Project Aims to Connect Students and Community Members Experiencing Homelessness

The Ponderosa Project started out as a plan to create a student-run café that would sell pastries and connect students and the community through food and art. The plan was one of four student initiatives that emerged from CC’s Soup Project Challenge, which sought innovative and long-term solutions to the problems of food insecurity, homelessness, and chronic poverty. The Ponderosa team received $9,000 for the project in March.

Since then, the project has evolved to focus on kale chips rather than pastries and its mission has expanded to encompass a variety of culturally stimulating events that connect CC students with people who are experiencing homelessness in Colorado Springs.

“The funding has allowed us to hire two interns — a volunteer coordinator and a programs coordinator; to purchase a dehydrator, kale, art supplies; and to rent space,” said Madeline Lee ’17.

With the support of Innovation@CC and the expertise of Innovator-in-Residence Michael Hannigan ’75, founder and former CEO of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, she and Claire Vernon ’17 are working through the challenges of the start-up as well as looking to the future. As they delve into the nuts and bolts of financial planning, explore hiring a homeless youth as an intern, source biodegradable packaging, and launch the project’s first public event, they’re also developing a succession plan so the Ponderosa Project lives on after they graduate.

“We want to humanize and empower people who are experiencing homelessness and provide a place to express themselves artistically while interacting with members of the local community,” said Vernon.

When the Innovation@CC building is completed, Lee and Vernon envision growing kale and other food in the garden, making kale chips in the industrial kitchen, shooting promotional videos, preparing and printing marketing materials, and serving food all in the same space.

“Maddie and Claire are learning first-hand the value of resilience as they design and launch their business venture; it’s great to watch them apply the value of their CC education as they reframe, rethink, and then plunge fearlessly ahead,” said Hannigan.

Watch a video about CC’s Innovator in Residence program.