Denver’s Environmental Learning for Kids Evaluates Programs with Opus Foundation® Grant

​Supporting youth development programs that help young people find pathways to fulfillment through healthy social and academic growth is an important focus area of the Opus Foundation®

Recently, the Foundation awarded a $25,000 Impact Fund Grant to Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) in Denver to support the organization's work developing underserved, urban youth into inspired and responsible leaders through science education and the natural world.

ELK was established in 1996 by two wildlife biologists, Scott and Stacie Gilmore, who saw a growing need to educate Colorado's urban youth about science, math, leadership and careers. The organization has grown to serve more than 7,000 youth ages five – 25 annually through intensive in-school, after-school and all-day programs in Denver, Adams and Arapahoe counties. To date, 100% of ELK's year-round program students graduate high school and become first generation college students.

Through strong partnerships with the City of Denver, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the National Park Service, ELK helps students experience the natural world in an educational, adventurous manner. They also learn how to become educated, active participants in their communities through leadership development, meaningful mentorship and long-term relationships.

Supporting Outdoors Awareness

ELK serves youth and families through four main programs:

  • School-based programs provide science and nature education at 29 schools in five Denver-area school districts.
  • Youth Naturally immerses youth ages 8 – 18 in hands-on field activities, local excursions, overnight camping, stewardship projects and long-term mentoring by science professionals.
  • Youth in Natural Resources offers leadership development, mentoring and one-to-one assistance as students prepare for college.
  • LEAF (Learning Environmental Activities for Families) encourages parents to experience the outdoors with their children.
The Opus Foundation grant will allow ELK to engage a third-party evaluator to assess the impact and effectiveness of the four programs and provide data-driven recommendations in preparation for strategic growth. It will also provide funds for staff to implement the recommendations beginning in Q4 2020.  

“We are at a pivotable point in our organization," Kristina Opre Gray, Corporate Relations and Marketing Director at ELK. “Currently we lease a small office space 10 miles away from our service area, which is the Montbello neighborhood. We are in the design phase of building an education and community center on a 5.5-acre open space in Montbello, where most of our youth and families live."

With this move to its service area, ELK expects tremendous growth that will include serving youth onsite in its own building and open space, in addition to in schools, community buildings and parks.

“The third-party evaluation made possible by the Opus Foundation is critical for the future of ELK and the timing is perfect," said Kimberly Weiss, Education Director at ELK. “It will allow us to do a deep dive evaluation of all of our programs, their impact and what gaps exist ahead of our move and expansion in the Montbello neighborhood. It will also help us determine what types of unique programming we can do in the new building and open space that we haven't been able to do before."


The Opus Foundation is building community for a better tomorrow by supporting projects and programs that make our communities better places to live, work and raise families through grants to nonprofit organizations in the areas of early childhood education, youth development, workforce development, community revitalization and pressing/emerging needs. Read more about the Foundation's work.