Mile High Connects’ executive director joined Power Station with Anne Pasmanick, a national podcast, to highlight the work of our Collaborative. From our early days promoting transit oriented development to our work advocating for an equitable COVID recovery, this interview is a thank you to the nonprofits and organizers leading our work and the important role cross-sector collaboration plays in ensuring expertise and the public good co-exist.
|Dear Partners, |
I am announcing today that I am stepping down as Executive Director of Mile High Connects effective April 5th. In my nearly two years with the Mile High Connects team, we have realized our long-term goal of achieving affordable transit for the region, facilitated meaningful conversations around racial equity with the City and County of Denver’s leadership, and transformed the way our collaborative works, stepping into equity conversations fully present to the realities of our current environment.
We are stronger today that that ever before, with an extraordinary Steering Committee comprised of regional thoughtleaders and Community Builders. Our Steering Committee has unanimously decided to ask Deyanira Zavala to step into the Executive Director role. We have worked very closely over the last 18 months and I have full confidence that she is the right person to lead Mile High Connects in this next phase.
As for me, I will be heading home to Amherst, Massachusetts to help take care of my elderly parents. I was hoping that I could make this decision later and continue to help Mile High Connects through this crucial time of transition before moving on, but for personal reasons I am needing to prioritize the needs of my family at this time.
I am proud of what we have accomplished together. It has been a privilege and honor to work with you all and lead this extremely important and powerful collaborative at this crucial time in the Denver Metro Region.
With Deep Respect and Gratitude,
Last week, the RTD Board approved the Preferred Alternative for the 2019-2012 Fare Structure, by a vote of 10 to 5 in favor of the recommendation. This includes two new discounts:
- Low-Income Discount – 40% discount
- Youth Discount – 70% discount
This is the culmination of five years of collaborative partnership between RTD, Mile High Connects, and many community partners. Tuesday’s board decision is a major milestone towards making Denver a more equitable place to live and work as it ensures that our public transportation system – and the economic opportunities it provides – is both affordable and accessible to all.
We commend RTD’s board and staff for all of their hard work and commitment to working with the community and we commend all of the individuals, elected officials and community members for their unwavering support. The decision to form The Pass Program Working Group, a community based, highly diverse working group, alongside strong executive-level staff support demonstrates RTD’s dedication to successful community stakeholder relations. This was a consensus approach to decision-making that involved considerable compromise and t the outcome is commendable. For those with the lowest levels of mobility and income, affordable transit can have significant and positive implications for social and economic inclusion.
MHC is deeply grateful to our network of partners and also recognize that our work is not done. We are fully prepared to deploy resources to assist RTD with implementation and continue to support future efforts to furthering transit equity. In the near term, we commit to working with RTD to ensure the program achieves the desired outcomes and ensuring all in our region have access to opportunities. But today, we are taking a moment to celebrate. The new fare structure will ensure youth and low-income people have a chance to get to class on time, to the doctors appointment, to that job interview, to that higher-paying job, or to the grocery store.
MHC’s leadership along with a number of partners and RTD, developed a low-income and youth discount pass program. This program will create a 40% discount for transit for those living at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. The proposal is currently under review by RTD and MHC continues to actively seek support from the public to ensure RTD implements new discounts for youth and low-income riders. Mayor Michael Hancock’s 2018 State of the City Address included urging RTD to adopt the complete Pass Program reccomendation.
“And to our friends at RTD, we urge you to adopt the proposal before you, which would dramatically reduce fares for students and low-income residents and make transit free for all youth under the age of 12.” – Mayor Michael B. Hancock
RTD Needs to Hear from YOU!
RTD is currently hosting informational meetings to provide updates about the completed Pass Program Study and current fare review. At these meetings, RTD staff will discuss fares, the Pass Program Study and the working groups fare recommendations, the agency and its budget, and more. RTD staff will be available to answer questions from the public so now is your chance to let your voice be heard. MORE INFO
Upcoming Neighborhood Meetings:
Wed., July 18, 2018, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Englewood- Englewood Civic Center
1000 Englewood Pkwy, Community Room, 2nd floor
Thur., July 19, 2018, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Lakewood- Clements Community Center
1580 Yarrow Street
Sat., July 21, 2018, Noon – 2:00 p.m.
Montbello- Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver
4397 Crown Boulevard
Mon., July 23, 2018, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Aurora- Aurora Municipal Center
15151 E. Alameda Parkway City Café, 2nd Floor
Tue., July 24, 2018, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
South Denver- Thomas Jefferson High School
3950 S. Holly Street
Wed., July 25, 2018, Noon – 2:00 p.m.
Downtown Denver- RTD Administrative Offices
1660 Blake Street, Rooms T & D
Thur., July 26, 2018, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Thornton- Margaret W. Carpenter Recreation Center
11151 Colorado Blvd, Rooms B & C
After a year long effort by RTD’s Pass Program Working Group the future of equitable fares is now sitting in the hands of RTD staff and board. Mile High Connects (MHC), a member of the Pass Program Working Group, is on hand and ready to help. MHC’s experience dates back to 2014 when the first Affordable Fares Task Force of over 100 public, nonprofit, philanthropic and private sector partners was convened by MHC to advocate for affordability in the fare structure. MHC recognizes the challenge facing RTD staff both in the planning and implementation phases of an equitable fare structure, but also wants RTD to understand that they aren’t in this alone.
MHC and its network of partners are fully prepared to deploy their diverse resources to assist RTD staff with developing an implementation strategy. MHC recognizes that implementation will require some work but we urge RTD to take a problem solving approach and reach out to their community of experts ready to help. The Denver metro region cannot afford to let the “design complexity” hinder access to affordable fares . Making Denver a more equitable place to live and work starts with ensuring that our public transportation system – and the economic opportunities it provides – is both affordable and accessible to all.
RTD’s staff will make their first public report to the board of directors regarding the Pass Program Working Group’s recommendation to modify the existing discount pass program on Tues. March 27th at 5:30 pm. RTD first committed to creating an equitable pass program and convened a 25-member working group and hired a consulting firm to assist the group in evaluating the existing program over a year ago. The group completed its yearlong effort in February 2018, recommended 40 percent discount for low-income riders and a youth pass where riders under 12 are free and riders aged 13-19 receive a 70 percent discount.
The complete recommendation made by the working group and details of the proposed changes can be viewed on RTD’s Pass Program Working Group webpage. MHC will continue to advocate for a 50 percent discount for low-income riders recognizing that implementation of 40 percent discount will represent significant progress.
To Date organizations such as The Denver Foundation, 9to5, United for a New Economy, Colorado Cross Disability Coalition, Denver Women’s Collaborative, Mi Casa Resource Center, Cultivando, DenverWorks, Bayaud Enterprises, Colorado Fiscal Institute, West Denver Business Improvement District, Urban Peak, the Denver Post Editorial Board, The New York Times and others have voiced their support for equitable fares. Now is the time for the Denver Metro Region to move forward with a new pass program.
For those with the lowest levels of mobility and income, affordable transit can have significant and positive implications for social and economic inclusion. It’s time RTD’s commitment to building equity is put into action … Stand with MHC in support #FairFaresRTD to ensure that youth and low-income people have a chance to get to class on time, to that job interview, to that higher-paying job, to the grocery store or to that first-time home-buyer class. Attend the next RTD Board Meeting and make a public comment, call and send your elected RTD Board Director an email, and sign the petition created by Together Colorado.
What Are We Looking For in New Partners?
As we prepare to embark upon development of a new four-year strategic plan, Mile High Connects is opening up this call for partners and is looking to invite two to three nonprofit organizations to newly join our Steering Committee, which serves as the decision-making and governance body for the collaborative.
As a part of our equity and inclusiveness values, Mile High Connects is particularly interested in organizations that have a value of being resident-driven/resident-informed, those that prioritize leadership of people of color, and approach their work through a commitment to equity.
Being part of the Mile High Connects Steering Committee and one of our core nonprofit partners is something that requires a unique commitment. In addition to serving in a decision-making role for the overall direction of the organization, core partners work together each year to develop a collective workplan for Mile High Connects. Each organization then commits to executing on the strategies within the plan and to working in deep collaboration and coordination with each other and MHC’s external partners. Core partners should expect that this on-the-ground work will take approximately the time equivalent of a half-time staff.
Mile High Connects embraces a full range of civic participation and a core strategy for us is bringing together grassroots and grasstops actors to work toward broad social change. It is important that partners in the collaborative share this value and are willing to push and challenge themselves by being at a collective decision making table with partners with whom they might not normally work.
Typically Steering Committee representatives from each core nonprofit partner includes the most senior leader at the organization and often one additional staff person responsible for the on-the-ground work relating to MHC’s mission (if they are not one in the same).
Core nonprofit partners will receive a stipend for participation and, beginning in 2018, a small level of grant support during each of the four years of their commitment to serving as a MHC. However, it is important to note that to fully deliver on the bold vision of MHC’s collective work, partners will also be expected to bring their own aligned resources to the table and will the have opportunity to participate in collective fundraising. Mission-fit and belief in the value of collaboration should be the foundation of any potential partner’s decision to respond to this call.
What Do We Really Like About Being on the Steering Committee?
- Ability to work with other leaders to bring positive change to our community and build relationships by working together on a common cause
- Getting to know and work with unusual partners that we might not normally sit together with at a common table
- Gain more influence by leveraging the work of others
- Ability to better deliver on our own organizations’ missions by working in partnership with others using different strategies, but working toward the same goals
- Learning about different perspectives and challenging our own thinking about the ways to tackle complex issues
- Opportunities to work together to bring more data and financial resources to our organizations
- Ability to be part of a collaborative that has strong staff support and a functioning “backbone” without having to pay member dues or contribute to the overhead of the coordinating staff
- Use expertise and experience to influence the direction of a broad group of people working on important issues
- Work in a partnership that is committed and devotes time and attention to strengthening its equity lens
What Is Most Challenging About Being on the Steering Committee?
- Being part of a collaborative takes time – time that could be used to accomplish our own organization’s work/goals
- Partnership work can be complicated – we sometimes have to hash things out, things move too slowly or too quickly for us (often at the same time), we have to compromise, we have to communicate
- We are working on complex, systems-level issues – it can be hard to see the progress as immediately as we’d like
- We are committed to deepening our ability to live our equity values and it is a journey; we are practicing and still learning
Time Commitment and Logistics:
- We ask that core nonprofit partners engage with us in development of our strategic plan in 2017 and commit to participation on the Steering Committee through the term of our strategic plan, which will run 2018 – 2021.
- The Steering Committee currently meets every other month for a two-hour period (second Fridays from 9am – 11am at The Denver Foundation).
- Note: We are also recruiting resident leaders from directly impacted communities to our Steering Committee and, depending on who is selected, may change the time of our meetings.
- Key Dates:
- March 21: 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.: New Steering Committee Member Orientation & Team Building 1
- April 6: 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.: Steering Committee Team Building 2
- April 14: 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.: First Steering Committee Meeting
- June 20 and 21: Overnight Retreat in Estes Park (expenses paid)
- Staff and existing Steering Committee members are available to meet, talk with and support new Steering Committee members in their participation outside of meetings as needed.
How To Apply
- Interested organizations should fill out this application.
- Send the application to us by February 2nd, by email, mail (make sure to allow enough time for it to arrive), or in person at:
Mile High Connects
55 Madison St., 8th Floor
Denver, CO 80206
- By February 14th, we’ll be scheduling times to get to know you a little better. If you submit an application indicating your interest, please also hold the following windows on your calendar for conversations to explore the opportunity:
- February 22: 8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
- February 23: 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
- February 27: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
- March 6: 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
About Mile High Connects
Mile High Connects (MHC) is a broad collaborative of private, public, and nonprofit organizations committed to increasing access to affordable housing, good jobs, quality schools, and healthy and resilient communities through public transit. By increasing resources, influencing policy, and working with residents, MHC seeks to leverage the current and expanding Metro Denver transit system to promote a vital region full of opportunity for everyone. Our mission is to ensure that the Metro Denver regional transit system fosters communities that offer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life. Please visit our website at www.milehighconnects.org for more information.
To Our Community,
In 2015, MHC was pleased to invest over $900,000 into our local nonprofit community through directed and responsive grantmaking. These funds supported organizations to engage residents, build capacity and advocate for affordable housing, bus stops and service routes, affordable fares, local employment opportunities, fresh food access and more.
Mile High Connects also continued to expand its message, speaking at 19 national and local conferences to highlight issues of transportation equity, gentrification and displacement, economic opportunity and cross-sector collaboration. Here at home, we built a dynamic MHC Advisory Board of over 60 community leaders from across the region. Come from a range of disciplines, sectors and positions within their organizations, this impressive group is working with us as thought partners, informing some of the most critical aspects of our work.
Our national support continued to build. In addition to our ongoing partnership with the Ford Foundation, Mile High Connects was also one of three places nationally to be selected to participate in a cohort with the Kresge Foundation focused on ways that we can better coordinate and align efforts in ways that allow us to access new forms of capital for community development efforts.
Mile High Connects was also honored to win the Kay McCanless Award for Community Building from the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition and the Outstanding Leadership by an Organization from the Transit Alliance.
You can read more about our highlighted 2015 accomplishments here.
As we move into 2016, we look forward to even more policy wins, leveraging additional resources to invest in our community and reaching even more than 1,400 residents, 97 community leaders and 300 organizational partners we were privileged to work with this year.
You can read more about plans for our 2016 work here.
We would be delighted to work with you on any areas of common interest and effort. Please don’t hesitate to reach out at any time and join us or invite us to join you. All are welcome!
Dace West, Executive Director
Whether people can afford bus and light rail fares is one of the most fundamental issues to whether a transit system really serves its public. If I were being really honest (and I am), I would share that it took Mile High Connects a couple of years to understand this really basic issue. We started our collaborative with great ideas about getting more affordable housing near transit, connecting local workers to jobs in transit areas and making sure that services like health and education were easy to get to through light rail. And then, after hundreds of conversations with community members, we finally got it – if people can’t afford to even get on the bus or the light rail, it doesn’t matter if that health clinic is located near a transit stop or that they live in housing right next to a station.
At the beginning of 2014, we began exploring what it would look like to work more intentionally on affordability of bus and light rail fares. RTD was getting ready to undertake a study of its fare structure, fare cost and pass programs, so it seemed like a great time to begin to work with them on how we could address the challenge of affordability.
Our effort began small – 10 organizations around a table describing the ways that affordability of fares impacted their constituents. Over the course of the year, as that group became 40, then 70, then 120 with participants from every sector – nonprofit, business, government, philanthropy – we realized just how hungry people were to talk about something they see every day in a meaningful, solution-oriented way.
Throughout the year, we worked closely with staff at RTD, co-hosting three targeted focus groups for nonprofits, participating their Local Government Stakeholders convenings, attending all eleven of the public input sessions on the Fare Study and meeting whenever possible with staff on the issue. We applauded RTD for opening up the process to public input, came to them with specific ideas we were working on to get at the affordability question and encouraged them to work with our growing coalition even more deeply to delve into solutions in a way that was generative, creative and helped to address community need.
Because of this, I have to admit that I was surprised at last week’s update to the RTD Board Operations and Customer Service Committee on the Fare Study. A board member asked specifically whether any ideas had been generated by those in the community interested in affordability and staff responded “no”. Staff also shared that the opportunity for feedback would be limited to a formal public hearing model for the next phase of the study.
In reality, there are any number of very specific ideas being explored, tested, talked through and pondered. Ranging from ways that you could make an income-based pass and fare system work to changes to the Business and Neighborhood EcoPass Programs to enhancements to the Nonprofit Agency Reduced Fare Program, a large group of interested and informed stakeholders from every sector are thoughtfully working to figure out how to tackle this complex, critical issue. We continue to invite RTD staff to engage with us, to think with us, to explore with us and to continue on the path they were walking down throughout the course of last year to meaningfully engage community in their process. Productive dialogue is important for the best solutions to emerge. We encourage and look forward to continued, deepening and expanding opportunities for partnership for the benefit of the community at large.
As we move into 2015, you might notice a few changes here at Mile High Connects. In addition to our brand new website, we’ve spent the past few months honing and refining our workplan to be able to provide a more targeted, coordinated set of efforts to the community for even greater impact in the coming year. Our work over the next twelve months will focus on four main priority areas:
- Affordable Housing and Community Facilities
- Business, Local Workforce and Middle Skilled Jobs
- Affordable Transit and Meaningful Service Routes
- First and Last Mile Connections
For more detail about our strategies, view our 2015 Annual Workplan: 2015 Workplan External.
We’ve also brought on some great new folks to help facilitate each priority area. Help us welcome Jennifer Billig, Stephen Moore, Brad Weinig and Zoe Williams as our Priority Area Coordinators for the coming year.
As you take a look through our new site and see what our workplan has to offer in the coming year, please be on the lookout for ways we might support your work or that you might connect to ours. We’re always in search of new partners and people aligned with our mission of ensuring that our transit system helps offer access to opportunity for everyone in our community. Reach out – we’d love to hear from you.