The “opportunity gap” is how uncontrollable life factors like race, economic status, and family situations can affect a child’s achievement or life aspirations. Like most cities, Denver has not solved the issue of opportunity gaps and their effect on our children.

The pandemic dramatically impacted both physical and mental health, especially for young people. And as we shift from a survival mentality to the growth and rebirth of our city, how do we ensure that we are doing so equitably?

By focusing on removing opportunity gaps for all. Especially our children. One organization, Heart & Hand Center, has been doing this work in Denver’s Five Points and Park Hill neighborhood by investing in the next generation to disrupt the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

The definition of an opportunity gap, as suggested above, is not singular, which is why there is not a precise, clear solution to the issue. It takes a community-based, holistic approach to change actual outcomes for students.

Heart & Hand Center focuses on three main priorities to achieve results. First, ensuring students have a safe, nurturing place to go after school and during summer breaks. How can we expect students to succeed in school if their basic physical and emotional needs are not being met outside the classroom? Through Heart & Hand’s programs, students are fed, supported in their schoolwork, and exposed to experiences they might not receive at home, such as arts, gardening, tennis lessons, and museum trips. They also receive continued structure and support with reading and math throughout the summer to combat the reality that children in low-income households are more likely than students from affluent families to fall behind in reading and math during the summer months.

Heart & Hand’s second priority is exposing students to potential careers and post-secondary opportunities from college to tech school. How can we as a community expect our students to grow up to be something that they’ve never seen or didn’t know was possible? Attainable opportunities need to be addressed in middle and high school, combined with social-emotional conversations, realistic goal-setting, and one-on-one planning support.

The third priority is supporting students at home by providing wrap-around support to the entire family. It’s not easy for parents to ask for help and many existing government programs are under-utilized. Heart & Hand Center empowers families by providing resource navigation and increasing access to support programs.

If you’d like to participate in the community that’s empowering young people to realize their full potential, visit heartandhandcenter.org to see how you can engage.