Partnership Highlights: mpowered


Mi Casa and mpowered have been partnering for almost four years to advance the economic success of our community, and we would like to share more about our partnership with the rest of our community. Who is mpowered? “mpowered is a Colorado-based nonprofit resource for Coloradoans who want to learn about money management and participate in coaching to achieve their personal definition of financial success.” We were honored to receive the “Work Together” award from mpowered at their Collective Impact breakfast in October. The event featured a speaker who is a small business owner, who was referred to Mi Casa’s small business program. That is where we are now in 2016, so let us bring you back to where we first started.

In 2013, the City and County of Denver received a $1.9 million grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies and Living Cities’ Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund to replicate New York City’s evidence-based Financial Empowerment Center model. The model provides free, one-on-one financial coaching by trained professionals to low-income residents both at new local Financial Empowerment Centers and by integrating financial coaching into the delivery of municipal services. mpowered has led the provision of direct financial coaching services to the community through the effort, and Mi Casa’s Headquarters and Innovation Lab locations have been two of the thirteen sites across the city to house financial coaches under the Financial Empowerment Center.

While our partnership with mpowered began as two separate program offerings co-located at the same location, with time and intentional work, the collaboration grew to a true integration of services. In 2014, Mi Casa added mpowered’’s financial coaching as a key component to our core Career and Business Training programs. These financial coaching sessions focus on important subjects such as budgeting and credit scores. When asked about the value of the sessions, one participant said, “[the financial coach] was able to do a soft pull on my credit history. She was able to give me advice of how to get things off of there and rebuild it. It went really well and my credit score has gone up tremendously.”

We have enjoyed seeing our partnership with mpowered grow over the years, and we are glad that the feeling is mutual. Chad Gentry, Executive Director of mpowered, added that:

“Mpowered’s partnership with Mi Casa has grown beyond our joint services into a true friendship over the years. Even before our integrated partnership was established, I was personally donating both time and money to Mi Casa’s amazing work in the community. Mi Casa has been creating economic mobility for its families for years and now with a personal finance coaching on site full time we are able to maximize our collective impact in the community.  Our services dovetail into perfect alignment with Mi Casa’s programming, meeting these families where they are, and by providing them access to skills, resources and information that allows them to thrive! Mpowered’s Working Together Award which we presented to Mi Casa is just another example of how nonprofits working together can move from above average to EXTRAORDINARY!

The partnership is appreciated at Mi Casa and mpowered, for it allows both organizations to serve participants with excellence and efficiency, and to have an even greater impact. As Karen Fox Elwell, VP of Programs & Integration at Mi Casa, explained, “The Integrated Services model is a best practice that has been shown effective in breaking the cycle of poverty by offering multiple economic and education programs in a single location. The model uses a streamlined, individualized approach to best connect each participant to the services most relevant to each individual’s path towards economic and educational success. Poverty reduction is complex and requires a multi-faceted approach that no one agency alone can accomplish; it is important to leverage core competencies of different organizations to address participants’ holistic needs.”

Mi Casa appreciates the work of mpowered for they welcome our participants and us, in the reciprocal and synergistic relationship that we formed together. There is also an ease of access for our participants, where they can come to mpowered and feel safe and welcome, without any shame or blame. Participants leave their appointments having faced their fears and ready to envision their futures.

After meeting with mpowered, participants feel empowered, they successfully complete their programs, and they achieve their goals in business, education, and employment. Karen Fox Elwell elaborated on some of the successes that we have seen in our participants:

“Over 80% of Career Development participants obtain & retain employment over 6 months. Wages increase steadily over time, from an average of $11.89 hourly at time of employment to $13.39 6 months later. Business Development participants who met with a Financial Coach were 93 times more likely to complete their program. Over 14 months, Business Development participants grossed $6.6 million with a profit of $365,922, for an average revenue of $38,103 and average profit of $2,103 per participant.”

We would like to thank mpowered for this fantastic partnership, and we look forward to our future work together. When we move our headquarters office to the Westwood neighborhood in Southwest Denver, our partnership will not change. Financial coaching will continue to be an integral part of the service offerings at Mi Casa!

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Meet our Support Specialist, Theresa Hayes


A Denver native, Theresa has brought both expertise and enthusiasm to the Mi Casa Career Team.  Learn about her love of travel and her passion for community development—plus her favorite local pizza joint!

How did you first hear about Mi Casa?
Growing up in Denver, I remember hearing about Mi Casa but not really understanding all that they did.  I became a bit more familiar with the scope of the organization’s work during my time at the Graduate School of Social Work at DU.

What made you interested in working for Mi Casa?
I was really drawn to Mi Casa because of the holistic approach to economic advancement of individuals, families, and the community and the strong history it has in the Denver area.  I love working with individual participants but also feeling like we are joining participants in effecting larger social change.  Plus, the Career Team (and everyone else at Mi Casa who I’ve since met) is AWESOME!

Describe your job responsibilities at Mi Casa:
In many ways, I’m still figuring out my responsibilities and rolling with the constant change of the Career Development programs.  My primary responsibility is providing supportive services to participants in the Customer Service and Bilingual Bank Teller training programs, beginning before orientation, through the training program, job search, and after a participant gains employment.  While other members of the Career Team focus more on technical job skills and the professional side of job readiness, I support participants with the personal aspects of job readiness.

Where is your hometown?
Denver (and proud of it!)

Where have you traveled?
I love to travel!  I studied abroad in college in Denmark and El Salvador, and also spent some time living in Bolivia.  I was very fortunate to travel to several places throughout Europe, Central, and South America.

Where else have you worked and in what position?
In grad school, I was a Social Service Project intern at the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN) and a Case Management intern with Work Options for Women (WOW).  At RMIAN, I supported adults who were detained in the immigration detention center in Aurora throughout their immigration case and WOW provided my first introduction into workforce development and job training programs.  Prior to grad school, I was a Volunteer Coordinator at Cabrini Green Legal Aid in Chicago as an AmeriCorps volunteer.

Describe yourself in 3 words.
Thoughtful, passionate, and caring.

What is your favorite restaurant in Denver and why?
I think it would have to be Bonnie Brae Tavern because I love a good pizza, and I have so many childhood (and recent!) memories going there with family and friends.

What are your hobbies/favorite pastimes?
Brunch, skeeball, hiking, reading, finding and occasionally finishing Pintrest craft projects, being an aunt, traveling, happy hours, and watching Broncos football!

Do you volunteer anywhere in the community?
I’m still adjusting to my work schedule, so I haven’t been volunteering as much recently as I’d like to.  I do stay connected to area nonprofits that I’ve known and supported for a long time, such as EarthLinks and the Women’s Bean Project.  Before I started working at Mi Casa, I was volunteering with the Denver District Attorney’s office.

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Taking the Plunge: Robyn and Becki's Story of Business Ownership

Business partners Robyn and Becki met while working for the same company, providing therapeutic-based exercise to seniors. Robyn, a registered kinesiology therapist, and Becki, an exercise science professional with a focus on geriatrics, soon realized they could venture out and provide their services on their own.

“At the time, our company was really the only entity offering therapeutic exercise for seniors, and we wanted to offer a lower price so more people could access these services,” said Robyn.

Possessing a passion for filling the needs of underserved seniors with disabilities, as well as connections across the community gained from their professional experience, Robyn and Becki began searching for start-up resources. During her research, Robyn came across Mi Casa Women’s Business Center, and both she and Becki enrolled in Mi Casa’s 13-week Business Success class.

“Mi Casa’s Business Success class helped us build the foundation for our business,” said Robyn. “We went through a step-by-step process to develop a comprehensive business plan, including the financial aspect, which was really helpful since that is not our background.”

Each Business Success class features a guest speaker who shares from their area of expertise – covering topics from legal issues, taxes, marketing, accounting, and more – giving participants an understanding for each area of small business development. These guest speakers are often successful small business owners themselves, which serves as a source of encouragement to budding entrepreneurs.

senior fitness 1 “Starting a small business is truly daunting, but ultimately Mi Casa’s Business Success class gave us the confidence to take that leap,” said Robyn. “Hearing the different stories of success from the guest speakers gave us the reassurance that we could be successful too.”

Robyn and Becki established Senior Functional Fitness in July of 2012, several months before graduating from the Business Success class.

Startup funding was gained through a loan from one of the partner’s family members as well as a traditional loan of $8,000, which helped Robyn and Becki purchase a laptop, QuickBooks software, exercise equipment, and also supplemented their salaries while they were building a client base.

“Mi Casa Women’s Business Center helped us realize and think through all the challenges of starting our own business, so Becki and I were prepared for what lay ahead,” said Robyn.

Armed with a thorough business plan developed through the Business Success class, Robyn and Becki experienced a gross net of $96,000 in their first year of business.

Senior Functional Fitness recently celebrated its two-year anniversary and continues to thrive. Robyn and Becki expect their business to grow by 12 to 15 percent in the coming year, and are currently in the process of hiring their first employee.

Senior Fitness 1“We just formed a new partnership with a large, in-home senior care company to offer group exercise classes to their clients,” said Robyn.

This in-home senior care company spans multiple locations across Colorado as well as several states, and Robyn and Becki expect their new partnership to grow and expand their business.

Robyn and Becki are also actively growing their clientele base through strategic marketing efforts, including social media, and networking.

“The benefits of starting a business definitely outweigh the stressors that come with being an entrepreneur,” said Robyn. “Starting Senior Functional Fitness created a way for Becki and I to provide our services to populations that have been traditionally underserved, allowing us to more fully follow our passions.”

Robyn said, “Mi Casa both prepared us and gave us the confidence to take the big step into business ownership, and it has been so worth it.”

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Mona's Story

????????Before attending Mi Casa’s Customer Service career training, Mona – a single mother of a son with a disability – was struggling to make ends meet. Unable to work due to the amount of care and handful of weekly doctor appointments her toddler son required, Mona was receiving help from TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), but this assistance was not enough to cover the necessities.

Mona came to Mi Casa confused and overwhelmed, knowing she needed extra training to stand out among other job seekers due to her period of unemployment, but unsure of how or where to begin the job search process.

“Right away, Mi Casa’s career training made me feel hopeful for the future and my employment goals,” said Mona. “The instructor’s advice to find a job that fit well with our needs was really helpful, because I knew I needed a job with more flexible hours in order to care for my son.”

Besides learning industry focused customer service skills, Mi Casa’s career training taught Mona about time management, conflict resolution, self-care, personal finance, goal setting, and more.

“Not only did I learn how to demonstrate a strong work ethic and professionalism, I learned how important it is to plan for the future and to budget and save my money,” said Mona.

“I also learned a lot about myself, such as how to indentify my strengths, as well as how to identify areas I can improve on, and turn my weaknesses into strengths.”

Mi Casa’s career training also provided Mona with job search support, including resume writing assistance, effective job search techniques, and interviewing skills.

After graduating from Mi Casa’s Customer Service training program, Mona was hired by a car dealership as a Verifier. She has almost completed her first year of employment there and is thriving.

“I love my job and see myself staying here, I feel valued and there are opportunities for growth,” said Mona. “And for the first time I am receiving benefits, I just signed up for my 401k which makes me feel even more hopeful for the future.”

Mona has already received a raise and is in line for a possible promotion.

“I love everything about Mi Casa, I learned so much from the career training and grew a lot both professionally and personally,” said Mona. “”It was an amazing experience and I always recommend Mi Casa to others.”

Mona said, “Not only did Mi Casa help me get this job, Mi Casa helped me keep it by preparing me for employment and giving me the tools to be successful.”

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Business Success: Andrew & Tommy's Story

fleur2Business partners Andrew (second from left) and Tommy (third from left) both come from entrepreneurial families, having relatives that own restaurants, grocery stores, pool halls and everything in-between, so it’s no surprise that they both got the itch to start their own business.

With nearly 18 years of professional hairdressing experience and 20 years of client service experience between them, Tommy and Andrew began dreaming of opening a salon.

Referred to Mi Casa Women’s Business Center by a mutual friend who completed the Business Success class, Tommy and Andrew enrolled in the same comprehensive 13-week class to figure out how to turn their dreams of opening a salon into reality.

“We were mesmerized by the amount of information and resources presented to us in the class, and by the helpfulness and knowledge of Mi Casa’s staff,” said Andrew.

“We took advantage of every opportunity the class provided and the connections Mi Casa has to other professionals and community organizations, which proved key in moving our business aspirations forward,” said Andrew.

After graduating from the Business Success class with a strategic business plan, Mi Casa Women’s Business Center served as an ongoing resource for Andrew and Tommy. They received one-on-one business consulting in order to obtain the proper licenses and permits as well as secure the financing needed to open their salon.

“Andrew and Tommy hit a roadblock when applying for loans due to effects from the economic downturn and the fact that banks were not counting Tommy’s sole proprietor experience as if he had been a business owner,” said Mi Casa Women’s Business Director Elena. “So we approached our partner Solera Bank on their behalf.

“We vetted for their solid business plan, and they were able to secure a $65,000 SBA-backed loan,” said Elena.

Armed with start-up capital and a third business partner – Tommy’s longtime friend and fellow hairstylist, Kristianna – Tommy and Andrew found a space for their salon in downtown Denver.

In January of 2014, Tommy, Andrew, and Kristianna proudly opened Fleur Salon. The salon currently has five full-time employees and fluerexperienced a first quarter gross profit of $54,196.

In 2015, the salon plans to hire three new full-time stylists and expand operations by $165,000. Future plans for the salon also include creating a scholarship program to allow underserved GLBT youth to attend hair school.

“We got to where we are because of help from Mi Casa and others in the community, so we make a point to remember what we have been given and to give back by partnering with several local nonprofit organizations.”

Integrated into Mi Casa’s business programs is a culture of giving back.

“Our guest speakers who work on a pro bono basis with our participants serve as an inspiration to give back,” said Elena. “And we encourage our alumni to remember how they have been helped by others and that it pays to give back to the community.”

When asked what business advice he has for new entrepreneurs, Andrew says “Do your research, stick to a plan, and make sure to revisit that plan.”

Once they have been in operation a few years, Andrew and Tommy plan on taking Mi Casa’s Business Breakthrough class to learn how to take their business to the next level.

Elena said, “It is very rewarding to see Andrew and Tommy’s business taking off and to see how they are already making a difference in the community.”

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Alan's Story: Mi Casa Super Participant

alanAlan, a rising 8th grader, is what is known as a “Mi Casa Super Participant.” Ever since he started 6th grade at Lake International School, Alan has come to afterschool programs at the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center almost every single day.

When Alan started 6th grade, he was quiet and reserved, often taking his cues from his more gregarious peers. But as Alan settled into the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center community, he discovered new activities that sparked his imagination and ignited his passion for learning and helping others.

STEM learning (science, technology, engineering and math) is at the core of many of the club activities at the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center on the Lake Middle School Campus. One of these clubs, iCode, introduces middle schoolers to computer science and basic computer coding, as well as the related career paths.

“Alan became his best self in the iCode club,” said Lauren Brown, Manager of Out-of-School Programs at the Lake Neighborhood Center. “He discovered a passion and grasped the information quickly so that he was even able to help the teacher instruct the class and offer individual support to his peers.”

Alan himself is a bit shyer about his contributions. “I don’t want to brag about it, but I was good at it. We worked a lot in teams and it felt good to help people,” he said. “Coding is fun. It’s like a puzzle.”

Alan also served as a host when 5th graders from Cowell and Colfax elementary schools visited the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center on the Lake Campus to get a taste of what middle school would be like. He led the students and teachers on a tour of the school, answered questions about life in middle school, and organized a soccer game for the elementary school visitors.

Asked what advice he offered the younger students, Alan said, “Listen to the teachers. They help you a lot. But you have to try and you have to do your homework. And if you want to have a good job, you have to work hard in school. I also told them they should come to Mi Casa because you can make friends and do your homework and the staff is really nice.”

During the summer, Alan enjoys Mi Casa’s summer camp and after next year, he plans to go to North High School where he will continue his involvement with Mi Casa at the North Neighborhood Center.

Says Alan,“I think the world would be a better place with more Mi Casas.”

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Meet our Career Development Trainer!

alanaMeet our Career Development Trainer, Alana!  Alana brings great experience as both a teacher and a former staffing agency recruiter, making her the perfect person to guide our career participants through classroom training in technical skills, job readiness and professional development.

Read the interview below to learn what countries Alana has visited and her favorite Denver restaurant!

What are your job responsibilities at Mi Casa?

I facilitate the Bilingual Bank Teller and Customer Service career training courses to help participants develop personal and professional skills that they will utilize throughout their career. Throughout the 6-week classroom training, participants go on tours, role play with each other, and create professional portfolios.  My role is to be a support and guide for the students.

Where is your hometown?


Where have you traveled?

I have an incredible passion for travel, so I have been to a lot of places!  I studied abroad during college in Argentina as well as Thailand and was fortunate enough to travel throughout those regions.   While I taught English classes in Japan through the JET Program, I was able to travel throughout Japan as well as a couple places in China and Indonesia.  Outside of those, I have been able to volunteer internationally in both the Dominican Republic and India.

Where else have you worked?

Before joining the Mi Casa family, I worked as a teacher in Okinawa, Japan. Most recently I was employed at a technical staffing firm in downtown Denver as an Account Director – selling our services to other companies in the Colorado area.

Describe yourself in 3 words.

Energetic, Enthusiastic, Motivated

What is your favorite restaurant in Denver?

I love Osteria Marco – they have amazing pizza and happy hour specials!

What are your hobbies/favorite pastimes?

I love to travel, read, and stay active by skiing during the winter and playing tennis during the summer.

Do you volunteer anywhere in the community?

Currently I help out with Breakthrough Kent Denver, a fabulous organization that offers tuition free, educational non-profit programs for Denver Public School middle schoolers.

In the past I have also volunteered with CASA, an incredible organization that enures children in the foster care system don’t get lost in the legal or social service systems and are placed in a permanent home.

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Faby's Story: From Construction Worker to Sales Rep

fabyFabiola (Faby) Gonzalez used to work in construction. The physical nature of the work was a challenge and working outside in the heat and cold wasn’t ideal, but she was grateful to be employed. It allowed her to be independent and care for her 11-year-old son.

But her employer didn’t provide any paid time off, and when Faby became ill and couldn’t work, she lost her job. She was forced to go on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to support herself and her son.

Overnight her income dropped to under $400 a month, and Faby wasn’t sure how she would manage. She couldn’t pay rent; she couldn’t afford to fix her car or renew the registration; and her unpaid utility bills were starting to pile up.

“It was so stressful,” Faby said. “I didn’t have a place to live, money problems were mounting left and right, and it was just one crisis after another.”

Faby was referred to Mi Casa’s Customer Service career training program by her TANF case worker. She wasn’t sure what to expect. She just knew she needed a job and hoped she could find one that offered benefits and a greater measure of financial security.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at Mi Casa. But I definitely didn’t expect the class to be as intense as it was. Every day was packed with really good information,” said Faby.

“It was an interesting personal journey for me and all of my classmates. Mi Casa helped us realize that we are all a lot stronger and more capable than we thought we were.”

At Mi Casa, Faby received intensive customer service training, including conflict resolution, relationship management, dealing with angry customers, and more. She also worked with a career coach to focus her job search and identify employment opportunities and met with a financial coach to learn how to create a budget and a savings plan.

Through Mi Casa’s employer partnerships and networking events, Faby connected with a recruiter from Verizon. Fast forward seven months and Faby is happily employed as a bilingual retail sales rep at a busy Verizon store in Aurora.

Her employer offers tuition reimbursement – as well as health insurance and paid time off – and Faby plans to take advantage of the benefit to study marketing or human resources.

“I love my job,” Faby said.  “And Mi Casa gave me both the self-confidence and professional tools I needed to be successful.”

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Meet Our New Volunteer Specialist!

lizzyMeet our new Volunteer & Outreach Specialist, Lizzy! Lizzy just moved from Oregon to join our team and has already made a number of community connections!

Find out more about Lizzy in the interview below, including her favorite restaurant in Denver.

What made you interested in working for Mi Casa?
Mi Casa perfectly aligned with my goal of working in a Latino-focused resource center, and I was impressed by its history and multifaceted programs.

Describe your job responsibilities at Mi Casa.
I oversee the volunteer-run Job Seeker Program. My role is to grow and create a self-sustaining Volunteer program after my AmeriCorps term ends.

Where is your hometown?
My hometown is Flagstaff, Arizona, but other hometowns include Portland, Oregon and San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas.

Where have you traveled?
I’ve been so blessed to have lived briefly in Mexico and also visited Panama and Guatemala. I have also lived on the Mediterranean island of Malta, and visited a dozen other countries in Eastern and Western Europe.  I love to travel internationally, but some of my favorite destinations have been camping and backpacking trips right here in the U.S.

Where else have you worked and in what position?
I have worked in both administration and direct services for a number of nonprofit organizations, sometimes as an employee, more often as an intern or volunteer.  I dabbled in behavioral health social work for two years, but most of my work has been community development oriented.  The highlights include public health outreach at Portland’s Consulate General of Mexico, grant writing at Huerto de la Familia, employment advocacy at Centro Latino Americano, community organizing with Repeal Coalition for Latinos, and research, writing and outreach for the Sierra Club Tribal Partnership Program.

Describe yourself in 3 words.
Kind, eats chocolate.

What is your favorite restaurant in Denver and why?
The Denver Bicycle Cafe. They fixed up my bike and they have deliciously strong coffee.

What are your favorite pastimes?
I love walking my dog, riding my bike, being outdoors, hiking, camping, cooking, taking care of my houseplants, learning to garden, and happy hours.

Do you volunteer anywhere in the community?
I volunteer at an urban farm called the GrowHaus in their Food Box Program and Mercado del Lado.

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities at Mi Casa, do not hesitate to contact Lizzy at 303-539-5631 or

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Achieve your Dreams with Budgeting

BudgetingBudgeting may seem daunting, but it is an essential component to taking control of your finances and meeting large goals, such as buying a house, paying for your child’s education or getting out of debt.

Creating a budget will help you determine whether you are spending more money than you are earning, and where you can cut unnecessary spending.

Identify Expenses

First, identify how much you are spending in the following categories: groceries, transportation, clothes, rent, utilities, entertainment/restaurants, insurance/medical expenses, childcare and miscellaneous. Track expenses by saving all receipts for a month and totaling how much is spent in each category at month’s end.

Increase Savings

After tracking your expenses, determine where you can cut or decrease spending to increase your savings to at least 10% of your monthly income. For example, instead of buying lunch out every workday, you could bring a lunch from home and save $40 or more per week, and over $2,000 per year!

Increasing your savings will allow you to create an emergency fund to avoid going into debt over unexpected situations – such as the sudden loss of a job or unforeseen medical expenses – and also allow you to work toward achieving your goals.

Track Spending

Once you have decided how much money you should spend in each category, track your purchases and payments every month to ensure you stay within the guidelines you have created. Concentrate the most on the categories where you have decided to decrease spending, and note progress toward your goals.

Once your budget is in place, you may find that you need to alter it slightly within the first few months. Keep in mind that adjusting to a budget takes time, and that if you keep with it, tracking expenses will soon become routine.

Free Financial Counseling

If you would like help setting up a budget or getting out of debt, free bilingual financial counseling is provided at Mi Casa Resource Center through mpowered. To learn more or set up a free appointment, call 720-944-2498.

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