Youth Connections Investment Grows to $9.5 Million to Support the Social, Emotional & Mental Well-Being of Colorado Students

September 22, 2022

As schools continue to navigate fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, Colorado is witnessing a youth mental health crisis that, while not new, has reached urgent levels as both a public health and public education challenge. A new investment of more than $3.5 million in grant funding was announced today to grow the reach of Youth Connections to five school districts in rural Colorado, in addition to the eight school districts already participating in the seven-year initiative. Youth Connections aims to strengthen the capacity of schools to respond to and promote social, emotional, and mental well-being for Colorado middle and high school students, particularly those who experience the greatest barriers to feeling connected, supported, and engaged. 

“With most youth spending a significant proportion of their day in school, schools are uniquely positioned to promote the academic development of students as well as their social and emotional growth,” said Linda Reiner, President and CEO for Caring for Colorado. “With the support of our funding partner, The Denver Foundation, and our implementation partner, Colorado Education Initiative (CEI), participating schools are creating environments that are physically and emotionally safe, filled with trust, and focused on building social and emotional skills. Youth are taking an active role, working together with teachers, staff, families, and community members to create climate and culture change. Stronger connections are also being established to ensure community resources are readily available to provide care for students and staff.”

In addition to the new Caring for Colorado investment of $1,894,500, the foundation also granted $6 million to launch Youth Connections in 2019 and support the first two cohorts of participating schools and districts.   

“The behavioral health needs of youth in Colorado are particularly acute in communities of color, communities living on low incomes, and those living in rural Colorado,” said Dr. Janet Lopez, senior director of policy, partnerships & learning at The Denver Foundation. “To better support youth health and improve connectedness, we are investing in this comprehensive mental health initiative for the well-being of middle and high school students, particularly those who experience the most significant barriers to feeling connected, supported, and engaged.”

The Denver Foundation gave a $1,679,500 grant to support Youth Connections through the Colorado Health Access Fund, a Denver Foundation-managed fund to increase access to behavioral health care to Coloradans with high health care needs across the state.

Thirteen school districts are participating in Youth Connections. The first cohort of schools began in 2019 and includes the school districts of Alamosa RE-11, Cañon City RE-1, Mesa Valley 51, and Sheridan 2. A second cohort was added in 2021, made up of the Adams 12 Five Star Schools, Delta County 50(J), Pueblo City 60, and Weld County RE-1 school districts. The newest cohort includes the rural school districts of Clear Creek RE-1, East Grand 2, Holyoke RE-1J, Summit, and West Grand 1-JT.

Approximately $500,000 is passed through to each of the participating school districts to support a year of planning and three years of implementation efforts. The initiative also provides educators and schools with the technical assistance and resources they need to create and sustain supportive school cultures. This includes helping to actively engage diverse families and students in informing and developing a supportive school culture, together with a multi-tiered system of support for students and staff who are struggling.

“One of the biggest learnings from Youth Connections over the past three years is that schools and districts that center relationships not just in spirit, but in structure and resource, better weathered the pandemic, including through important partnership with families,” said Rebecca Holmes, CEI President and CEO. “By bridging connections between work in schools to increase relevant learning experiences and work to center relationships, Youth Connections boosts the ability of educators to promote hope and help young people build a positive vision for their future. This expansion will significantly impact student engagement and youth mental health across our state.”

To learn more about Youth Connections, visit or contact Samantha Olson at

About Youth Connections Partners:
Caring For Colorado

Caring for Colorado is a grantmaking foundation dedicated to creating equity, health, and well-being for Colorado’s children and families. We want to help make Colorado the best place for kids to grow up, with every child having love, stability, support and opportunity. Learn more at

The Denver Foundation

The Denver Foundation is a community foundation that inspires people and mobilizes resources to improve life in Metro Denver. In 2021, the foundation and its donors awarded $115 million in grants. The Denver Foundation has three roles: stewarding an endowment to meet current and future needs for Metro Denver, working with community leaders to address the core challenges that face the community and managing more than 1,000 charitable funds on behalf of individuals, families and businesses.  Learn more at

Colorado Education Initiative

Colorado Education Initiative is an educational nonprofit that cultivates systems improvement and equity in K-12 education. For 15 years, we have been at the forefront of improvement, innovation, and change in Colorado’s public education system, serving as an implementation expert, innovation thought leader, and statewide convener. Our mission is to accelerate systems change to ensure that every student in Colorado is prepared and unafraid to succeed in school, work, and life and ready to take on the challenges of today, tomorrow, and beyond.