Douglas County made news recently when word spread it has achieved the lowest rate of child poverty in the nation. That doesn’t mean child poverty is a non-issue at the local level, according to …
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Douglas County made news recently when word spread it has achieved the lowest rate of child poverty in the nation. That doesn’t mean child poverty is a non-issue at the local level, according to county officials and a local man who in 2015 started a nonprofit to serve Douglas County’s homeless students.
Joe Roos began Hide in Plain Sight, also known as HIPS, with aspirations of eradicating student homelessness, starting in Douglas County.
He wants kids to attend college or trade schools after high school. He doesn’t want students of any age to miss out on field trips, extracurricular activities or be unable to participate in athletics because they can’t afford to.
The nonprofit’s central mission is to help students young and old through scholarships and emergency financial assistance.
Although he’s still serving Douglas County, Roos’ organization has since expanded into a statewide program generating tens of thousands of dollars in higher-education scholarships and additional programming for at-risk students in grades K-12.
“When we began, at risk to us meant homeless students. That has expanded now to include students who live in poverty, students aging out of the foster care system or students with special needs,” Roos said.
Among students served by HIPS is Michael Rodarte, 20, a psychology student at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs. Rodarte was thrust into the foster care system at 14 after he reported his mother and stepfather to police for neglecting and abusing his siblings.
In the subsequent years he, his twin sister and his 1-year-old brother bounced from a foster home in Colorado Springs to living with his grandparents in California until he resettled in Colorado, graduating from Mountain Vista High School in 2016.
He receives a scholarship from HIPS in order to attend Pikes Peak Community College. Rodarte said that’s crucial because he doesn’t receive financial support from his family. He’s also enjoys watching a startup nonprofit grow.
“I feel like I’m witnessing the birth of something,” he said.
Those who qualify for Hide in Plain Sight scholarships may meet a school district’s designation as homeless or federal income standards.
For the 2017-18 school year, 350 students in the Douglas County School District from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade were homeless, according to Colorado Department of Education statistics.
Nearly, 5,860 students were eligible for free lunches and 2,286 for reduced-price lunches. That’s approximately 9 percent and 3 percent of the district’s 67,597 students.
Hide in Plain Sight started small, raising $11,000 in 2015 and awarding three scholarships in Douglas County. By the 2015-16 school year it gained traction, raising $123,000.
Come the 2016-17 school year, HIPS exceeded its fundraising goal of $150,000 and reached $194,000, also broadening its reach to the entire Denver metro area. This school year, it has raised $305,00 and awarded 73 scholarships statewide.
So far, recipients include 57 students at the Emily Griffith Technical College in Denver, 14 at Arapahoe Community College, 11 at the Community College of Aurora, nine at CU Denver and nearly 130 scholarships overall.
HIPS has added additional services as well, like a mentorship program started in 2018 to provide scholarship recipients more than financial support. Rodarte said he discusses life and future goals with his mentor, whom he hopes to have a life-long relationship with.
Polli Ring, of Highlands Ranch, has volunteered with HIPS for approximately one year. She helps conduct in-person interviews with students, which they do for each scholarship applicant. She called meeting the students — including many adults who are returning to school or attending college for the first time — a rewarding experiences.
“They don’t allow their experiences to hold them back,” she said.
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