Beanstalk Foundation

What's right with Colorado is right next door.

Growing Colorado Kids

Lands of Opportunity

Growing Colorado Kids gives refugee youth a place to learn and belong, and a garden to grow.

Growing Colorado Kids, led by local lioness Denise Lines affords refugees in Denver’s neighborhoods that chance to seize the opportunities alluded to in one of our nation’s most notable claims. Lines, who worked at Mercy Housing, discovered that some refugees living near her were struggling to even put food on the table. It started simple, a group gardening and cooking activity, Denise and the kids. But over time, Growing Colorado Kids blossomed into something spectacular. GCK’s youth members, all refugees from Africa and Burma, set their own schedule, make their own rules, and manage the gardens all by themselves. They select their leaders, vote on changes to the way they do things, and learn self-reliance. Most of all, they become part of the community, as Denise, and other GCK mentors guide the youth to relationships with neighbors and businesses, including Brad and Libby Birky of SAME Cafe. GCK provides it’s youthful, driven, amazing members with a home, not just four walls and roof, but a place where they know their neighbors, their neighbors know them, and a place where they belong.

Their mission: To reduce hunger, improve nutrition, and provide experiential learning opportunities for refugee youth through organic farming.

The Bionic Neighbor

Denise Lines guides refugee youth to life skills, self-sufficiency and community connection.

Denise Lines was your average, amiable, delightful, neighbor. Well, she wasn’t average. Not really. Denise worked at Mercy Housing, helping to provide affordable, safe and quality homes to people and families with the greatest need. She was already pretty spectacular, let’s be honest. And, while at Mercy, as she was attempting to convert an empty lot into a community garden, something serendipitous happened. No, it wasn’t a skydiving accident for a tennis star. It was a group of Somali Bantu refugees, a few families, who were resettled into the building where Denise worked. That’s when everything changed. That’s when Denise found herself in a beeping, booping, mid-‘70s science and medical montage.

 

They would make her stronger.
They would make her faster.
They would make her better.
They would make her EVEN MORE caring.

The early days

The Bionic Neighbor was born. Denise Lines became an even more incredible advocate for community, inclusivity and knowledge. She became one part teacher, one part gardener, one part head chef, one part chairwoman of the board, and one part mentor. And those are only the parts those government scientists will disclose, wink. Denise comprises so many exceptional parts that a full list would take months to read. By those parts combined, Denise Lines started working with resettled youth while at Mercy Housing in 2003. And in 2008 she started Growing Colorado Kids. It was simple at first. She just opened her doors, her home, and her heart to the Somali Bantu youth refugees. She discovered that they were having a hard time putting food on the table and she taught them to garden and to cook. She found that integrating into American society was difficult, and she mentored and helped them make business and community connections. And she taught job skills, leadership training, financial education and more.

 

There are benefits to being Bionic. An ordinary person probably would have buckled under the pressure, but not Denise. After a few months, when 90% of that building where Denise worked with Mercy Housing was housing refugee families, Denise discovered that all of their kids and youth were excited about being part of the group. So, hand-in-hand with those Somali Bantu refugee youth, Denise created Growing Colorado Kids. And over that time, Denise has even helped the youth learn to work together, to assign responsibilities among one another, and GCK continues to thrive. Right now, she even holds down a position at the Gathering Place on top of everything that GCK demands of her. She is superhuman. It’s true. Denise even lined up a partnership with the Colorado Non-Profit Development Center.

A lasting impact

Denise Lines, Bionic Neighbor, isn’t great simply because of the amazing super-parts she has and all the incredible roles she takes on. It’s her dedication to community service, a life-long mission across multiple jobs and organizations. She espouses a philosophy of love, one that shows off her incredible and supercharged spirit: “Through social interaction social change happens, I believe that with all my heart.” Denise Lines is all love. As Growing Colorado Kids grows, and as Denise continues to give back to her neighbors, she is more than just an amazing leader for the refugees she helps, or for Mercy Housing, or the Gathering Place, she’s a bionic neighbor to each and every person in Denver. She’s a role model.