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CrossPurpose Pitch Night Helps Turn Struggles Into Successes – Westword

Back In 2009, Jacqueline Enriquez received a call in the middle of the night notifying her that her two-month-old grandson was in the hospital and her two-and-a-half-year-old grandson had been put in foster care. Because her daughter, the boys’ mother, was in a domestic-violence situation, Enriquez took over the care of her grandchildren.

To do so, she quit her job and moved from her home in Aurora to Denver’s Baker neighborhood. And  Enriquez struggled with Child Protective Services to keep the kids. “Because I was involved with Child Protective Services, there [were] a lot of things I was required to do,” she says. “I had to appear on trial in front of a judge to make sure I was following all their regulations, and I couldn’t have anyone in my home without them having to background-check.”

Though there was no question that she’d dedicate herself to her grandchildren, she says that the damage that did to her familial relationship and her own life was difficult to fix.

Ultimately, in August 2019, when her grandsons were older and able to be on their own more, she enrolled in CrossPurpose, a nonprofit that has provided free career training to more than 600 people since it was founded in 2014. She graduated from the program in January 2020.

Last month, Enriquez joined four other CrossPurpose grads at Pitch Night, a fundraising event where they talked about the businesses they’d worked on through the organization’s change agency program and raised money for them. “People can apply and submit their ideas,” says Karen Genzink, CrossPurpose’s former director of alumni services about the program. “We look at their ideas: Is there substance behind it? And then they’re invited to come to an info 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 that, then they can join the program.”

This was the fourth year that CrossPurpose has offered the change agency program. For nine months, the five CrossPurpose graduates met weekly to work on their business ideas before 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 grads. “We had a budgeting class where we had to put all our finances together to estimate how much it would take to run the business and how much it was gonna take to be involved in it.”

At Pitch Night, Enriquez shared her vision for Beloved Grandfamilies, a nonprofit to support grandparents raising grandchildren and provide them with resources so that they can avoid problems with Child Protective Services. Her goals include eventually providing affordable housing for grandparents who may have to move out of their own homes or senior living facilities in order to raise their grandchildren; Beloved Grandfamilies would also help provide car seats, formula and other materials that children require. There would be mediation tools for working with Child Protective Services and avoiding the challenges she faced with that city agency, as well.

“It was an invasion of privacy,” Enriquez recalls. “I had like no rights whatsoever because everything I did I had to get approval. I was kind of in a system where I was a criminal or something like that. I’m not saying Child Protective Services doesn’t need to be there, but I think there are other ways before it gets to that situation.”

Enriquez was able to raise $29,239 at Pitch Night for Beloved Grandfamilies.

Darnell Smith, another would-be entrepreneur, lost a brother in a drive-by shooting — and Jason Janz, CrossPurpose’s CEO, was on the scene. “Jason lived right around the corner from where it happened, so he heard it, came out and…that’s where I met him,” Smith recalls.

Smith was trying to escape the streets himself after being involved in gang activity, and when he learned that Janz ran CrossPurpose, he decided to enroll. His project, Grey Goat Transportation, is a trucking company dedicated to creating a safe work environment for those trying to escape gangs. “It’s a great start if you’re looking for a restart,” Smith says.

Darnell was able to raise $25,058 for Grey Goat Transportation.

Danalee Diaz was incarcerated on and off for four and a half years, starting when she was sixteen. When she got out, she struggled to provide for her young son and stay employed. Initially, she was hired as a store manager, but because of a slow HR process, she’d been on the job two weeks before her employer learned she had a criminal record. After that, she was fired immediately. Diaz told the Pitch Night audience that being fired was worse than her experience in jail.

“I literally didn’t know how I was gonna provide,” she recalls. “When you’re in prison, you’re not worried about where you’re gonna sleep or eat. It sounds kind of crazy ’cause it’s prison, but you’re not worried or concerned about where you’re gonna go or eat or sleep.”

She enrolled in CrossPurpose hoping to gain a skill set 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 troubled situations, particularly young mothers.

“Growing up in the system and in jail, they pretty much tell you you’re never gonna amount to anything,” she says. She raised $25,237 at Pitch Night.

Andrea Carter’s mother died of a sudden heart attack; she had underlying health issues that weren’t treated or even detected because she didn’t qualify for Medicaid, and her job did not offer health insurance. This experience inspired Carter to start Improve Mobile Lab Services, a low-cost program designed to go directly to the doors of people who need such care as STD testing, rapid COVID testing or even EKG monitoring, but can’t afford health insurance.

“I want to help people of all nationalities, all races to be able to achieve better health,” she says. Carter raised $18,259 at Pitch Night for Improve Mobile Lab Services.

Tahani LuQuman wants to launch Brotherhood Haven, a nonprofit program for boys that offers workshops and mentorships. “It’s an after-school program to help develop strength and character in boys in my neighborhood,” LuQuman says. “Building community and really just giving them mentors to help them along their life journey.”

In 2018, she found out that the father of her young son was going to prison for sixteen years. She talked to other single mothers with similar experiences, and realized that 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 that her goal is to sponsor at least 100 boys and bring vocational trade training back into middle schools, to help young men find vocations early on in their lives. LuQuman raised $35,916 at Pitch Night, the most of all the entrepreneurs.

Business and community leaders attended Pitch Night: some serving as panelists, others offering feedback and most donating the majority 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 class to go through the change agent program; Genzink estimates that nine of the last eleven change agents are still pursuing their ventures. One of the most successful is Darin Valdez, who started Colorado Artists in Recovery, which offers workshops in things like art, music and creative writing for free to anyone with at least 24 hours of sobriety.

Other programs are focused on planning for a better long-term outcome, and to “help people create generational wealth for their families,” she notes.

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