Growing Up Boulder (GUB) is Boulder’s child and youth-friendly city initiative, and its mission is to offer young people opportunities to participate, deliberate, and influence local issues that affect their lives. The organization’s vision is to lead a global movement in child-friendly cities, resulting in more equitable and sustainable communities for all.
Executive Director, Mara Mintzer, co-founded Growing Up Boulder in 2009 alongside several professors at the University of Colorado and David Driskell, then the Director of City Planning and Sustainability for the City of Boulder. You can find a complete list of founders here. Growing Up Boulder is founded on the ideas of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that anyone under the age of 18 should have protected human rights, including having a voice in decisions which affect them. There are cities around the world that implement this treaty at their local level, and they are called “Child-Friendly Cities.” Although the US has not ratified this convention, those who founded Growing Up Boulder did not want to wait and wanted to apply this understanding to our city. Through this, Boulder’s [unofficial] Child Friendly City Initiative (CFCI) was born. This program was incubated at the Children’s Youth and Environment Center and then the Community Engagement Design and Research (CEDaR) Center at CU through 2021 and now they are fiscally sponsored by the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center.
This vision of becoming an “official” Child-Friendly City is coming into reality as Growing Up Boulder has helped UNICEF USA create the infrastructure for Child-Friendly Cities in the US. This new US framework has led to five Child Friendly Cities and Boulder is on the verge of being the sixth as well as the first in the state of Colorado. The current Child Friendly Cities are San Francisco, CA, Houston, TX, Johnson City, TN, Minneapolis, MN and Prince Georges County, MD. “This points toward the key principle that if you have a city that is friendly for children you have a city that is friendly for all,” Mara shares. “I’ve worked on many models to increase the well-being for children in the 25 years of my career and I honestly believe this is the most effective model and framework I have seen out there. It is something our city should feel proud of.” You can find information on UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities initiative and an informative video here.
Mara felt inspired to start Growing Up Boulder because she had a one-year-old daughter at the time, and wanted the community she grew up in to resemble the aspirations of the United Nations convention. Professionally, she had been running programs for children from underserved families around the country, and this was a perfect opportunity to combine her personal and professional inspirations. “Other than my family, Growing Up Boulder is the love of my life,” Mara said. She came from a family that had generations of involvement in social justice work and issues. Being raised in that environment inspired her to bring equity into the world she lived in. Some of her past work has been to develop the first universal pre-kindergarten programs in the state of New York and starting a Community School model in California which gave a platform for students and parents to have a voice in their community. Mara moved with her family to Boulder in 2008.
Mara shares, “Growing Up Boulder prides itself on dealing with the hard issues and works to elevate the voices of kids who are least likely to be heard.” They are committed to increasing the diversity of voices from youth and families as well as on their Staff and Board. Part of Growing Up Boulder’s success is their ability to partner with 60 organizations including some pivotal organizations in our county such as Imagine!, I Have A Dream Foundation, Youth Services Initiative, and El Centro Amistad.
Growing Up Boulder’s community focus is wide reaching, leading to a healthier and more sustainable community. Some examples of their programming include:
- Reimagine Policing: Growing Up Boulder has participated in the recent updating of the police masterplan, which they have been working on for a year and a half. They looked at a wheel of power and privilege to see who is most marginalized in our community and they started with those young people and shared their voices first. To hear those voices they partnered with El Centro Amistad, TGTHR, and worked with BVSD’s Equity Council. They asked those youth about what is going well with policing and what could work better or be a different approach. Mara shares, “Because these are such sensitive topics, we also care for the wellness of those youth who have an opportunity to share their voice.” They have applied this same model to bring youth input to the transportation master plan and open space development.
- Civic Area: Another program GUB is proud of is working for two years with 225 children between the ages of pre-school and high school on the vision and site plan for the extensive outdoor play area in front of the Boulder library. The kids worked on the development of the playground and the graduated creek access that is adjacent to the library. This was in response to children and parents wanting more safety and protection when the creek is close to overflowing. The youth also made sure that native plant species were replanted there to help the biodiversity of that environment.
- Healing from King Soopers Tragedy: GUB currently has a year-long program, funded by the Community Foundation Boulder County, looking at how to work with youth and healing in relation to the violence of the King Sooper’s shooting in 2021. They are co-creating this program with youth to share resources for resilience. Children and youth can benefit from this work by visiting Growing Up Boulder’s interactive “Healing” exhibit in the Google Garage at the Museum of Boulder, which will be up through the end of July 2022.
- Eco-Healing from Fires: Growing Up Boulder is creating programming around eco-healing. This program is to help young people build social and emotional resilience in the face of the fires that effect our area as well as solutions for how to work with climate change. Mara explains, “Young people have so much anxiety around the issues of climate change and a way to alleviate that anxiety is to take direct action.” In partnership with BVSD, CU, Mental Health Partners, and Classrooms for Climate Action they are implementing a model of youth doing research to inform their actions locally around climate change issues.
- Boulder Child-Friendly City Map: GUB just printed and began distributing thousands of copies of a bilingual child friendly city map. This is the only one of its kind in the country. It was co-created with 800 children and families, 52% of whom were from underrepresented parts of our community including BIPOC children and parents, youth with disabilities, among many others. Children who are non-verbal were also able to contribute. As an example, one child who is autistic was able to share that the Humane Society Boulder Valley was a favorite place for her to visit and Growing Up Boulder was able to include that on the map as a resource. These maps can be found all over town at the visitor center kiosk on Pearl Street, at BVSD schools, and other outlets. If you are a business that wants to help sponsor this comprehensive community resource, you can contact Olivia Szeliga.
Growing Up Boulder also has a global reach. In 2017, Mara did a Tedx talk at Tedx Mile High, and it attracted 2.3 million views from around the world and was translated into 21 languages. In addition, Mara has co-authored many articles that share how this work is being done, not only in Boulder but around the world. As a result, Mara was a keynote speaker at the first ever UNICEF Child Friendly Cities Conference where she had the opportunity to share the work of Growing Up Boulder. She has given speeches about the need for child friendly cities in South Africa, Russia, Columbia, among other countries.
The biggest obstacle that Growing Up Boulder faces is funding for this work. They need foundations and individuals to understand their holistic view of young people and this collective impact model that benefits so many aspects of our community. They are also looking for board members who see the potential and feel the passion of their mission and vision. Mara encourages community members to sign up for their newsletter and to contact them to learn about volunteer opportunities. They are specifically looking for skillsets around finance, fundraising, and communications.