COLORADO SPRINGS — KOAA News 5 wants to celebrate the unsung heroes who selflessly serve those in need. Let us know about amazing people making a difference in our community every day by nominating them for the Jefferson Awards. The prestigious nationwide program recognizes people making extraordinary efforts to make their neighborhoods better through service.
KOAA News 5 has the honor of presenting this award to people in Southern Colorado and we need your help to discover these gems in our communities.
The winner for September 2021 is Shelley Jensen, a Colorado Springs resident who is dedicated to helping young adults in El Paso County pivot out of poverty. Jensen is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization, We Fortify, which was founded in December 2019.
"We Fortify exists to pivot vulnerable populations out of poverty, so they don't come back and fall into that cycle again," said Jensen.
During the pandemic, the organization overcame obstacles and began working on its biggest project called 'Working Fusion.' It's a tiny home village, and the organization's first development, where homeless young adults will be able to live, learn about themselves and others, receive support from one another, and lead successful lives.
"It definitely takes a village to build this village right now," said Jensen. "During the pandemic, we just continued to write grants and reach out to people in the community."
The village will have 18 tiny homes on less than an acre of land. During the 2-year lease, homeless young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 years old, will have a second chance at life.
For her idea to come to fruition, Jensen began working closely with more than 20 local non-profits. Before kicking off the project, she told News5 she personally reached out to the executive directors of the organizations, to learn more about them and the communities they serve.
Among some of the local non-profits she's been working with are The Place, Inside Out Youth Services, Cos I Love You, and Pikes Peak Community College. She gathered that information and research from them and put it toward designing 'Working Fusion.'
"The people we're serving are moving from being a tax burden into a vibrant participant in their communities," said Jensen. "It would be so exciting pivoting them out of poverty which will eventually decrease the number of people we have on our own streets."
For Jensen, helping the vulnerable is something that's always been close to her heart, and something she's done for more than a decade.
"As we were growing our family, my husband and I, we just kind of helped anybody who came across our path, for probably 11 or 12 years," said Jensen. "During that time I learned so much about the court systems, about evictions, about how an increase in gas prices could shift someone's vulnerability. And I thought, that's so difficult for people who desperately want to pivot out of poverty, to actually do it."
Mary Biga, a realtor and broker owner of Davidson Biga Realty nominated Jensen to KOAA News5 for her work.
"She is somebody who came up with a concept that hadn't been done before. Her passion and desire are catching a group of our youth that sometimes get lost, whether it's aging out of a staged area that they've been living in, whether they are homeless, or whether they were born homeless. She's catching these young adults and she's giving them purpose," said Biga. "I'm just amazed, if I'm not crying, I'm smiling with joy just to go, 'I know her.'"
When News5 told Jensen she won the award, she said, "It was very humbling, and I also really feel like it should be shared, because even though I founded this, I couldn't have done it without all the support. This effort means creating significant change, and it's what gets me up in the morning."
Jensen is now working closely with the local nonprofits to find candidates to live in the homes. Young adults will begin moving into the homes in October. The organization, We Fortify, will then be conducting assessments and tracking the young adults' progress throughout their stay.
Next Friday, September 24, a Monte Carlo night will be held at UC Health Park where the Vibes play. Benefits and proceeds will go toward the tiny home village. The event will be held from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
For more information about WeFortify, click here.
ORIGINS OF THE JEFFERSON AWARDS
Started by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1972, The Jefferson Awards have honored the incredible spirit and unique accomplishments of over 63,000 national and local heroes.
Every Jefferson Award honoree, from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Congressman John Lewis, to former Buffalo Bill Fred Jackson has inspired through their selfless public service.
Together, we will bring much-needed attention to those Coloradans who generate the ripples of good in our community.