In 2009, Jacqueline Enriquez received a phone call in the middle of the night informing her that her two-month-old grandson was in the hospital and that her two-and-a-half-year-old grandson had been placed in foster care. Because her daughter, the mother of the boys, was in a domestic violence situation, Enriquez took over the care of her grandchildren.
To do this, she quit her job and moved from her home in Aurora to the Baker neighborhood of Denver. And Enriquez struggled with child protection to keep the kids. “Because I was involved with Child Protection, there was [were] many things I had to do,” she says. “I had to go to court to make sure I followed all their rules, and I couldn’t have anyone in my house without them having to do it. background check.”
While there was no doubt she would dedicate herself to her grandchildren, she says the damage done to her family relationship and her own life has been difficult to repair.
Finally, in August 2019, when her grandsons were older and more independent, she signed up for CrossPurpose, a nonprofit that has provided free career training to more than 600 people since its founding in 2014. She graduated from the program in January 2020.
Last month, Enriquez joined four other CrossPurpose graduates at Pitch Night, a fundraising event where they spoke about the companies they’d worked on through the organization’s change agency program and raised money for them. “People can submit and submit ideas,” said Karen Genzink, CrossPurpose’s former director of alumni services about the program. “We look at their ideas: is there substance behind them? And then they are invited to an information session where they learn about [the change agency program], and then an interview. We want to make sure they’re ready to take on the program. If they pass, they can join the program.”
This was the fourth year that CrossPurpose offers the change agency program. For nine months, the five CrossPurpose graduates met weekly to work on their business ideas ahead of Pitch Night.
“As a group, we worked together on our pitches and many other things that come with entrepreneurship,” explains Andrea Carter, one of the graduates. “We had a budget course where we had to put all our finances together to estimate how much it would cost to run the business and how much it would cost to be involved.”
On Pitch Night, Enriquez shared her vision for Beloved Grandfamilies, a nonprofit that supports grandparents in raising grandchildren and empowers them to avoid child protection issues. Her goals ultimately include providing affordable housing for grandparents who may need to leave their own homes or retirement home to raise their grandchildren; Beloved extended families would also help provide car seats, formula and other materials needed by children. There would be mediation tools to work with child protection and avoid the challenges she faced with that city service.
“It was an invasion of privacy,” Enriquez recalls. “I didn’t have any rights because everything I did had to get approval. I was kind of in a system where I was a criminal or something. I’m not saying child protection doesn’t have to be there, but I think there are other ways before it comes to that.”
Enriquez raised $29,239 during Pitch Night for Beloved Grandfamilies.
Darnell Smith, another potential entrepreneur, lost a brother in a drive-by shooting — and Jason Janz, the CEO of CrossPurpose, was on the scene. “Jason lived around the corner from where it happened, so he heard about it, came out and…that’s where I met him,” Smith recalls.
Smith tried to escape from the streets himself after being involved in gang activity, and upon learning that Janz ran CrossPurpose, he decided to enroll. His project, Gray Goat Transportation, is a transportation company dedicated to creating a safe work environment for people trying to escape gangs. “It’s a good start if you’re looking for a relaunch,” says Smith.
Darnell was able to raise $25,058 for Gray Goat Transportation.
Danalee Diaz was in prison for four and a half years, beginning when she was 16. When she was released, she struggled to care for her young son and stay at work. She was initially hired as a store manager, but due to a slow HR process, she was on the job for two weeks before her employer learned she had a criminal record. Then she was immediately fired. Diaz told the Pitch Night audience that getting fired was worse than her experience in prison.
“I literally didn’t know how to provide,” she recalls. “When you’re in jail, don’t worry about where you’re going to sleep or eat. It sounds a little crazy because it’s prison, but you don’t worry or you don’t worry about where you eat or eat or sleep.”
She signed up for CrossPurpose hoping to gain skills that would help her find a stable career. Now she has her own company, Colorado Sanitation Company, where she hopes to hire young adults in similarly difficult situations, especially young mothers.
“Growing up in the system and in prison, they kind of tell you that you’re never going to get anywhere,” she says. She raised $25,237 on Pitch Night.
Andrea Carter’s mother died of a sudden heart attack; she had underlying health conditions that went untreated or even discovered because she was ineligible for Medicaid, and her job didn’t offer health insurance. This experience inspired Carter to start Improve Mobile Lab Services, a low-cost program designed to go straight to the doors of people in need of care, such as STD testing, rapid COVID testing, or even EKG monitoring, but don’t feel like it. afford health insurance.
“I want to help people of all nationalities and all races achieve better health,” she says. Carter raised $18,259 for Improve Mobile Lab Services during Pitch Night.
Tahani LuQuman wants to launch Brotherhood Haven, a non-profit program for boys that offers workshops and mentorships. “It’s an after-school program to develop strength and character in guys in my neighborhood,” says LuQuman. “Building a community and basically just giving them mentors to help them through their life journey.”
In 2018, she found out that the father of her son would go to prison for 16 years. She spoke to other single mothers with similar experiences and realized there was a need in the community for strong mentorship for young boys who don’t have male figures or real role models in their lives.
She says her goal is to sponsor at least 100 boys and bring vocational training back to high schools to help young men find calling early in life. LuQuman raised $35,916 during Pitch Night, the most of all entrepreneurs.
Business and community leaders attended the Pitch Night: some acted as panelists, others provided feedback, and most donated the bulk of the financial support to the entrepreneurs’ businesses. Friends, family and other community members also attended and made donations.
These five entrepreneurs are the fourth grade to go through the change agent program; Genzink estimates that nine of the last eleven change agents are still working on their business. One of the most successful is Darin Valdez, who founded Colorado Artists in Recovery, which offers free art, music, and creative writing workshops for anyone with at least 24 hours of sobriety.
Other programs focus on planning for better long-term outcomes and “helping people create generations for their families,” she notes.