“I’m a solution oriented thinker,” says Joe Roos, prime mover behind an innovative non-profit in the process of expanding their services into Larimer and Weld Counties in Northern Colorado.
Hiding in Plain Sight (HIPS) seeks to provide a wide range of educational opportunities for at-risk students of all ages. When Roos became aware of the number of homeless students in Douglas, his home county, he was determined to do something about it. The county was listed as the seventh wealthiest in the U.S. Roos was incredulous when he learned that more than 900 residents of this affluent area were homeless.
“Homelessness is not always visible,” he said. “People sleep in their cars, in tents, in cheap motels, or they resort to couch surfing among friends.” Roos sees education as the primary way to address these untenable situations. Along with several others, he formed HIPS in February 2015 to provide financial assistance specifically to students below 250 percent of the poverty line, who have aged out of foster care, or who may have special needs. Age is no issue. HIPS made it possible for a 62-year-old homeless, single woman to study culinary arts at Emily Griffith Opportunity School and move on to a living-wage job.
Educational assistance ranges from providing money for tuition, books, fees, housing, transportation and child care in order to remove the most frequent barriers to seeking higher education. The non-profit sponsors post-secondary education, whether it be at a public university, trade or technical school. This young organization has a seven-member board and an advisory board of 16, all of whom are passionate about the work HIPS is doing.
Roos has years of experience in marketing and understands how to get things done. After 16 years in Buffalo, New York, with IBM, he moved on to work with non-profits in 1992, in Buffalo and Madison, Wisconsin, and eventually in Denver.
HIPS funding comes from several sources including a matching grant from the state of Colorado, individuals, organizations and businesses who realize the importance of giving back to the community that supports them. Christian Brothers Automotive with repair shops up and down the Front Range and Safelite Auto Glass are two examples. The organization is also part of Colorado Gives Day and is a member in good standing among Colorado charities.
In Larimer County, HIPS is partnering with Colorado State University, Front Range Community College and Poudre School District to assist students with their needs.
“It’s fulfilling business,” Roos says, sharing the story of a 14-year-old girl and her younger sister who experienced a murder-suicide, leaving them homeless and parentless at critical young ages. With the help of HIPS, the older girl overcame depression and poor grades in her early high school years and went on to graduate with honors and earn a degree in child psychology from Metro State in Denver with a 4.0 grade point average. Her sister has an interest in theater and will enroll in the University of Northern Colorado in the fall of 2018.
Help does not end when financial assistance is awarded. HIPS maintains a mentoring organization of 12 volunteers who are available online, via Skype or in person to offer help and advice to students as needed.
An annual fundraiser, “An Evening of Heart,” will take place November 3 at the CU/Wildlife Experience in Lonetree, Colorado. Businesses interested in becoming a partner with HIPS or individuals who wish to donate can access the website: http://hidingplainsight.org or call Joe Roos at 720-288-3016.