The Urban Peak program located in both Denver and Colorado Springs has been around since 1988. It’s a special place for youth experiencing homelessness and is the only nonprofit that provides full coverage, such as shelters and education, for those between the ages of 15 and 24 in Colorado state. “Our goal is to help youth overcome real life challenges and become self-sufficient adults,” says Kim Easton, CEO of Urban Peak. Each year The Joseph Family foundation hosts a charity fashion show called Urban Nights, to help raise money and awareness for these youth. You can purchase your tickets here.
This year the event will take place on August 26, at Mile High Stadium located at 2027 West Lower Colfax Avenue in Denver. Admission begins at 6 p.m. for sponsors, patrons and VIP guest. General admission follows at 7 p.m. with a red carpet entrance. It’s a night full of fashion with a runway show presenting the best from local designers and boutiques. There will also be a silent auction with donated gifts and art-work by the youths themselves. While this show is all glitz and glam, the main idea is to give back to the Denver community and help Urban Peak provide services such as overnight shelters and street outreach programs for youth experiencing homelessness. These services can really affect lives and bring change to the future. We wanted to showcase how Urban Peak has really changed lives of past and current youth experiencing homelessness. So we spoke with Jacob from last year’s program and Gina Yanez, a current program participant about their experiences at Urban Peak, their utilization of shelters and education programs as well as what they see in their futures.
303 Magazine: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Yanez: My name is Gina Yanez and I am 20 yeas old. I was born in Texas but moved to Colorado and have lived here most of my life. My parents are separated, which has always been a complicated story, but they stayed together for the sake of us kids. I have a brother, sister, little brother, and two cats. We’ve had our ups and downs throughout the years but have always made it through the hard times together.
303: What brought you to Urban Peak? What was your life like before you came to Urban Peak?
Yanez: Our family had a lot of ups and downs, I found myself in court at 18 against my own family for personal reasons. The court came to a conclusion that I should be kicked out of my home without being able to return. My parents didn’t want to break the law so I was on my own. I graduated high school but was homeless and jobless with nowhere to go.
Jacob: Rock bottom brought me to Urban Peak. I grew up in Dallas, playing music. My grandmother passed away from cancer while shooting my very first video and although it did not make a network premiere, I was still haunted by the moments of my grandmother’s passing. Adding grief with identity crisis within my artistry, I found it very difficult to continue living a stable life while feeling unstable within myself. So I left my home, job, family and dreams to find my true purpose within and without the world around me. Now I able to supply my younger peers going through a similar situation words of knowledge and help of how to get through their current circumstances. Life before Urban Peak was an earthquake in which I was shaking a lot of things in and out of my life. And that sifting is what brought me to be the productive citizen I am today.
“I think the approach Urban Peak has is very helpful. They’re really understanding and have sympathy but set boundaries. They don’t want to get too sympathetic. I know they’re trying and actually want, to get youth off the streets.” -Gina Yanez
303: How is life now, after Urban Peak? How did you get there?
Yanez: I started living at an Urban Peak center and got accepted into community college (CCD) after court. I started going to school, living at the shelter, and working a full time job at minimum wage. While still in school I had to find a way to resource food stamps and make time for volunteer work. I do 30 hours per month. A few months later I was finally told I would be staying at Rocky Mountain Youth Housing at Urban Peak. I remember going to Urban Peak’s Education & Employment offices many times, and now I was finally in. They really helped me with school and employment options. I learned a lot from them and eventually got a job at Urban Peak Thrift, teaching me a lot about business.
Jacob: Right now I am in the housing program. It has helped me achieve the stability in my life to further pursue my dreams. I used their Drop In Center which helped me get my birth certificate and Colorado ID, and supplied me with numerous amount of mentors around Colorado. I am now a Sunday school teacher at Highlands Church and just got back from my very first mission trip in Honduras. I also model for Wilhelmina of Denver.
303: What is your involvement with Urban Nights? Are you participating in the art auction? If so, tell us about your work.
Jacob: Last year I spoke at Urban Nights and shared my story, and I helped raise $211,000. I felt vulnerable. To be able to share my story, I was able to release my guilt and shame of my struggle by being open enough with myself to be open with the world around me.
303: Where do you hope to be in 5 years? What tools will you take from Urban Peak to help you in your day to day life?
Yanez: In 5 years I’ll be 25 so I would like to have graduated college. I want to get a job and travel too California, Florida, Mexico and Canada. Ill take what I learned career wise and make sure I’m being professional during interviews and at my jobs. I’ve learned a of skills such as how to do a resume correctly and keep positive. I don’t want to ever be homeless again. Its very hard. I’ve learned a lot from it but I’d rather not have to struggle. I’ll also want to give back. I’d like to come back and volunteer or maybe even work for Urban Peak, it would be cool to help out.
Jacob: I hope to be on my very first world tour promoting “invisible children’”through my music and starting philanthropy projects for inner city youth, such as arts, music, and dance. I’ve learned a lot of communication skills, and all of the wisdom and knowledge I’ve gained from my mentors. Such as leadership, sacrifice, empathy, and patience.
*Jacobs last name was not provided for privacy reasons.