Youth Wellbeing



Our mental health system is overwhelmed by the number of young people in crisis. We must therefore work to advance prevention and early interventions to ensure high acuity care is available for those who most need it. And we believe we can do that by enabling proactive, asset-based approaches that provide young people with more opportunities to thrive while highlighting their wholeness and strengths.

Why Youth Wellbeing?

Our youth are facing a mental health crisis, and a growing body of research and community leaders suggest its time to start addressing it differently

(Data Source: Children’s Hospital Colorado)

So much of the narrative around youth is focused on the negative outcomes of their mental health issues and the dire state of affairs. And it’s not hard to understand why: The current state of affairs is about as dire as we’d ever want it to get.

In 2021, Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a state of emergency for youth mental health in Colorado. This after seeing emergency room visits by young people under the age of 18 for mental health issues spike from 1,655 in 2016 to 3,957 in 2021. Meanwhile, Colorado adolescents ages 11 to 18 have seen their rate of poor mental health double since 2017, from 8.8% to 18.5% in 2021.

As medical providers, nonprofits and funders have rushed to address the problem, Gary and its partners are working to supplement the impact of critical care providers by listening to young people and identifying youth-centered, upstream approaches. Their takeaways have been eye-opening and suggest there is power in looking at the youth mental health narrative differently. It’s pushed our Youth Success team at Gary Community Ventures to deeply consider this question:

Might taking an asset-based approach with young people — one that reaches them early — prevent poor mental health outcomes before they rise to the level of crisis, giving our youth more opportunities to thrive in the process?

We think so, which is why we focus on prevention and early stage intervention to improve youth wellbeing.

Changing the Youth Wellbeing Narrative

Prevention & early intervention work continue to show signs of promise, as does a need for a strengths-based approach to this work.
Students find passion, puspose and connections with peers and trusted adults at the School of Breaking afterschool program, a My Spark Denver provider.

Guided by deep pools of research from the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy that addresses the state of youth mental health and the effects of social connection and social media, as well as extensive conversations with community members and partners, we aim to prevent more youth from needing to access higher acuity mental health care by increasing access to preventative resources and opportunities as well as pre-diagnosis wellbeing and behavioral health interventions.

What’s also true is that youth of color as well as those in the 2SLGBTQ+ community are experiencing disproportionate challenges with their respective wellbeing, which is why we’ve prioritized reaching these young people in our approaches.

Our Approach to Prevention

We work with systems and organizations to ensure that young people develop a sense of purpose and build trusting relationships with their peers and adults – two of the strongest protective factors for youth wellbeing. We focus on scaling prevention opportunities that are culturally and identity responsive and that center youth voice and experience.

Our Approach to Early Intervention 

When young people need support, we want them to have easy access to pre-diagnosis interventions and diverse providers (both formal and informal). We also want to reduce the stigma associated with seeking support. We partner with systems and organizations working to scale early interventions, expand and diversify the behavioral health workforce, and advance narrative change.

The Power of Purpose & Connection for Kids

How do we look beyond just measuring problems?
Sara Nadelman, Youth Success Manager

Did you have a passion that ignited your teenage years?  Perhaps it was academics, but for many of us, this spark unfolds outside the classroom.

My spark as a teenager was competitive soccer. And while the success of our team absolutely mattered, it was the unwavering sense of belonging that cemented my understanding of my purpose to the whole. Am I who I am today because of soccer? Honestly, probably. 

The old adage holds true: what gets measured gets managed.

Tracking the rise in youth mental health issues and the effectiveness of interventions is crucial. It unlocks the door to greater funding, resources, and support.

But here’s a critical question: What if we looked beyond just measuring problems?

Imagine measuring key indicators of youth well-being – like strong social connections or increased school engagement – upstream, as a preventative approach before diagnoses become necessary.

Would more kids have the tools they need to thrive, ultimately reducing the strain on our systems?

We think so.

Emerging Solutions 

The promising list of venture, policy, philanthropic investible youth wellbeing approaches continues to grow

My Spark Denver

Strategy: Prevention & Purpose
Approach: Venture

My Spark Denver is a partnership between the City and County of Denver, Gary Community Ventures and Mile High United Way. In a city where 60% of families cannot afford supplemental activities for their children, this pilot has provided $1,000 to families to enroll their kids in interest-aligned afterschool programming to foster confidence, build trusted connections, and encourage positive social behaviors. My Spark now has 3,000 enrolled students, with 96% of families and 96% of youth reporting satisfaction with the program. More frequently than not, youth are reporting participating in activities they are passionate about and having positive interactions with adults. We’re still accepting applications for families to enroll in My Spark and are always looking for more providers to support the program.

Community Partner: Nita Gonzáles

Strategy: Prevention & Purpose
Approach: Venture

Nita Gonzáles didn’t hesitate when our team asked her to join the advisory council for My Spark Denver. Much like her father, Corky Gonzáles, the revolutionary founder of the Chicano Movement, Nita isn’t shy about using her voice and significant influence to speak up about the parts of My Spark she might run differently. But there are two tenants she consistently praises: the bevy of provider options and the choice it grants to families. These were tenants of her own afterschool programs she implemented as the principal of Escuela Tlatelolco, which continue to have positive reverberations to this day.

Cohort Learnings: Peer-to-Peer Community of Practice

Strategy: Early Intervention & Connection
Approach: Philanthropy

In October of 2023, our Youth Success team established a community of practice cohort with six Colorado-based organizations, all of whom are working tirelessly to address Colorado’s youth mental health crisis through strengthening youth-to-youth peer support in different ways. Not only have they chiefly informed our theory of change around youth wellbeing and our approaches to this work, in just a matter of months, they’ve delivered significant learnings and progress on key objectives, including finding ways to credential youth to offer peer-to-peer support, expanding their programs to serve more youth, and tapping into Medicaid as a payor for youth peer-to-peer mental health services.


Strategy: Varies
Approach: Impact Investing

GreyMatter is a seed-stage venture capital firm working to help mental health-focused startup founders identify the most promising areas of opportunity, access previous learnings from the field, hire staff, find customers, raise capital and curate networks of experts to help them navigate scientific, governmental, regulatory and commercial landscapes. By investing in this vital fund, Gary can not only further its work, but discover, support and develop relationships with portfolio companies best positioned to deliver youth wellbeing outcomes in Colorado.

Youth Wellbeing Policy & Advocacy Cohort

Strategy: Prevention
Approach: Policy

In collaboration with statewide advocates, community organizations as well as mental health clinicians and researchers, our Youth Wellbeing Policy Cohort was established in 2022. Colorado Youth Congress also brought the voices of youth into the cohort, helping us design an advocacy space where young Coloradans like Animas High School senior Zoe Ramsey (pictured right) could feel like side-by-side partners, not an afterthought. In two years of partnership, the cohort has collaborated on several pieces of legislation, including House Bill 24-1136, a successful bill designed to incentivize healthier social media usage among 13- to 17-year-olds.

Have a solution or learning we should add to this list? Email us at

How to Engage & Stay Connected

There are multiple ways for all types of stakeholders to get involved with work in the youth wellbeing space

The data demands us — our communities demand us — to start approaching this issue differently. And we believe these emerging solutions offer roadmaps as to how we might do so. If you’re interested in joining us in this work, there are a number of ways to engage.

  • Are you a funder interested in learning more about our youth wellbeing strategies, our six cohort members and others doing important work in this space?
  • Are you a policy professional or mental wellbeing practitioner interested in collaborating with us on this work?
  • Are you a nonprofit interested in learning more about our next round of grant funding?

Contact Sara Nadelman to learn more

Keep in Touch

Sign up below to receive the latest news, announcements and perspectives from Gary.

By submitting this information, you are opting-in to receive communications from Gary Community Ventures.

Venture with Us

Together, we will create the change our community wants to see. Whether you want to discover more about our ventures, or connect with a member of our team, we want to hear from you.