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Meet Garrett Braun of The Kiva Center in Westwood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Garrett Braun.

Garrett, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
The Kiva Center started with three students and a goat (well really, 15 goats and a rooster) on a farm. Those families chose to believe in our vision with no track record of success. Kasey Schelling and I (Garrett Braun) had a vision to create a place where nature was the textbook, and kids could be themselves and feel supported in that. A place where they could explore and follow their natural desire to learn.

Through our program, kids learned to care for farm animals, create with their hands, and connect with nature. Not only that, but we witnessed the changes in the students’ mental/emotional wellbeing… and the parents were thrilled.

Through word-of-mouth alone, our homeschool program grew rapidly each semester. From three to nine students, then 27, then 45. As our base grew, and we continued to witness the strong impact it was having on children, we wanted to be part of creating more access to nature-connection for historically underserved populations. In 2016, we became a 501c3, non-profit, serving low-income areas in Metro Denver through free school enrichment and after-school programs.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
We had ups and downs like any business would that starts with 15 goats and a rooster. Nonetheless, our background in teaching, coupled with our passion for creating a unique learning environment, led us to be successful in our program development. Our main struggles came in the business management arena. Fundraising, budgeting, and all that fun stuff was not our forte in the beginning. Luckily, we’ve found mentors to guide us along the way and a Board of Trustees equally committed to the mission and full of passion. Our biggest challenge in the moment is fundraising to meet the needs of a growing population affected by COVID-19. With schools closing down and going virtual, we’ve pivoted to offer online resources for teachers and students in the public schools. In addition, we’ve implemented small group programming in neighborhood parks in Denver for children who are now faced with remote learning. As a small organization, the money collected goes directly to the programming that is most successful.

Please tell us about The Kiva Center.
Our attention to building community around the work we do sets us apart. Families that join our program not only get an amazing day program for the kids, they also have the opportunity to be part of a vibrant and compassionate culture centered around caring for the earth and each other.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Incredible teamwork and communication. Kasey and I are perfectly balanced in our skills, which is rare to find and 100% crucial to the work we are doing. We have a deep respect for the gifts the other person brings to the team. We trust each other. By nature, we are also both very positive and optimistic people who address challenges from a growth mindset.

Additionally, we work directly with our parents and teachers to help them see children in a more holistic way, noticing the challenges and growth opportunities. Our focus on social/emotional well-being gives parents the peace of mind that their kids are not only growing intellectually but emotionally and spiritually as well.

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