Denver Human Services Sets Strategy for a Healthy, Connected Denver and Announces New Program for Immigrants and Refugees

February 1, 2019

Together with Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, Don Mares, executive director of Denver Human Services, today announced Human Together, a bold new vision for a Denver community where all people are connected, supported, safe, and well. The three-year framework identifies goals and strategies that include increasing equity and access, ensuring safety and wellness, improving connectivity, encouraging economic resilience, and supporting a healthy and connected workforce.

“We are constantly working to preserve the diversity, culture and character of the Mile High City. That means ensuring every Denver resident has the opportunity to make a home, get a job, and build a future,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “We’re aiming to better understand why people are needing services in the first place, and Human Together lays out our plan to support a healthy and connected community where no one gets left behind.”

As an example of how the vision is already taking shape, DHS today formally launched a new community-focused program to support and connect with immigrants and refugees. Key components of the program include offering the Denver Public Library’s Plaza Program at Human Services locations to assist immigrants and refugees with citizenship classes, conversational English, art therapy, and resource navigation. The program also includes convening discussions around housing equity and accessibility across the region for immigrants and refugees, and ongoing events in the community like Family Preparedness classes, including one at Greenwood Academy in Montbello on February 6 at 8:30 a.m.

“Today, one in three people in Denver receive support from Denver Human Services,” said Don Mares, executive director of DHS. “Through our work, we are able to bring together hundreds of supports for people in Denver when they need it most. Given our strong connections to the community, we have a tremendous opportunity to help those in need and perhaps even to prevent people from needing our services in the first place.”

At Thursday’s event, selected students from Denver Public Schools’ Place Bridge Academy presented their responses to a special project about what being connected, supported, safe, and well looks like. Place Bridge Academy is one of three Denver Public Schools that is home to DHS’ school-based social caseworker program.

Human Together will inform and guide Denver Human Services’ work over the next three years and will serve as a tool to continue developing strategic partnerships, best practices and employee and client engagement, including ways to address the root causes leading to the need for services.

A strategy for creating equity and access includes reducing stigma around asking for help when you need it. To begin that effort, DHS also unveiled its new #BeHuman brand campaign at Thursday’s event. The campaign features real stories from employees, customers, and residents and a new, easier-to-navigate website. The campaign’s key messages of “Let’s Start Where You Are,” and “Together, We’ve Got This,” are meant to evoke the sense of a community that is accepting and supportive, not judgmental or critical of your situation.

“If you need a little help, which we all do at times, you don’t have to have everything all figured out. Let’s start where you are and together we’ll build a better future,” said Mares.

“Having a social caseworker onsite has helped our DPS staff and students tremendously,” said Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova. “Teachers, staff and families have a better understanding of what services are available to them and get quicker access to resources, tools and support. Together, we can help all Denver families stay healthy and safe.”

“The mission of the Denver Public Library is to connect people to information, ideas, and experiences,” said Michelle Jeske, city librarian. “For some of our customers, that means connections to critical resources, like those offered by Denver Human Services. The social workers and peer navigators we have on staff make sure people have the access they need, and Denver Human Services serves as an important partner in the work we are doing for our vulnerable community.”

“Denver is home to a thriving community of immigrants and refugees who contribute each day to the culture and growth of our city,” said Victoria Aguilar, immigrant and refugee services program manager. “Denver Human Services’ vision is for all Denver residents to be connected to supports that keep them safe and well. To improve our connections with Denver’s immigrant and refugee communities, we have developed a meaningful, community-led Immigrant and Refugee Program that aims to improve the delivery of services to these communities.”

“When I was younger, I had certain ideas about how life would be. Then reality hits. There’s a difference between what you think and what you do.” said DHS employee and former client Bev Lucero. “Having community supports at the right time helped me and my young family, and now I can give back through my daily role with the department.”

Remarks from DPS students:

“Being safe means to be comfortable in a place that is meant to protect. It is a place where your race, sexual orientation, or social class isn’t supposed to matter. A place where you can speak up for what standards you believe in and where you don’t have to worry about school shootings, family problems, or social media problems because teachers, administrators, and deans put their life on the line for your safety. Being safe is in a place where people want you to express who you are and who you’re planning to be because being safe is not just about protecting, but also about support.” – Emmy

“Being supported is acknowledging at least one person that demonstrates care. Support is having someone that doesn’t criticize any of your actions, but rather attempts to comprehend your motives. I remember being afraid of certain situations that scared me at the time, but I kept doing them. When I faced a serious issue, my grandmother was the one that supported me, so I opened up to her and she helped me return to an adequate state of mind.” – Irina

“Students feel well when they are comfortable and not having any worrisome type of behaviors. They should be able to go through the day freely, feeling calm and knowing there’s nothing to be uncomfortable about. For example, there can be a time where some students feel uncomfortable and anxious when they are in a situation where they are not able to cope with their surroundings. If this does happen, then there should be a place and a time for them where they are able to relieve their situation and stress and get back to a place where they’re in a comfortable position to continue their normal activities.” – Ro Win

“Having support from many teachers at Place creates a safe environment for many of the students because they know they have someone to trust and vent to. Also having to see the diversity students can say, “Wow! I really belong here!” or “there really is my ‘Place’!” As part of student council, we are working towards helping students find their place in this school.” – Grace

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