and DPS.
Referrals started pouring in, with the Denver Girls Executive Director alone serving 50 girls in the first year.
As awareness of Denver Girls grew, along with the successes of the program participants, so did the demand for serving more students. Additional private funding was acquired to expand support to more than 300 girls, including many teen moms. Once it became clear that Denver Girls was significantly dropping the teen pregnancy rate for girls in our program, a full-time position was created solely to support teen moms, who were increasingly referred by Denver Public Schools.
“We had very few teen pregnancies once students joined our program. Even then, they still graduated from high school more frequently and went to college,” says former Denver Girls Executive Director, Margaret Fomer. “We worked to eliminate the stigma of what girls could aspire to, and show them options beyond motherhood, such as becoming a doctor, engineer, or scientist.”
In 1993, recognizing that together they would be more effective and could reach far more students, Denver Boys and Denver Girls merged, becoming Denver Kids. Alongside the merger, the Denver Public Schools Superintendent was able to help acquire funding to serve our entire 1995 class. The increased resources and efficiencies created by combining the administration of both organizations meant that more dollars were funneled directly into serving close to 700 students annually, with 22 staff members.
Denver Kids began to serve students based on the geographic quadrants of the city. This allowed staff to strengthen relationships with schools and neighborhoods, and wrap their students in additional community resources—from housing to food banks and doctors—to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of each young person.
In the first decade of the new millennium, the environment for our students included ongoing challenges like increased poverty, gang violence, substance abuse and teen pregnancy. With different circumstances, but the same core needs of students in 1946, these young people needed someone to believe in them, to set expectations, and to hold them accountable to meet those expectations. They needed Denver Kids to provide attention, time, structure, love, and respect.
By 2010, the organization hit a milestone, serving approximately 1,000 students annually. We also refined our focus on career development, establishing first a pilot and then a full-time team to help our students find meaningful internships, and planting the seeds for what would become our Future Options program, a foundational aspect of meeting the long-term planning goals of the students we serve.
In this decade, we continued to respond to the increased demand for youth support services and helped our students and families navigate the DPS school choice process. In 2019, Denver Kids merged with Denver Urban Scholars to leverage the over 100 years of combined expertise and grow to serve over 150 schools. We also began intentionally building and implementing Social and Emotional Learning into the foundation of our program as a key component to achieving life success, improving emotional awareness, attitudes, and behaviors, and higher academic achievement. The results of this intentional programming were notable.
89% of seniors either completed high school either on time or earned a high school diploma the following year.
On average, 90% of our graduating class pursued a post-secondary option.
Denver Kids focused reinvesting in infrastructure to ensure that our growing student population and staff had the necessary tools to succeed.
In 2020, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the needs of our students became more urgent and the disparities in education, access, and equity became even larger in Colorado and nationwide. As many of our students faced challenges at home due to job loss, internet and device access for remote learning, and added stresses of isolation, we leaned in to the long-term trust and connection we have built with our families to serve these new needs and create a virtual bridge between school and home.
Beyond coordinating internet and device access, we supported students to adjust to new ways of advocating for themselves and leveraging the support of their teachers in this new virtual landscape. We also provided essential social and emotional support in unprecedented circumstances.
Now that we’ve entered our next 75 years, we know from experience that we cannot anticipate or predict how the world will change, and how those changes will impact the young people we serve. What we do know is that Denver Kids will be beside them to support, encourage, and unlock their inherent potential at every step. We know that our adaptability as a program, our consistency and the trust we have built with students and families over the last 75+ years, our deep relationships with partners and schools, and the brilliant team of youth service professionals we work with will all carry us forward with strength, confidence, and measurable results.
And, we know we’ll continue to see the success and positive impact the tens of thousands of students we've served are making in the world, and we’ll remain in awe of the resilient, determined, brilliant young people we work with every day.
What we also know is that we would not be here without the generous support of the community: the funders, volunteers and partners who believe in us every day. We hope you will join us again in this next chapter, knowing the difference you will make.