Urban Land Conservancy celebrates the achievements of our partnerships that create and preserve nonprofit facilities and affordable housing for communities in Metro Denver.

ULC’s Monthly Partner Spotlight shines a light on partners who demonstrate the value of collaboration, furthering our mission to improve the lives of Metro Denver residents through our real estate investments and community assets.

Congratulations to our March 2020 Partner Spotlight of the Month: The Center for African American Health!

The Center for African American Health (CAA Health) is a Family Resource Center dedicated to improving the health and well-being of infants, seniors, and everyone in between by providing culturally-sensitive health education and health promotion programs. CAA Health offers African American and Black Metro Denver communities culturally responsive resources that support them in overcoming the root causes of health problems so they can maximize their individual and family health. In addition to their education and health programs, The Center has expanded their services and has grown their resources and referral networks to provide research and evaluation services including community-based; evidenced-based; disease prevention; and disease management programs, events, and services.

Deidre Johnson and Grant Jones at CAA Health's new location in Northeast Park Hill

Launched in 2005, The Center for African American Health grew out of the health programs of the Metro Denver Black Church Initiative. Established as an initiative of the Denver-based Piton Foundation and spearheaded by Piton program officer Grant Jones, the goal of the Metro Denver Black Church Initiative was to build the capacity of black churches as social service providers by providing them with grants and technical assistance.

From 1993 through 1999, the Metro Denver Black Church Initiative provided training and technical assistance to hundreds of pastors, associate ministers, and lay leaders from black churches and granted more than $1 million in funding to black churches to support an array of social programs for children and families. It operated as a program of The Piton Foundation until 1997, when it reorganized as an independent 501(c)3. In 2000, Grant Jones left The Piton Foundation to head the organization.

“Grant’s vision and leadership to advance the work of CAA Health is remarkable. It’s an honor to now be working with CAA Health so closely at the Holly” said Aaron Miripol, ULC’s CEO and President.

Throughout its history, the Metro Denver Black Church Initiative collaborated with black churches on programs for at-risk youth, academically struggling students and ex-offenders as well as providing health education and health screening programs. In 2005, the Metro Denver Black Church Initiative made the decision to focus its work solely on the health disparities facing African Americans and officially changed its name to The Center for African American Health.

While CAA Health’s strategies have evolved over the years, their purpose has remained constant due to the persistent need within the communities it serves. In October 2018, CAA Health was accepted as a member of the Family Resource Center Association (FRCA), which has allowed CAA Health to broaden the scope of serves they provide to deepen the “how” of their work through evidenced-based systems and processes to support family outcomes and family self-sufficiency. As a Family Resource Center, CAA Health helps individuals and families overcome social, economic, and educational challenges and helps parents gain access to the skills, resources, and knowledge they need to provide a solid foundation for their children and families to thrive. This includes examining all social determines of health, including economic and social conditions that influence individual and group difference in health status.

Deidre Johnson joined CAA Health as the CEO and Executive Director in 2015. CAA Health’s Board of Directors is currently chaired by Gerie Grimes, President and CEO of HOPE Center Inc. Together, they work tirelessly to provide quality healthcare access and programs for African Americans and have brought a fast-paced, entrepreneurial environment to CAA Health.

“CAA Health has historically always been an advocate for African American health, but we’re taking it a step further now,” said Johnson. “We’re working to uplift our collective community voice to make real changes in how the health system affects different demographics through advocacy and policy. Although direct services are important, we know that true change requires that we also try to improve the systems in which these programs and services reside. Our value and goal of uplifting community voices, through our BeHeard Mile High platform, is an important element of this work.”

CAA Health offers a wide variety of programs including the BeHeard Mile High community health data panel, which is the only community health data panel in the nation that operates within a community-based agency; the Strengthening Families Program, which offers parent education classes for families with children ages birth to five years old; Mental Health First Aid classes, in partnership with Mental Health First Aid Colorado, for adults working other adults and youth; and much more.

When CAA Health became a Family Resource Center, Johnson began looking for a space that better suited the organization’s multidimensional needs. It was important to remain in Northeast Denver near the community they historically existed within and served. In February of 2020, The Center moved to ULC’s Hudson at the Holly Building (formerly the Roots Elementary School) in the Northeast Park Hill neighborhood. This occurred after an extensive community engagement process led by the Holly Area Redevelopment Project (HARP).

The HARP became an instrumental community organization following the destruction of the Holly Square Shopping Center in 2008, helping the community to reimagine the land for positive uses. Together with support from the City of Denver, ULC acquired the 2.6 acre site in 2009 and ULC immediately commenced an extensive community engagement process in partnership with the HARP and The Denver Foundation’s Strengthening Neighborhoods Program to determine future redevelopment plans. Today, Holly Square is a vibrant community hub, catering primarily to children. In addition to the Roots School, the site is home to the Jack A. Vickers Boys & Girls Club, Hope Center, and the Pauline Robinson Branch Library, among others.

“When we heard about the availability of the Hudson building and the community process, we took a tour and submitted our application to HARP for consideration” said Johnson. “The location was especially perfect given the other partners on the campus. I will never forget the April 8 HARP community meeting where we were given the opportunity to share with the Northeast Park Hill community our intention for the building and responsive programming. It was a wonderful process to be a part of and to witness.”

When CAA Health was chosen by HARP and the community, they began raising funds to make the purchase a reality. Although they had made significant progress with foundation support, the deadline fast approached. ULC offered to purchase the building and give CAA Health a Master Lease with purchase option. The partnership with ULC allows CAA Health three years to fundraise the remaining 80% to purchase the building.

As Deidre Johnson looks to the future of CAA Health, she knows they are evolving to a one-stop shop that is a safe and non-judgmental place where families and individuals can find culturally responsive services and social connection. She hopes that those in need can come to seek assistance through programs, partnerships, and services. CAA Health will also continue to be advocates for system changes and will fight to increase health equity for the communities it serves.

To learn more about CAA Health, please visit their website here. If you would like to make a donation to their fundraising efforts, contact John Reid at john@caahealth.org.