Read With Me Celebration

Excitement fills the air as the students from Columbian Elementary School arrive to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Educational Center! Jill Rhodes, the Company Coordinator, is busy welcoming all the students. She gives Mrs. Morris, the classroom teacher at Columbian, green and white NREL Grass Roots Giving t-shirts to hand out to all the students.

Some of the volunteers who participate in the Read With Me (Power Lunch) program read with the students weekly, some biweekly, and some are substitutes. The relationship between adult and student extends far beyond just being reading buddies. At the NREL Educational Center, the mentors discuss their careers in the renewable energy field and how they acquired their positions at NREL.

The students rotate from one science center to the next, participating in fun, challenging, interactive science activities, demonstrating specific scientific principals and concepts. Many of the students declare, “I want to be a scientist when I grow up!”

Students very eagerly share thank you letters that they wrote for their buddies. The pizza and beverages arrive, and the volunteers and students move outside to sit on the picnic benches outside of the educational center. The students very excitedly chat about their summer plans. Another successful Read With Me school year has come to an end and we could not be more appreciative for all of the ways that the volunteers from NREL continually support the students.

NREL last day


March is National Reading Month!

While we know that reading is a huge priority in schools all year long, a special emphasis is placed on reading during the month of March. This exciting month of reading starts off with the National Day of Reading on March 2nd, or what’s also known as Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Across the country, schools, teachers and students alike celebrate this day with special activities, reading events and other awesome projects to get everyone more excited to read.

Within our Power Lunch classrooms, we gave each pair of volunteers and students a packet of Dr. Seuss themed activities. There were also plenty of Dr. Seuss books, bookmarks and pencils to go around for all of the students. On top of all of that, one of our coordinators dressed up as Cat in the Hat and greeted all the students in the classroom. The students were really surprised and enjoyed the whole session!

The cool thing about National Reading Month is that it isn’t just limited to students. Whether you’re young, old, in school or out of school, this month can be a time for you to get back to reading!Dr.Seuss

Pink Laptops in the Classroom

As I opened the door to Ms. Martinez’s first grade classroom this past December, I was immediately mesmerized by the class’s tranquility and order. Students were quietly working on worksheets at their desks while Ms. Martinez cheerfully graded papers. I looked past her desk to see one of her students working at a pink laptop with a headset covering the student’s ears. Over the laptop, the student was speaking with a personal tutor who facilitated a series of reading activities through a digital interface. This online literacy program, which connects professionals to 1st and 2nd grade students across Denver Public Schools, is TutorMate.

TutorMate is a program founded and operated by the educational nonprofit, Innovations for Learning (IFL). Formed in Evanston, IL in 1993, IFL has “pioneered the use of digital technology to connect teachers and students to a galaxy of resources to help students learn to read.” Most notable of these programs, at least for this discourse, is TutorMate.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Nicole Capage-Brown, Director of the School Partners Program at the Denver Public Schools Foundation and revered TutorMate champion. Nicole has toiled tirelessly with the school district and local businesses for the past four years to develop this program. Currently, TutorMate operates in over forty classrooms at fifteen different DPS schools. This year over 400 student/tutor pairs have worked together for over 800 hours. TutorMate could not function effectively in Denver without Nicole, the IFL support staff, or without the responsible tutors who call in every day. However, it most certainly could not operate without the day-to-day support of our teachers. They work long, difficult hours to support student growth. TutorMate would not be as successful as it is in Denver, without the help of these incredible teachers.

Columbian Elementary first grade teacher, Vicki Romero, has been a defender of this program for multiple years. She calls the TutorMate computer her “classroom helper.” I foresee a time when TutorMate could be in every classroom. But it can only continue to grow if the community realizes how valuable thirty minutes of tutoring can be for students, themselves and their city. I’m very grateful to live in a city that is dedicated to the success of all – especially our struggling youth. Who could have known that a pink laptop could change the world?

Power Lunch: Building Relationships through Reading

Mile High United Way, Denver Public Schools, Denver Public Schools Foundation and have teamed up to help our students become strong readers by the end of third grade. Power Lunch brings together businesses and schools to help 2nd and 3rd grade students develop a love of reading. Members from a wide variety of companies generously donate their time to visit a total of eight different DPS Elementary schools.

Throughout the school year, very special bonds and friendships develop between the volunteers and the students. The students have the opportunity to meet volunteers from a wide variety of companies and this exposes students to a variety of jobs and careers that exist outside of their elementary school environments.

Near the end of each Power Lunch session, I make the announcement that there are just a few minutes left of the Power Lunch session. Walking around the room, I hear such comments as “You did a great job reading today!” “This was an awesome session – remember to read books at home!” “See you next week!” Hugs are warmly exchanged and good byes are shared. Although promoting literacy and developing a passion for reading is the ultimate goal, the volunteers also serve as positive and inspiring mentors in the student’s lives!

Sharing holiday joy though Children’s Holiday Party

Happy Friday! My name is Caitlin Henkel and I am a School Partners Coordinator with Mile High United Way. This past week I spent hours preparing, alongside volunteers, for Mile High United Way’s Children’s Holiday Party.

Tinsel was hung in the lobby with care. Santa was waiting in his chair. Crafts and cookies were set up downstairs, while 2,000 toys were setup upstairs. Over 300 volunteers brought their Holiday cheer and over nearly families were filled with excitement as they knew this holiday season would be special.CHP2

Saturday, December 12th, Mile High United Way held their 7th Annual Children’s Holiday Party. The Mile High United Way network united together to plan this one-of-a kind Holiday Celebration. On the morning of the event, 300 volunteers and 400 families arrived at Mile high United Way. Parents headed upstairs to shop in the toy store, with 2,000 toys donated by corporate partners, affinity groups and individuals. While downstairs, children and volunteers colored and crafted, decorated cookies, and read stories. Parents were able to choose gifts for each child, stocking stuffers, and a family board game. With over 2,500 donated children’s books and over 300 donated parent books, children and adults were able to take home more than one new book to read.

Outside the snow slowly fell and you could feel the spirit of the season. Throughout the day, volunteers and families bustled around the building, not a Grinch in sight. Ole Saint Nick even joined the celebration, and children eagerly waited for their turn for a photo with him. Before families left we asked them to share what they were thankful for and their responses warmed our hearts. The Children’s Holiday party is a reminder of the impact a community can make when we live united. Happy Holidays!

Children’s Holiday Party Preview


“I never thought I could give him a bicycle.” These were the words said by a mother who attended Mile High United Way’s Annual Children’s Holiday Party last year. She came to the holiday party in hopes of being able to provide a holiday experience for her son, but not expecting she could get him the exact item on his wish list. One of my coworkers was the volunteer that helped her find presents for her children that day. What a surprise it was when our volunteer was able to bring up a bike! Families like this are able to have a true holiday experience because of Mile High United Way volunteers, corporate partners, and community members who work for months in advance to make this event a reality.

For many, the holidays bring good cheer, family, friends and a giving spirit. But for some, this time of year is harder and they need a little help to bring the holiday experience to their families. For five years now, Mile High United Way has hosted the Children’s Holiday Party. The event was created by Women United, Mile High United Way’s affinity group of women who dedicate their time to be agents of change in our community. Through this annual celebration, Women United leads the community in providing a special experience for families in need.

This year’s nearly 400 families will bring an estimated 1000 children. The event will provide options of presents from thousands of toys donated from over 40 corporate toy drives. In addition, 300 volunteers will manage holiday activity stations including craft making, face painting, cookie decorating, story time, pictures with Santa, and more. Thank you to each of our corporate partners, community members, and volunteers!

Whether through a simple smile, a hug or the ability to give parents the options that they never thought they would have, this event has and will continue to have a great impact on our community and everyone involved. The grateful smiles on the faces of our guests will keep everyone’s heart warm this season. Happy holidays!

Power Lunch: Flex Those Reading Muscles!

By Chris Brudzynski, (in association with School Partners Productions)

Over the past month, several Denver Public School classrooms have been filled with books and a buzz about reading – and these aren’t the only things filling the classrooms. Hundreds of volunteers from a number of organizations across the Denver Metro area have enthusiastically joined the Power Lunch Reading program, and are now dedicating forty-five minutes a week to reading with a DPS student. They’re actively inspiring their reading buddies to develop a love of reading this year, because well, books are awesome.

We’re happy to welcome volunteers from National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) back to Columbian Elementary for another year of Power Lunch, or as they call it, “Read with Me,” considering they also have a program with the same title. Virgil Green, a tight end for the Denver Broncos, has also graciously committed to attending Power Lunch every Tuesday at Columbian – the students are very excited read with him. On our first day of Power Lunch, students, volunteers, and Ms. Morris lined up to take a group photo with Virgil. After providing a joyful, yet reserved smile for the first photo, we all let it loose for the second photo when Virgil interjected, saying, “this is Power Lunch, right? Let’s all flex those muscles!” Now, students will get to flex their brain muscles too, as they continue reading with their buddies each week.

Chris' blog post pic

Ashford University, DPS Cares, and Buckley Air Force Base are all participating in their fourth year of Power Lunch this school year. Each of these groups exudes a passion for education that is truly amazing. It’s been a pleasure to witness the connections they’ve made with their students. Michael Hickman, a DPS Cares volunteer, gives his buddy, Keyshawn, a fist bump before they read on Fridays. Sakhadi Cebrun, an Ashford volunteer, exclaims, “I’m so excited, this is my favorite part of the week,” as we wait for the bus to take us to Harrington Elementary on Wednesdays. We thank these volunteer groups so much for their continued commitment to the program, because we’re quite sure that Power Lunch is some of the students’ favorite part of the week, too.

The first day of Power Lunch overflows with joy and excitement as volunteers and their student buddies partner up and begin getting to know each other. Before volunteers arrive, each student is given a card with the picture of an animal on it. And simultaneously, while volunteers are entering the room, they are given a card with the corresponding animal word. It’s difficult to explain the thrill I experienced when I heard, “the next student up is Wellson, and he has a…Cheetah!”

“Cheetah! Yeah, that’s me!” I proclaimed.

Immediately, we had a fun surprise and the connection of a common, in this case very fast and cool, animal to make us feel more comfortable. Although in my excitement, I did have to remind myself that I was in fact the adult. But this is the beauty of Power Lunch. Through this program we can shed our titles, accomplishments, and differences, and truly rejoice and respect the timelessness of not only books, but of human relationships.