On a bright corner in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Denver, Colorado you'll find an urban garden cultivated by a grassroots community. The corner is brimming with native flowers, several beehives, a year-round greenhouse, an onsite composting system, and bountiful organic produce. This garden is home to EarthLinks, an innovative non-profit that cultivates transformation and self-worth with people experiencing homelessness and poverty. By creating opportunities through Earth-centered programs, individuals step out of isolation and into community-restoring each other and the planet.
Individuals experiencing homelessness find community and inspiration through EarthLinks' Workshop Program, a social enterprise that prioritizes connection to nature as a means of healing. The heart of the program is the EarthLinks urban garden, where participants learn to cultivate the Earth and develop new skills. In the Workshop Program, artisan products are carefully crafted by participants with sustainable materials. The products are sold online, in the EarthLinks store, and at festivals throught Denver, and proceeds are returned to participants as stipends for their work. Through the program, participants discover a new understanding and respect for Earth, themselves and one another. In Workshop, participants are centered in an accepting community, encouraged on their road to stability and resiliency.
EarthLinks also creates systemic change by contributing to local, sustainable food systems. By growing and distributing their own food, EarthLinks participants and other beneficiaries (such as visitors to the neighborhood food bank), divest themselves from industrial agriculture systems that thrive on the exploitation of humans and the earth. EarthLinks' focus on environmental sustainability ripples outward to broader communities and systems. Staff also sit on several boards addressing issues of homelessness and food access.
In 2020, 22% of participants identified as Black, 22% as Latino, 11% as Native American, and 45% as white. 45% had a history of substance misuse, 48% were victims of domestic violence, 63% had a history of mental illness, and 70% had a documented disability. All participants have experienced homelessness, and 100% have an income below the Federal Poverty Guideline of $12,760. Our census was reduced in 2020 to 60 persons (normally 85) as a result of state and federal social distancing requirements. In 2021, as COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease and new participants complete the orientation process, we expect to serve 65-70 participants.
In 2020, despite the pandemic, 78% (47 of 60) EarthLinks participants found or maintained housing. Additionally, participants helped to harvest 1,346 lbs. from the garden and helped craft 4,664 products from sustainable materials. After 1 year in the program, participants reported an average of 8.5% improvement on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem scale. Participants earned $27,493 in stipends earned by participants and an additional $15,548 in "paid-time-off" was provided to participants while the Workshop program was closed due to COVID-19. 2,270 day bus passes were disbursed and hundreds of native and/or heirloom plants grown and sold at our annual Mother's Day Plant Sale.
In 2019 Workshop served 75 unique individuals and 81% of participants obtained and/or maintained stable housing! Participants also grew over 1,499 lbs of healthy, organically grown produce in the EarthLinks Garden in 2019, and created over 10,683 sustainable products. Participants defined a total of 310 goals for 2019; participants with one year or more in the program achieved 59% of their set goals and participants with less than 12 months achieved 39% of their set goals. Becoming housed and gaining stability often gives individuals the opportunity to focus on needs and goals beyond survival. Additionally, participants who have been in the program longer have a stronger connection to community, and a stronger connection to nature. We have found a powerful correlation emerge in our statistics: People who are more connected to our community have a stronger sense of self-esteem, indicating that our work to build a strong community also serves to strengthen each individual. In 2019 we arranged for an outside consultant to conduct listening sessions with participants to garner their evaluation of EarthLinks' programming. Community building was the foremost benefit of programming identified by the participants in the evaluation, signaling the success of the EarthLinks Workshop Program in fostering community engagement. Our holistic, intersectional programming allows our organization to support accomplishments in many areas of participant's lives.
In 2018 Workshop served 73 unique individuals and 82% of participants obtained and/or maintained stable housing! Of the 67 participants who defined 253 goals for 2018, participants with one year or more in the program achieved 58% of their set goals and participants with less than 12 months achieved only 28% of their set goals. Of the 67 participants who set a personal goal, 89% achieved at least one of their set goals. Additionally, participants who have been in the program longer have higher self-esteem, a stronger connection to community, and a stronger connection to nature. We also show a correlation in our statistics that the people who are more connected to our community have a stronger sense of self-esteem, indicating that our work to build strong community also serves to strengthen each individual. 18 of the 73 participants volunteered 418 total hours during 2018.
In 2017, Workshop served 73 unique individuals and 58% of participants obtained and/or maintained housing! Furthermore, 32% of participants who were in the program between 1-2 years and 79% of participants who were in the program for longer than two years have obtained/maintained stable housing. Of participants who have been in the program longer than 6 months, 92% accomplished a personal goal. Additionally, participants who have been in the program longer have higher self-esteem, a stronger connection to community, and a stronger connection to nature. We also show a correlation in our statistics that the people who are more connected to our community have a stronger sense of self-esteem, indicating that our work to build strong community also serves to strengthen each individual. 18 of the 73 participants volunteered 776 total hours during 2017.
In 2016, Workshop served 67 unique individuals and 60% of participants obtained and/or maintained housing! Furthermore, 54% of participants who were in the program between 1-2 years and 80% of participants who were in the program for longer than two years have obtained or maintained stable housing. Of participants who have been in the program longer than 6 months, 80% accomplished a personal goal. 23 of the 67 participants volunteered 531 total hours during 2016.
In 2015, 73 unique individuals participated in our workshop
community. Also, our workshop participants bravely faced so much in 2015 - lack of housing, economic poverty, physical and mental health challenges, transportation barriers, among others. Yet they worked hard towards stability,
obtaining housing (70%) in a difficult housing market, forming supportive community among one another and communicating their worth to our whole Earth community through their work, knowledge, gifts and artistry. Participants also engaged in more than 6,100 hours of workshop, enrichment and volunteer time with EarthLinks in 2015.
In 2014, 70 unique individuals participated in the Workshop Program. Participants worked hard to move our facility to our new location in Sun Valley and moved the garden, bit by bit in pots and other containers! 50% of Participants also volunteered with EarhLinks, and participants engaged in more than 5,900 hours of workshop, enrichment and volunteer time with EarthLinks in 2014. 79% of participants maintained housing during the period, and 80% moved towards completing another personal goal during the period.
In 2013, EarthLinks hosted 68 unique individuals in the Workshop Program, and 74% of those maintained stable housing while in our program. Sales of products created in the workshop accounted for 10% of our income during the year. 100% of workshop participants gained a positive connection with the EarthLinks community and 40% of them volunteered with EarthLinks in addition to their stipended work.
In 2012, EarthLinks had 72 participants in the paid workshop and garden program. At any given time, due to size, staff and funding limitations, we can accept 50 adult participants in the program. Participants who continue to meet our income guidelines are not expected to leave the program upon attaining more stable housing. Instead, we encourage participants who have obtained some housing to remain with the program and be supported during their transition by a supportive and caring community. In 2012, approximately 15% of our budget was funded by sales of the products created in the EarthLinks workshop. Sales of the products indicate the quality of the work produced in the workshop and the skill brought to bear by the participants to their work. Participants also grew 445 lbs of healthy, organically grown produce in the Peace Garden in 2012, including collards, mustard greens, tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkins and other vegetables and fruit. With fresh produce being all but unknown to this community, this marks tremendous success.
Disabled, General or Disability unspecified
The Trips into Nature program offers individuals experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty the opportunity to explore natural landscapes across the Colorado front-range at no cost. Participants build a sense of connection with one another and enlarge their sense of community to include the natural world. We provide transportation, food, facilitation and interpretive guides for these ventures into nature. Participants return refreshed, recharged, and ready to take on the challenges they face.
In 2021, we hope to resume the Trips into Nature Program.
In 2020, the program was on hiatus due to COVID-19.
In 2019, 84 participants (32 unique individuals) attended 9 Trips into Nature.
Poor, Economically Disadvantaged, Indigent
Young Adults (20-25 years)
EarthLinks Coffee Co. is founded on the principles of sustainability and opportunity. With the garden in the backyard, we hope that everyone who walks through our doors will bloom.
Beginning in fall, 2021, individuals facing barriers to employment, such as a disability, risk or history of homelessness, or criminal history will staff the Coffee Shop. Employees will also engage a six-month Professional Development curriculum. The EarthLinks Coffee Co. Professional Development Program will use part-time work in our environmentally conscious coffee shop as the context for learning. The curriculum will be designed and implemented by Kevin Person. Kevin is also the manager of the coffee shop and an individual with lived experience of homelessness. The curriculum will include interview training, resume building, and job-search classes; basic budgeting and personal finance instruction; self-care guidance; and more. Additionally, we intend to provide coaching on how to leverage local resources, which will increase participants' ability to access education, housing, and healthcare. Program participants will graduate after six months with real-world employment experience; enhanced professional, personal, and interpersonal skills; and improved self-esteem.
EarthLinks Coffee Co. will operate alongside our current flagship program, Workshop.
EarthLinks Coffee Co debuted summer, 2021. We will measure success by the percentage of program participants who complete the full program, the percentage of completing participants that find a job after the program, and the average increase in participants' self-esteem during the program. We will consider ourselves successful when 65% of participants who begin the program finish the full six-month curriculum, 75% of participants who finish the curriculum find a job within sixty days, and participants completing the program average a 10% increase in self-esteem, according to the Rosenberg Self-Esteem scale.