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Daily Inspiration: Meet Mara Mintzer

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mara Mintzer.

Hi Mara, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I moved from the Bay Area to Boulder in 2008, and I began networking to find work. My career had been spent designing and running programs for underresourced children and families, although my graduate degree was in organizational psychology. Through networking, I met Professor Willem van Vliet, who had started a child-friendly city initiative in Denver. I had never heard of the idea of a “child-friendly city” before, but the idea resonated with me both personally and professionally. I wanted to live in and help create a community that worked for our children and their caregivers. So I volunteered to help start a child-friendly city initiative for Boulder as part of the center that Professor van Vliet had started–the Children, Youth and Environments Center at the University of Colorado. What began as a volunteer position in 2009 has blossomed into an extremely successful non-profit program called Growing Up Boulder. Since 2009, locally, we’ve engaged more than 6,000 children and youth, ages 0-18, in improving their cities. Their involvement ranges from completing a survey about city services to spending a year working on a child-friendly vision of affordable, sustainable housing. Globally, we’ve reached at least 2.3 million people through my TEDxMileHigh talk entitled, “How kids can help design cities,” and through webinars, training, lectures and keynotes. In addition, I co-authored a book called “Placemaking with children and youth: participatory practices for planning sustainable communities,” which teaches others the techniques and thinking behind what has made Growing Up Boulder successful. Our academic and popular media articles are bringing our work to thousands of more people globally.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Starting something new is always rocky, but it’s exciting! One of our biggest challenges, from the beginning through now, is funding our work. This is for multiple reasons. The US, as a country, has never considered supporting ALL of its children; looking at children and families holistically is a new idea for us. As such, it can be difficult to describe our program: we do civic engagement, education, sustainability, democracy, and urban planning all at the same time! Also, because we have been based out of the university, foundations and donors assume we are funded by the university, but this is not true. We have received some in-kind support and occasional small grants from the university, but all of our revenue comes from city partners, small foundations, individuals and consulting work. We’re seeking to become a non-profit, in part, to help clarify this situation for the community. Another challenge is that occasionally, children’s recommendations can be controversial if they don’t align with what the most vocal adults want. Whenever you share power with a new group, it upsets the status quo, so change can cause friction.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about what you do?
I specialize in eliciting children and youth’s opinions on local issues that affect them. And I don’t do this on my own–I work with a small but mighty team. By using creative techniques to engage young people, my organization is able to authentically listen to what matters to them. But we take it a step further–we make sure their ideas are clearly conveyed to decision-makers who hold power and can act upon them. Then, we follow up to find out why and how the kids’ ideas were integrated into final decisions. This whole process can take a long time, but it is so rewarding. What sets us apart is that we make sure kids don’t speak into a void; we make sure that people listen to them. Also, we work with kids as young as six months old all the way through high school. We know our work has been successful because we receive many more requests for our services than we are able to accommodate! Something I’m particularly proud of is helping those who have never considered young people as active participants in our democracy understand why young people’s voices matter. It’s important that all people in our community understand why they should care about children’s issues, whether or not they have their own children.

Alright, so before we go, can you talk to us a bit about how people can work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
People can contact us at growingupboulder@gmail.com, but the biggest difference they can make would be to donate via growingupboulder.org/donate. Even small amounts make a huge difference to us!

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Jade Cody, Lynn M. Lickteig, Boulder Journey School, Growing Up Boulder

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