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Mile High United Way Celebrates Opening of New Early Learning Center in Five Points/Curtis Park

Jenn Kostka Beck

The Tamara M. Sparks Early Learning Center at Mile High United Way Will Serve Nearly 60 Children with 70% Reserved for Families with Low Incomes

DENVER – Mile High United Way, along with Mile High Early Learning, cut the ribbon on the new Tamara M. Sparks Early Learning Center at Mile High United in Five Points/Curtis Park on Saturday. U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston and Dr. Lisa Roy with the Colorado Department of Early Childhood were among the speakers at the event.

The center, located in Mile High United Way’s Morgridge Center for Community Change at 711 Park Ave. West, in Denver, represents a public-private-nonprofit partnership that creates affordable, high-quality child care spots for the community and Mile High United Way employees.

“For nearly 137 years, Mile High United Way has risen to meet the most critical challenges facing families in our community, and there is no more important issue than early childhood care and education,” said Christine Benero, Mile High United Way president and CEO. “That’s why we decided to put a stake in the ground and establish The Tamara M. Sparks Early Learning Center at Mile High United Way. We’re doing what we hope other companies and organizations will consider – supporting their employees and the community by increasing access to affordable, high-quality early child care.”

Half of Colorado’s children live in a child care desert, where only one child care slot is available for three or more children. In some instances, no child care is available at all. The immediate community surrounding Mile High United Way’s headquarters (Five Points, Curtis Park/Whittier, Capitol Hill and Lincoln Park) can provide child care for only 45% of the children who need it.

“Mile High United Way and Mile High Early Learning stepped up and said we can solve all those things: We’ll make the space. We’ll build the site. We’ll pay people a dignified wage. We’ll attract incredible workers. And they will make something that hasn’t been done before,” Mayor Johnston said.

To address this critical need for families in the community, Mile High United Way turned its underutilized conference space into an early childhood education center.

The center will provide:

  • Nearly 60 high-quality child care slots for families with children as old as 5.
  • Five rooms: two for infants, two for toddlers and one for preschool-age children.
  • At least 70% of the slots for families eligible for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program.
  • Workforce development opportunities for educators and wraparound support for families.


“We cannot expect to be able to attract the people we need to staff centers like this across our state if we pay people less than you would make at fast food restaurants,” Sen. Bennet said. “That investment in the people who will work here is an investment in the children who will be here, so you set a very important example not just for our state but for the entire nation.”

Long-time partner Mile High Early Learning will provide the center’s early childhood education services. For over 50 years, the Montessori-inspired early care and learning provider has been committed to supporting Colorado families and prioritizing equitable outcomes for all children. Mile High United Way has supported Mile High Early Learning since the provider’s founding by helping to fund and establish care centers throughout Metro Denver.

“We’re thrilled to build upon our decades-long partnership with Mile High United Way with the opening of the Tamara M. Sparks Early Learning Center, which offers critically needed early care and learning spaces,” said Dr. Pamela Harris, Mile High Early Learning president and CEO. “I’m especially excited about the innovative approach of combining employer-based child care with opportunities for families from the community to enroll.”

Davis Partnership Architects designed The Tamara M. Sparks Early Learning Center, and Mortenson Construction brought the vision to life.

Seed money for the early learning center came from a portion of the $20 million gift that Mile High United Way received from MacKenzie Scott in 2020. That gift is helping to fund this early learning center, as well as three others with our partners Mercy Housing, Family Tree and Warren Village, resulting in 280 new child care slots in Metro Denver. All centers are under construction or newly opened within the last year.

Funding for the $4.4 million Tamara M. Sparks Early Learning Center also came from over 130 donors to United for Families, including a $1 million gift from Paul and Sue Sparks, who named the center in honor of Paul’s mother, Tamara. Tamara M. Sparks was a loving and joyful sister, mother and grandmother, who dedicated much of her life to ministering to thousands of children, her family said.

“You always felt like one of the family with my mom. It really didn’t matter where you were coming from or how she met you. You were front and center in that moment of her life,” said her son, Paul. “I’m excited to see the new Tamara M. Sparks Early Learning Center bustling with lots of children and teachers, just enjoying the space and being able to have a place that in a lot of cases they wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the help of Mile High United Way.”

Additional funding came from the federal government and the state of Colorado.

“One thing I think is that we all have to invest everywhere we can in our institutions, the things that bring us together and that allow us to live united,” Sen. Hickenlooper said. “We are most successful, are happiest and most useful when we work together. That’s what United Way is all about. We’re lucky to have the oldest United Way in the United States right here.”

Other speakers were Dr. Harris and Alejandra Armenta, Mile High United Way evaluation and learning coordinator whose daughter is enrolled at the center.

To learn more about enrollment, please call Mile High United Way’s 211 Help Center at 2-1-1.

About Mile High United Way

Working side-by-side with the community, Mile High United Way takes on critical human services issues facing our seven-county footprint, including the Metro Denver, Boulder and Broomfield communities. Our united approach changes the odds for all children, families, and individuals in our community, so that all have the opportunity to succeed. Learn more at unitedwaydenver.org and follow us on social media @UnitedWayDenver.


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