We Power the Innovators

The Innovators Society Accelerates New Solutions for Mental Wellness

The Innovators Society, a program of Community First Foundation, is committed to improving mental wellness in the Denver area by investing in fresh, new ideas to improve awareness, foster well-being and change perceptions of mental illness. The Innovators Society supports nonprofits with a nine-month coaching program that develops their mental wellness innovations. At the end of the program, the nonprofit innovators are ready to pitch their ideas at the Community Pitch Showdown for additional funding.

Join the Society

Are you passionate about accelerating new solutions for mental wellness? Want to stay up to date on the latest news and events? Take the first step and subscribe to our Innovators Society newsletter.

Support the Innovations

At the Community Pitch Showdown on September 30, 2016, community leaders cast their votes in real-time to power the following six innovations. Learn more and lend your support by contacting the innovators directly.

Bright by Text
Bright by Three

Bright by Text sends text messages to parents and caregivers with tips and resources to support children in the early years of life.
Email Jared Wigdor

Clayton Early Learning

EMBRACE is a mindfulness training program to help early childhood educators reduce stress, build emotional resiliency and create a positive learning experience for vulnerable children.
Email Cathy McCarty

Patient-Centered Network (PCN) App
Center on Network Science, CU Denver

The PCN App analyzes patients’ social support network data and provides a menu of resources for health care providers.
Email Danielle Varda

Breakin’ Bread, Breakin’ Barriers

Breakin’ Bread, Breakin’ Barriers fosters healthy lifestyles and awareness by enriching the mind and body through holistic wellness education such as yoga, cooking classes and healthy living workshops.
Email Tyrone Beverly

Volunteer Projects
Project Helping

Project Helping organizes meaningful and socially engaging volunteer experiences to improve mental wellness and combat depression.
Email Justin Kruger

Carson J Spencer Foundation

Ignite is a skill-building, suicide prevention program taught by and serving middle school children.
Email Jess Stohlmann Rainey

How We Do It

The Innovators Society selects four to six nonprofits to participate in a nine-month coaching program that develops their innovations and prepares them for a pitch competition. At the pitch event, 250 community leaders are empowered to award $500,000 in Community First Foundation grant dollars to accelerate the innovations into Denver communities. One triumphant nonprofit is chosen to receive a $50,000 grand prize. Each innovation aligns with Community First Foundation’s approach to promoting mental wellness.

“This is by far the most innovative and inclusive approach to grant funding we’ve ever been part of. This program has given us the tools to make a massive impact in the community.” Justin Kruger, founder and CEO of Project Helping

Frequently asked questions >

2016 program timeline >

Watch the Community Pitch Showdown

We made a recording so you can see for yourself why The Innovators Society believes the fresh, new ideas of these six innovators will make an impact in Denver.

The Grant Awards

Bright by Three:

Carson J Spencer Foundation:

Center on Network Science, CU Denver:

Clayton Early Learning:


Project Helping:
$80,703 + $50,000 grand prize = $130,703

Watch a photo slide show with highlights from the 2016 Innovators Society Showdown!

2016 Innovators Society Showdown


Meet The Innovators Society

The Nonprofit Innovators

Scroll above to learn about the six organizations that comprise the Round One nonprofit innovators.

The Coaches

Coaches support the nonprofit innovators by providing public relations, marketing, strategy and executive coaching. Each nonprofit is supported by a team of three coaches.

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Sue Barlow Coach & Advisor, Co-founder, Sue Barlow Coaching; HumbleBarlow Leadership Executive coach for Bright by Three & UCD Denver: School of Public Affairs
Cindy Carillo Coach/Founder, 2 Degrees Coaching Executive coach for Project Helping & Clayton Early Learning
Paul Duba Principal and Owner, Point-B Coaching Executive coach for Im’Unique & Carson J. Spencer
Tracy Faigin Chief Marketing Officer, Canopy Health Insurance Marketing/Communications coach for Carson J. Spencer
Ron Gager Owner, Gager & Associates Strategy coach for Bright by Three & UCD Denver: School of Public Affairs
Rebecca Holmes Associate Commissioner, Department of Education; Senior Program Officer, Gates Family Foundation Strategy coach for Im’Unique & Carson J. Spencer
Sarah Lehmann Principal/Strategist, Ebb+Flow Creative Marketing/Communications coach for Bright by Three
Erin Neren Owner, 3 Story Design Marketing/Communications coach for Project Helping & Clayton Early Learning
Kristina Saccone Vice President, Local Partnerships, GreatSchools Marketing/Communications coach for Im’Unique
Bill Sonn Principal, The Sonn Group Marketing/Communications coach for UCD Denver: School of Public Affairs
Jan West Owner, West and Associates Strategy coach for Project Helping & Clayton Early Learning

The Steering Committee

We refer to our steering committee as the “Kitchen Cabinet,” a small group of individuals passionate about improving mental health in our community–folks you would invite into your kitchen for advice. They have helped Community First Foundation develop each stage of The Innovators Society program.

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Joe Conrad Owner, Cactus Communications
Kate Deeny Master’s Candidate, University of Denver
Amy Humble Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Humble Barlow Leadership
Don Mares Deputy Mayor, Denver; Director, Denver Human Services
Emily Reaser Development Director, Helen and Arthur Johnson Depression Center
Jeannie Ritter Mental Health Ambassador, Mental Health Center of Denver

The Core 40

The Core 40 consists of community members who are proven leaders and connectors. Core 40 members help nonprofit innovators fine-tune their strategy and pitch presentations, providing feedback, recruiting audience members for the Community Pitch Showdown and awarding the $50,000 grand prize.

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Pat Bolton Executive Director, Triad Early Childhood Council
Brian Corrigan Creative Strategist, Oh Heck Yeah Project
Marci Eads Managing Principal, Health Management Associates
Bill Ernstrom Founder, Voyant Technologies; Past Board Member, Community First Foundation
Chuck Everill Private Investor; Member, Rotary Club of Denver
Renny Fagan President & CEO, Colorado Nonprofit Association
Jim Garcia Executive Director, Clinica Tepeyac
Jason Gaulden Founder and Principal, Gaulden Group LLC
Michele Haney President, Red Rocks Community College
Peggy Hill Deputy Director, National Behavioral Health Innovation Center
Jarrod Hindman Violence & Suicide Prevention Section Manager, Colorado Suicide Prevention Office
Regina Huerter Director of the Division of Behavioral Health Strategies, Colorado Department of Human Services
Joy Johnson Board Member, The Children’s Hospital of Denver
Katie Kruger Co-Chair, Culture Haus; Founder, Cross Cultured; Growth Principal, SRA International
Tony Macklin Philanthropic Advisor/Consultant, Tony Macklin Consulting
Crestina Martinez Government Relations & Partners Outreach, Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing
Mimi McFaul Account Consultant – Behavioral Health, Cactus Communications
Carole Peet President & CEO, St. Anthony North Health Campus
Amanda Pennington Student, University of Denver
Andrew Romanoff President & CEO, Mental Health America of Colorado
Cheri Skelding Clinical Director, Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners
Edie Sonn Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs, Pinnacol Assurance
Ted Stolberg Partner, Stolberg Equity Partners; Founder, Beanstalk Foundation
Cyd Szymanski Board Member, CU Depression Center
Simon Tafoya Senior Policy Director, Governor’s Office of Policy, Research and Legislative Affairs
Ayelet Talmi Associate Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics
Stephanie Tuthill Partner, Tuthill & Hughes, LLP; Past Board Member, Community First Foundation
Lynne Valencia Vice President Community Relations, 9NEWS; Board Member, Community First Foundation
Gwen Vogel Mitchell Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Professional Psychology, University of Denver
Jan West Owner, West and Associates
Julia Wilkinson Manley Executive Director, Colorado Conservatory of Dance

The Audience

250 leaders in the community, including the Core 40 members, are responsible for allocating $1,800 each in Community First Foundation grant dollars among the six nonprofit innovators.

In the News

Lakewood Sentinel: Taking an Innovative First Step

CU Denver Today: Danielle Varda’s PCN App Gets Funded in Community Pitch Showdown

Denver Post: Community leaders grant $500,000 to innovative nonprofits promoting mental wellness

Tyrone Beverly of Im’Unique featured on 9NEWS

Arvada Press: Group Invests in Improving Mental Wellness

Denver Post: New Funding Approach Powers Community and Mental Wellness