Systemic Change Happens at the Intersection: A Gary Community Ventures 2023 Recap

December 20, 2023

Systemic Change Happens at the Intersection: A Gary Community Ventures 2023 Recap

In 2023, we consistently saw change happen at the intersection of business, impact investing, philanthropy, policy and new ventures, all tools we use in partnership with community to create impact for kids and families.

By Santhosh Ramdoss, President & CEO

At Gary Community Ventures, our passion for transforming the lives of Colorado’s children and families, especially those for whom opportunity has been historically limited, remains unwavering. We recognize that there is a complex interplay of systems that shape their realities – the dynamics of market forces, the intricacies of public programs and policy, and the essential services provided by nonprofits. These elements, though distinct, are inseparably intertwined, crafting a multifaceted backdrop to their daily lives. And yet, efforts to transform these systems have often operated in silos and sometimes worked in opposition to each other.

As we’ve come alongside families, listening and learning from them, we often meet parents and caregivers whose experience navigating these systems is similar: For example, a working mother might live in state-subsidized affordable housing, managed by a private entity. Her mornings could be spent dropping her child off at a public school before she heads to her job at a local business. In the evening, her child may attend an afterschool program spearheaded by a community nonprofit. And finally, perhaps with her SNAP card in hand – a federal initiative administered by the state – she purchases groceries for her family. What we hear most often from families is that navigating all of these systems is a delicate balancing act, but through resilience and resourcefulness, they make it work.

But should they have to make it work? Or, can we make systems work better for families?

At Gary we say yes! And to make this a reality, we must ignite change where it matters most – at the confluence of business, policy, and philanthropy. Our founders, Sam and Nancy Gary, envisioned Gary as a pioneering institution positioned precisely at this nexus. Their foresight and vision enables us to uniquely blend philanthropy, policy and advocacy, ventures, and impact investments, all united by a singular mission: to profoundly transform outcomes for Colorado’s children and families.

Equipped with this innovative structure and the necessary resources, we set out to institutionalize this approach across all our outcome areas. The year 2023 marked a significant milestone in this quest. It included housing initiatives that brought together developers, policymakers, investors, and grantmakers to catalyze affordability as well as the launch of My Spark Denver, a groundbreaking afterschool assistance program, funded through a synergistic blend of public and philanthropic resources. These are just a few instances of our commitment in action.

The path to such collaborative impact is often challenging. Investment professionals, policy advocates, and nonprofit leaders traditionally operate in silos, rarely finding common ground. However, the families we serve do not experience life in silos. They navigate a world where these sectors are inextricably linked. At Gary, we’re not just acknowledging this reality; we’re embodying it in partnership with all of you. Our approach represents a bold new paradigm for systemic impact and transformative social change.

As we reflect on the impact we’ve made in 2023, we are thrilled to share with you some of the people, ideas and solutions that epitomize our belief: change truly happens at the intersection. 

Together, we are redefining what’s possible.

Santhosh Ramdoss
President & CEO

Advancing Innovation & Investment in Housing

Change at the intersection of…


Relationships matter where innovation is concerned. This past November, Gary Community Ventures, in partnership with Ivory Innovations and Terner Housing Innovation Labs, brought together 100 leading investors, practitioners, entrepreneurs, advocates and government officials who have dedicated their careers to housing affordability. This inaugural convening called for leaders to assemble around one central purpose: to advance innovations and investments in housing affordability. But we did so each with our own communities in mind.

In line with Sam Gary’s belief that systemic change happens at the intersection of business, policy and philanthropy, ASSEMBLE100 sought to bring key leaders from each of these industries together for two days of deep learning, relationship building and ideation of new possibilities. We can’t wait to build off of the momentum we created together. Catch a glimpse of our time with 100 of the best minds in housing.

Renise Walker, Assistant Director of Systems Innovation for the Colorado Workforce Development Council, is a member of the Piton Fellowship’s Mid-Career Cohort

Diversifying Leadership in Denver

Change at the intersection of…


The Piton Fellowship welcomed 68 fellows in 2023. As the fellowship enters its third full year, it continues to see diverse representation in race and ethnicity, zip codes in metro Denver and across the for-profit, nonprofit and government sectors. In total 107 leaders have participated in the three fellowships, and continue to make an impact in metro-Denver by sharing their insights, opinions and perspectives. Piton Fellows are  addressing digital equity in partnership with the Mayor’s office, they’re leading outreach programs at our largest cultural institutions and they’re working to alleviate unnecessary burdens our healthcare system has placed on families.

Building Black Wealth

Change at the intersection of…


More than a century after Oliver “O.T.” Jackson founded Dearfield, Colo. with the dream to build Black wealth through ownership, 180 Black first-time homebuyers are continuing Mr. Jackson’s legacy with help from the Dearfield Fund for Black Wealth. 

Incubated at Gary, seven impact investors have grown the venture to more than $9 million. As Dearfield has grown, exciting trends have emerged:

  • 60% of Dearfield homebuyers are women
  • Homes purchased through Dearfield are estimated to net each homeowner at least $100,000 in wealth

Rooted in the conviction that Black wealth cannot wait, Gary and Dearfield are committed to raising capital and working across industries to make homeownership a possibility for even more people in the Black community. In 2023, Dearfield reported on its process and laid out a vision for the future in its first impact report.

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston and City Council Members Chris Hinds and Diana Romero Campbell join Denver Public Schools students for the My Spark Kids Town Hall

Sparking Passion & Purpose in Denver Middle Students

Change at the intersection of…


When kids participate in afterschool programs their self-confidence and self-awareness improves and we see more positive social behaviors. However, nearly 60% of parents say the high cost of afterschool programs keeps them from enrolling their kids.

To make programs like sports, art and music more accessible, we brought a variety of Denver community organizations, city leaders and small businesses together to launch My Spark Denver. During the 2023-24 school year, My Spark Denver will provide 4,000 eligible middle school students with $1,000 each to take part in any of the 130+ participating afterschool programs. To date, more than 1,000 students have signed up. 

To launch the program, students from four middle schools met with Denver Mayor Mike Johnston and City Council Members Chris Hinds and Diana Romero Campbell for a kids town hall. Students asked about some of the most pressing issues facing their city: housing, safety and equity. After answering their questions, city leaders challenged the students to pursue their passions and find their sparks because the lessons they learn through those activities will prepare them to be Denver’s next generation of leaders.

Expanding Wealth Through Employee Ownership

Change at the intersection of…


In 2023 Gary was honored to continue supporting Apis & Heritage Capital Partners (A&H) as part of an tiered ownership movement aimed at radically reducing the racial wealth gap. Creating new ownership pathways is one of the strongest tools to address our widening racial wealth gap, and by combining the speed, scale and expertise of private equity with the proven productivity and wealth building power of employee ownership, A&H is restoring dignity, status and the American dream for workers of color across the country. 

A&H Founder and Managing Partner Philip Reeves joined us in Denver at our Black Wealth Convening to share how the employee-led buyout approach has brought new successes and quality of life to employees at Apex Plumbing, a commercial plumbing operation that is now employee owned thanks to A&H’s acquisition and leadership.

We believe Colorado is fertile ground for more of these conversions, as the State has been at the forefront of the employee ownership movement—supporting both employee stock ownership plan conversions and alternative ownership structures. Between recent legislation that extends tax credits to businesses converting to employee ownership as well as the Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s dedicated Employee Ownership Office, Colorado is creating an environment for businesses to thrive while also providing wealth-building opportunities for employees.

Increasing Access to Affordable Childcare

Change at the intersection of…


While Colorado has made significant improvements and investments to support families with children from birth to five, 51% of Coloradans still live in childcare deserts, and much work is left to be done. But improving access to childcare is a feat that no single organization or sector can do alone. That’s why we partnered with EPIC, Colorado Children’s Campaign and Rocky Mountain PBS to welcome Lemonada Media’s No One is Coming to Save Us podcast to Denver. In front of a live studio audience, highly influential voices across business, policy and philanthropy joined award-winning journalist Gloria Riviera to discuss the challenges and opportunities that can exist when we all work together to transform Colorado’s early childhood system. 

Loryn Duke (Steamboat Ski & Resort), Natriece Bryant (Colorado Department of Personnel & Administration), Representative Lorena García (Colorado House of Representatives and Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition) and Gary’s own Steffanie Clothier are just some of the voices of change who brought their unique skills and perspectives together for impact. Tune in to their conversation below.

The Denver Post reported on the growing popularity of Proposition 123 in September 2023

Making Colorado More Affordable

Change at the intersection of…


After supporting the passage of Prop 123 in 2022, this year we pivoted to implementation, working closely with state agencies, municipalities, developers and housing advocates to deliver on the promise of Prop 123. Our policy and new ventures teams worked together to encourage municipalities to opt into the funding made available through this historic housing legislation. This meant gaining commitments from local governments to increase their affordable housing stock by 3% each year and expediting the approval process for such projects. Thanks to the hard work and collaboration of leaders across business, policy and philanthropy, by December, 200 municipalities representing 75% of the state population had opted in to make their communities more affordable. 

At the same time, our impact investing team worked alongside key partners to help renters on a path to home ownership through a tenant equity vehicle, another key program embedded in Prop 123. With investments in Enterprise Community Partners and the Colorado Housing Accelerator Initiative, renters in Arvada and Denver are building equity similar to that of homeowners. We believe these pilot programs could be scaled with Prop 123 funds to the benefit of renters statewide.

Our Savings Collaborative grantees were featured on the CO.created storytelling platform in November.

Using Philanthropy as a Catalyst for Change & Impact

Change at the intersection of…


This year our philanthropy team epitomized our belief in philanthropy as a catalyst for long-term impact that may result in a new venture or even a change in policy that benefits Colorado kids and families. Overall, we partnered with more than 90 organizations to provide more than $8 million in grants. In addition to launching a request for proposals that awarded more than 20 organizations a total of $1,115,600 in funding across our three outcome areas, our philanthropy team played a critical role in shaping ventures like My Spark Denver, MyFriendBen and BetterOffer — providing input, ideas and consultation to our ventures team in an effort to further develop these breakthrough solutions for optimal impact.

Alongside our policy team, we continued to support our Youth Wellbeing Policy & Advocacy Cohort and our School Readiness Advocacy Cohort, both of which represent strong and dynamic organizations committed to improving youth mental health and early care and education systems for young people and their families.