By Rebekah Hanish
In the spring of my senior year in high school, my graduating class was herded into the gymnasium for some general info from the principal – where to pick up our gowns, where to meet before the ceremony, that kind of thing. And he told us that, under no circumstances, were our friends and family allowed to celebrate when our names were called for our diplomas. There were too many people. It was rude. It would take too long. If anyone hooted, blew an airhorn or threw a beach ball in our honor, they would be escorted from the ceremony immediately.
No such restrictions applied to the GED graduation ceremony for the youth of Urban Peak on Thursday, June 7.
Haley Todd, one of the teachers at Urban Peak for the GED prep program, reads a short bio about each graduate, telling the audience of their success and future plans. And after each is read, the crowd erupts in celebration.
Kendra, one of the student speakers at the ceremony, talks about finding Urban Peak at a scary time in her life. Newly homeless at 17, she didn’t know where she would be sleeping at night because most shelters require you to be at least 18 or to be checked in with your family. After a few short months at Urban Peak, Kendra has earned her GED, has a job and an apartment and plans to continue her education.
“I stand here today because Urban Peak completed their mission,” Kendra says.
Urban Peak exists to provide a safe place for Denver’s homeless youth, a place to grow and learn and become self-sufficient.
“Youth are afraid to go to big shelters because there are people with a lot more ‘life’ experience,” says Jason Newcomer, the annual fund and individual giving manager at Urban Peak. “That’s not us. We want them to feel safe and empowered.”
Urban Peak accomplishes this in a number of ways: first, through their shelter where 40 beds accommodate the youth who need them and also through their drop-in center called The Spot where youth can just “drop in,” get something to eat, take a shower or get some medical help. Urban Peak also provides the GED prep classes as well as classes on job prep (crafting resumes and cover letters and learning conflict management). Also at The Spot, enrichment classes like cooking or poetry are provided throughout the week.
Two-thirds of the youth who leave Urban Peak do so as a “success,” meaning they have a stable, safe environment to live and have an income. But they are always encouraged to keep improving. Throughout the GED graduation ceremony, the staff of Urban Peak reiterates to the youth that they are strong and capable and that they have what it takes to be a valued part of the education community.
“We’re so proud of you, but don’t ever stop,” says Ron Barber, the Chair Elect of the Urban Peak Board of Directors. “Be an active part of the community, and help others the way you needed help.”