Home­less pro­gram rooted in prac­ti­cal­ity

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Char­lie Bren­nan

boul­der» A pi­lot project by Boul­der in which the re­cently home­less are put to work us­ing wood from felled emer­ald ash trees for crafts projects — en­abling them to hone skills pre­par­ing them for em­ploy­ment — is be­ing called a suc­cess, sev­eral months af­ter its launch.

The city this month con­cluded its first ses­sion of “Tree De­bris to Op­por­tu­nity” with clients from the Bridge House Ready to Work Pro­gram.

They mas­tered ac­tiv­i­ties rang­ing from wood­work­ing to laser print­ing and re­lated com­puter ap­pli­ca­tions, in con­vert­ing trees lost to the in­va­sive emer­ald ash borer into items such as cut­ting boards or in­tri­cate but­ter­fly or­na­ments.

Margo Josephs su­per­vised the pro­gram through her role as man­ager for com­mu­nity part­ner­ships and out­reach in Boul­der’s Parks and Re­cre­ation De­part­ment. She said three women and four men com­pleted the first ses­sion, run­ning from Septem­ber to early De­cem­ber, with one more par­tic­i­pant drop­ping out due to per­sonal rea­sons.

“It’s been pretty in­cred­i­ble for us to have got­ten to know them and to see their trans­for­ma­tion through this pro­gram,” Josephs said. “They have all taken some­thing dif­fer­ent out of it, but it has all been im­pact­ful to their per­sonal lives.”

Boul­der re­ceived a grant of $200,000 ear­lier this year to sup­port the pro­gram on “Tree De­bris to Op­por­tu­nity” par­tic­i­pants mas­tered ac­tiv­i­ties rang­ing from wood­work­ing to laser print­ing and re­lated com­puter ap­pli­ca­tions. an 18-month pi­lot ba­sis, the money com­ing as an award through the $5 mil­lion Knight Cities Chal­lenge hosted by the Knight Foun­da­tion. The chal­lenge is staged in 26 com­mu­ni­ties around the United States that were once home to news­pa­pers owned by the broth­ers John and James Knight.

“The point of the Knight Cities Chal­lenge is that we are look­ing for new so­lu­tions and new in­no­va­tions to ei­ther de­velop or re­tain tal­ent, to cre­ate eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity, and, fi­nally, to fur­ther civic en­gage­ment,” said Ge­orge Ab­bott, Knight Cities Chal­lenge project lead.

He called the “Tree De­bris to Op­por­tu­nity” pro­gram “a re­ally unique way to ad­dress a com­mu­nity prob­lem. The fact is that all of the wood has to be cut down and there’s not a lot of use for it. This way, it is used in a pro­duc­tive way, to de­velop skills and to cre­ate eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity for par­tic­i­pants in the pro­gram.”

“For the par­tic­i­pants, we were, I guess, sur­prised — we didn’t know how in­ter­ested they would be in this, and this turned out to be their fa­vorite three hours of the week,” Josephs said. Other than the one par­tic­i­pant who dropped out, she said, “Ev­ery­one came to ev­ery class. That said a lot about what they learned.

“This was one of the first op­por­tu­ni­ties many of these in­di­vid­u­als have had, in a long time, to be creative and to ac­tu­ally have in­put into the out­come of (solv­ing) a prob­lem.”

While some in the Bridge House Ready to Work pro­gram have been re­cently in­car­cer­ated, that was only the case with two who took part in Ses­sion 1 of the tree pro­gram this fall. What they all do have in com­mon is that they are all tran­si­tion­ing out of home­less­ness.

Some are also fac­ing the chal­lenge of liv­ing in so­bri­ety — Josephs said that the but­ter­fly or­na­ments were in­spired by a young woman who saw the de­sign as a sym­bol of her emer­gence from ad­dic­tion.

Bryce Roines­tad, 23, was liv­ing out of a tent in Longmont’s Hover Park be­fore be­ing ac­cepted into the Ready to Work pro­gram ear­lier this year. He had some back­ground in work­ing with a laser cut­ter, and with Adobe Il­lus­tra­tor and Inkscape graph­ics soft­ware, even be­fore join­ing Boul­der’s ini­tia­tive.

“The pro­gram al­lowed me to branch out from what I knew pre­vi­ously and ac­tu­ally take a new, more creative ap­proach,” Roines­tad said.

“Tree De­bris to Op­por­tu­nity” is, Ge­orge Ab­bott says, “a re­ally unique way to ad­dress a com­mu­nity prob­lem. The fact is that all of the wood has to be cut down and there’s not a lot of use for it.” Pho­tos cour­tesy of city of Boul­der

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