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Mental health

Group invests in improving mental wellness

Jeffco-based Community First Foundation hosts grant event in September


Donating money to untested ideas in their infancy is a big ask for many philanthropic organizations with limited funds.

Not long ago Noah Atencio, vice president of community impact at Community First Foundation, and Cheryl Haggstrom, executive vice president of Community First, were discussing this very problem.

“Usually, organizations like us give our money to evidence-based ideas, but we wanted to make an impact on ideas that aren’t proven — yet,” Atencio said. “We also wanted to have more community engagement opportunities, and that led to an idea.”

Community First, an organization that helps connect nonprofits and donors, is hosting a large-scale pitch event to benefit the Innovators Society. The society is dedicated to improving mental wellness options for Coloradoans by investing in new mental health care ideas.

The event will be Sept. 30, at the Lakewood Cultural Center, and will put $500,000 in grant money in the hands of local leaders to donate to the organization they see fit.

Six organizations were selected by Community First last year to participate: Bright by Three, Clayton Early Learning, Project Helping, Carson J. Spencer Foundation, Im’Unique and CU-Denver, School of Public Affairs. All six have ideas to address the challenges of mental wellness, but their ideas had not yet been tried. Each received an initial grant of $25,000 and had nine months to develop ideas. On Sept. 30, they will share those ideas in the hopes of receiving more money for development.

“There will be around 250 audience members with around $1,800 to donate as they hear the pitches from these organizations,” Atencio said. “This is a pretty unprecedented approach to awarding money, and we’re excited about it.”

About 40 community leaders also will select one business to receive a grand prize of $50,000.

The organization decided to focus on mental wellness because of the lack of treatment options and to eliminate some of the stigma, Atencio said.

To help the organizations practice for their big pitch, Community First held a “scrimmage” on May 17.

“Participating in this event seemed like a great opportunity,” said Jared Wigdor, with Bright by Three. “We only have five minutes to make our pitch, so I’ve been working to communicate the important things the audience won’t hear elsewhere.”

The organizations still have three months to refine their approach, and while the event is new to almost all participants, it provides a chance to hear directly from the community.

“We come out of this process with real practice and feedback,” Widgor said. “Just getting that kind of feedback makes this a valuable experience.”


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