Praxis Mutual Funds® helped sponsor and organize the Invest with Impact Tour in Denver, Colorado, in October for clients of Everence Financial®. The event allowed clients, partners, Everence financial consultants and staff to see the real impact that place-based community development investing has on neighborhoods in our backyard.
In organizing the tour, we collaborated with Calvert Impact, one of the nation’s leading community investing organizations. Calvert Impact manages over $600 million in impact investments, meeting needs in underserved communities across the U.S. and around the world. And it has been a Praxis partner in supporting community development investment for over two decades.
The tour featured a keynote presentation from Alan Ramirez, Director of Strategic Lending for Colorado Enterprise Fund. CEF is a community development financial institution based in Denver that serves small businesses and entrepreneurs by providing financing and business consulting services. Alan shared the benefits of partnering with impact investors to encourage and give a hand up to businesses and entrepreneurs that have difficulty accessing traditional capital.
The tour then visited four impact sites to get an on-the-ground look at some of the CDI projects in Colorado supported by community investors.
1. Boulevard One with Volunteers of America
The first impact site we visited was the Volunteers of America (VOA) Boulevard One Residences. Volunteers of America is a faith-based organization dedicated to meeting the needs of low-income individuals by providing high-quality affordable housing. Located on the redeveloped former Lowry Air Force Base in East Denver, Boulevard One Residences is a joint venture project between Volunteers of America and the Denver Housing Authority, which provides affordable housing.
Completing this project required not only a mix of public and private investments but also community support and engagement. Boulevard One has had success in offering housing solutions to residents with annual incomes between $17,000 to $41,000, veterans and to East Denver’s homeless population. Affordable housing in the U.S. should be a priority for community development work. By visiting Boulevard One, we saw firsthand how some organizations are addressing this need.
2. Bill Daniels Veteran Services Center with Volunteers of America
The challenges being faced by veterans was the focus of our second stop of our tour at the VOA Bill Daniels Veteran Services Center, which opened in August 2015. This beautiful, welcoming center offers a one-stop shop for veterans and their families who are in crisis. They could be facing homelessness, physical or mental health concerns, substance abuse issues, or other destabilizing factors.
While many service initiatives seek to resolve only the immediate crisis, the Veteran Services Center provides a broad array of services such as housing, employment, and benefits management, as well as connection to a variety of veteran-support programs designed to move people from crisis to self-sufficiency. Our visit to the Bill Daniels Veteran Services center underscored the importance of providing a central access point for a wide range of service and support functions for veterans in need.
3. TeaLee’s Tea House and Bookstore
As neighborhoods gentrify, some small businesses may be pushed out, and the tour’s next stop brought us to TeaLee’s Tea House and Bookstore located at the gateway of Denver’s Historic Five Points, an example of a business facing this challenge. Owner Risë Jones provided our group with a sampling of teas, scones and quiches, as she shared the history of the business, its challenges and future goals. Risë and her late husband, Louis Freeman, started TeaLee’s together, providing customers with high-quality loose-leaf teas, food, and local products from other small businesses owned by people of color. TeaLee’s also carries culturally appropriate books and offers a meeting space that benefits the local community.
Even through the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, partners like CEF helped Risë stabilize and grow her teashop, preserving its distinctive approach while benefitting from the neighborhood’s continued development.
4. Mosaic Community Campus with Urban Land Conservancy (ULC)
The final stop of the tour was at the Mosaic Community Campus, a real estate development project acquired in 2021 and owned jointly by the nonprofit Urban Land Conservancy, Denver Public Schools, and Denver Housing Authority. The property was the former Johnson & Wales University Denver Campus. As we toured the Mosaic Community Campus, we were struck by the importance of maintaining open space for public use in urban communities.
ULC works with local communities to secure and develop needed physical assets such as schools, affordable housing, community centers, and nonprofit facility space using a model called a Community Land Trust. The CLT secures the properties for long term community benefit through a 99-year lease — rather than sale — of the ground the facilities sit on.
At the Mosaic Community Campus, we toured several nonprofits located there, such as Archway Communities, which plans to convert existing dorms into affordable housing units; St. Elizabeth School, a private K-8 school providing quality affordable education; and the Kitchen Network, which provides small food-related businesses with commercial kitchen access, food business consulting and other operational services.
Making a difference that matters
By the end of the tour, everyone was convinced of the importance of this work and energized by the difference community development investing makes in the lives of others. It provides a unique opportunity to address gaps in access, economic equity and wealth creation, using innovative solutions with intentionality and leveraging partnerships that make this work possible.
A simple way for individuals or institutions to support businesses and organizations in underserved and underrepresented communities is to identify investment products that invest in CDI. Praxis Mutual Funds is proud to support communities across the U.S. and globally through our 1% commitment to CDI. Our recent tour of impact sites in Colorado reminds us of the real-world difference that these investments make in the lives and communities so often left on the economic sidelines.