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THRIVE Network students have big plans for Southeast

There are many reasons one might become an entrepreneur: seeking opportunity, autonomy, freedom or a legacy, or out of responsibility to society or family. But for Southeast residents like Julie Ramirez, 28, and Elena Salinas, 31, motivation comes from many sources. Ramirez grew up in the Pikes Peak Park neighborhood and has spent the last few years “readying a Southeast renaissance” through her advocacy training work with Council of Neighbors and Organizations (CONO). Salinas, a four-year resident of the Deerfield neighborhood, has held various volunteer positions and is currently a stay-at-home mom with a passion for bringing healthier food to her community.

Earlier this year, Ramirez and Salinas both signed up for THRIVE Network, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that hosts a 10-month business-creation education program meant to revitalize Southeast through entrepreneurship. These two women, along with 18 other candidates, were chosen from a pool of more than 100 applicants. The program moves through three phases: mindset and habits, time-blocking and budgeting, and launching into business. But even before their upcoming graduation in November, both Ramirez and Salinas have made steps toward their goals.

And that is good news for Southeast. Capital Impact Partners, a national firm of investors, says of the importance of entrepreneurship: “As new businesses grow, jobs are created. That, in turn, sparks new opportunities for growth in other sectors, fueling an engine of job creation that helps tackle the epidemic of unemployment in underserved communities.” Like the underserved communities where Ramirez and Salinas want to set up shop.

Ramirez says as she was growing up in the Southeast, residents never really had a place to hang out. “Working with CONO I’ve had so many meetings about the Southeast but usually never in Southeast… there is not really a good place for business meetings and socializing,” she says. Often she’s felt frustrated, “that there is nowhere else for us to go…” [pullquote-1] This need in her community sparked an idea. “One day I was talking with Pastor Ben [Anderson] and Joyce [Salazar] and I just threw out the idea that I wanted to open a coffee shop in the far future,” says Ramirez. From then on, every time she would see Pastor Ben he’d ask, “When are you going to open a coffee shop?”

Looking back, Ramirez says she is grateful for the gentle nudging. In February 2020, her café, Stompin’ Grounds Coffee, will be established inside the new community hub located at the Mission Trace Shopping Center, on the southeast corner of Hancock Expressway and South Academy Boulevard. “This [dream] wouldn’t be happening without the support of [Pastor Ben’s] Solid Rock Christian Cultural Center,” she says. She hopes to further invest in her community by creating a barista internship program for local high school students.

Ever since she was a little girl, Salinas, who grew up in Denver, says she’s had a passion to make sure people had the food they needed. “I was right alongside of my mother. We’d do food programs, we’d go out on Colfax and Peoria, Pearl Street … we’d put plates together, soups together, I’d sit down with those who [didn’t have a house] and physically feed them,” she says. Her devotion continues as she’s in the first stages of opening The Helping Hand Discount Grocery Store in the Southeast.

Salinas, whose process is moving a little slower than Ramirez’, says she hopes she will one day also find space in the old Mission Trace Shopping Center, but meanwhile she’s taking her time conducting surveys, trialing pop-up markets, and connecting with food vendors to make sure she can put the right food on her shelves.

One day she hopes to create a work-for-trade program that allows volunteers to fill up a backpack of groceries in exchange for a few hours of work. Salinas also plans to create an employment model with flexible schedules that can cater to single and working moms, like herself, who also manage their kids’ schedules. “Everyone lets me be a mother wherever I go. … I always get so emotional when I talk about that because I’m a mother first and foremost.”

Salinas is inspired by one of the most valuable lessons she learned from Taj Stokes, Executive Director of THRIVE: “Be who you are. Break through these barriers and limits society has put on us.”

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