Justin Kruger found that volunteering was a great way to help with his personal struggles with mental health.
“The more I did it,” he said, “the more I wanted to share that with other people.”
About that time, roughly 10 years ago, Kruger started Project Helping and about three years later, it got its nonprofit status.
Project Helping is a Denver-based organization that connects people with volunteer opportunities. The idea is to focus on the mental well-being of the volunteer, Kruger said. Volunteering can provide a person with a 26% positive increase for how they rate their mental wellness, Kruger said.
Many of the approximately 5,000 people who volunteer with Project Helping annually didn’t necessarily have volunteering as part of their lifestyle before, Kruger said. Project Helping serves as an entry point, Kruger said.
“Our mission is to help people,” he said. “And right now, we need that more than ever.”
Project Helping has a network of about 40 nonprofits across the metro area where people can volunteer. Prior to the pandemic, about 700 volunteer events were planned for 2020.
Only some of the planned in-person volunteer events were able to take place in 2020, Kruger said, so Project Helping ramped up its at-home volunteer opportunities in the midst of COVID-19. Called Kynd Kits, they are projects available at a nominal cost for both individuals or groups, and are delivered directly to home or office. All supplies are included in the delivery, including instructions on putting the kit together. There is a variety of Kynd Kits causes to choose from — Healthcare Provider Gratitude Kit, Teen Mental Health Care Kit, Meals on Wheels Care Package, Dignity Bags for Homeless, are just a few examples.
Typically — except currently because of the social distance and gathering restrictions in place for COVID-19 — space allows for 10-12 people per in-person volunteer event. Therefore, even pre-COVID-19, there was usually a waitlist for many of the in-person volunteer experiences, Kruger said. Project Helping plans on using its Caring for Denver grant money to increase the amount of spots available for the in-person volunteer opportunities. Those, however, are contingent on COVID-19, Kruger said, adding that if increasing spots for in-person is not viable, Project Helping will invest more into the Kynd Kits.
“We’re hard-wired as human beings to want to help others,” Kruger said. “When we struggle (with mental health), it may be because we’ve lost sight of being able to help others. Project Helping makes it really easy for anyone to find a way to help others.”
It is the youths who do all the hard work.
“We just get the roadblocks out of the way,” said Kim Estes-McCarty, executive director of PlatteForum.
PlatteForum is a Denver-based, nonprofit arts, youth development and artist-in-residence program with a social justice component. Its ArtLab is a year-round, paid internship program for a cohort of about 18 high school youths from historically marginalized populations. Programming integrates the creative process and art-based learning with academic, personal and professional skill development.
There are three main goals that PlatteForum strives for with its ArtLab interns, Estes-McCarty said. In addition to social-emotional health and mental wellness, they are: making sure the teens graduate from high school on time, ensuring they are set up for success for their post-secondary endeavors, and teaching them to use their voices in the community for positive change.
“Teens have a unique perspective,” Estes-McCarty said. “Their voice matters.”
Something that PlatteForum noticed when COVID-19 hit was that the social-emotional impact of the pandemic has been particularly tough on teens, Estes-McCarty said.
To address that, PlatteForum partnered with two other local organizations to launch a new after-school program with its Caring for Denver grant money. The two partnering organizations are Denver Digerati, which is a nonprofit that specializes in the exhibition and education of digital motion art and animation; and Youth Seen, a nonprofit that fosters and empowers the social and emotional well-being of LGBTQI youth and their families.
The program is envisioned to take place weekly at the schools. PlatteForum will lead the lessons and workshops virtually so that all the schools’ cohorts, each consisting of about 15-17 youths, can participate at the same time. It is also planned to have all the cohorts get together periodically, but that is contingent on COVID-19.
Having the three partners in the endeavor will address the whole child, Estes said: PlatteForum for the arts, Denver Digerati for the digital skills and Youth Seen for the social and emotional wellness.
“Nothing is more important than making sure every student gets a good education. But that looks different for every child,” Estes-McCarty said. “Having well-educated and successful youth adds to the overall betterment of the community.”
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