Mile High United Way partners with Catholic Charities and Open Door Youth Gang Alternative to Strengthen Families
By Diana Kurniawan
Mile High United Way has become the bridge for families struggling in Denver, through its support of many community programs. For Doretta Gerdine and her three boys, Vyrgil, Phranklin and Don Tavion Tootle, being a part of Reverend Kelly’s Open Door Youth Gang Alternative Program and Catholic Charities, (both supported by Mile High United Way), has helped them through the toughest and most crucial times in their life.
Doretta is a single mother of three young boys, who found herself in a financial crisis in 2008. Doretta was homeless and needed housing assistance to help her rear her young boys with shelter and basic needs. Mile High United Way’s partner, Catholic Charities, was able to help Doretta through its St. Veronica Outreach Ministry. Doretta was given rental assistance for the first year and later she was able to find transitional housing and found shelter from homelessness.
“One day near Christmas, Catholic Charities just showed up with a truck with literally everything I needed. When I said, everything, I meant everything,” said Doretta.
Doretta didn’t realize that Mile High United would be affecting her family’s lives beyond that point. But then, her three young boys became involved with another Mile High United Way partner, Open Door Youth Gang Alternative.
Vyrgil, 10, Phranklin, 11 along with her oldest, Don Tavion Tootle, 13, have all been a part of Open Door since Kindergarten at the Wyatt-Edison Charter School, in Denver. Doretta felt it was necessary for her boys to participate in the Afterschool Education, Bonding and Character Program (AEBC) with Reverend Leon Kelly, Executive Director of Open Door, to have a great foundation while they were still young. Open Door provides the after school program not only to instill good foundations for young children, but also to head off any opportunities for negative influences that could dampen their childhood.
Reverend Kelly gets the kids started each day with a whistle and his commanding voice, and tells them to sit in position, sit up straight, with hands folded in front of them and their backpacks on the floor. The program is held twice a week and the children are given snacks, tutoring and they are taught to recite biblical verses for moral and character building. Reverend Kelly builds up the morale for the children and fosters family support for the parents, and with his character building components, he’s able to become the role model the children need in the community.
“I learned ‘consequences’ that if we don’t do good, we get bad consequences and I choose good consequences,” said Vyrgil. “Open Door helped me with my schoolwork. There were a lot of improvements in my grades. I am getting B’s and before that I was getting lower than B’s.”
For the Tootle-Gerdine boys, being in the after school character building program, meant they have a better chance to persevere, meet role models, and take part in activities that they otherwise would not be privy to.
“We can go on field trips to learn and we met Will Smith, who talked about doing good in school,” said Don Tavion. “Rev. Kelly taught us that if we do good, we can earn a living.”
The Tootle-Gerdine family proved to be loyal to the program because they’ve seen the fruits of Reverend Kelly’s labor with their extended families.
“Our whole family has been with Open Door and not just one member of the family. Our cousin, La’Asianee Brown, was also in the program and she just graduated from university,” said Phranklin. “This program also helps me through the influence he has to better our lives, to be successful.”
Doretta never knew that Mile High United Way was the supporting organization for the many resources she had found.
“Wow, they did all that, I didn’t know they go across the board,” said Doretta, after finding out that she was one of the many families helped by programs supported by Mile High United Way.
Mile High United Way with partners like Catholic Charities and Open Door Youth Gang Alternative, continues to build legacies of successful youth and self-sufficient adults through partnerships with hundreds of non-profit organizations in the community.