Welcome to our Changemaker Profiles blog series! Each edition will profile one outstanding social changemaker from the JVA client community. By sharing the stories of some of the incredible people we get to work with every day, each accomplishing extraordinary work in nonprofits, government, social enterprise and elsewhere, we hope we will bring a little light and inspiration to your day!

For this edition, we spoke with JoAnna Cintrón, the new executive director of Re:Vision. Re:Vision cultivates thriving, resilient communities by developing local leaders, growing community food systems, and building a locally owned economy.

1. Tell us about your organization and the social change you are trying to achieve.

“Re:Vision is three-pronged. The first prong is to address food access in the neighborhood of Westwood and in Southwest Denver. It’s an area that does not have access to healthy food, particularly grocery stores. So it started with the idea of addressing that.

“The other two prongs came from trying to look at the best way to address food access. Our founders, Joseph Teipel and Eric Kornacki, realized that many people had the knowledge and ability to grow their own food. Many had come from Mexico and had an agricultural background or grew up on a ranch.”

“So our cofounders figured rather than approaching it from the view of a deficit, looking at the assets the community had and the knowledge, and providing them with tools to make the most of what they already do. So that’s how the garden program began.”

“It started with seven families. A couple of years later it grew exponentially as a result of hiring women from the neighborhood who were program participants. They’re called Promotoras, a widely recognized and used term throughout Latin America. They were already actively involved in the garden program, working to improve the health of their families.

The Westwood Food Cooperative is a member-owned and operated grocery store that Re:Vision helped to establish.

“The second prong, out of that, is to support these women as local leaders with educational and professional development opportunities. Our Promotoras are natural leaders in the community and have become trusted mentors, helping families establish gardens, visiting families at their homes to answer questions about the gardens. They also teach cooking classes so that families know what to do with this bounty of food they were growing, and are trained to give classes on family nutrition, cooking with kids, farm-to-table cooking, and canning and preserving. On average, our Promotoras receive 80 hours a year of professional development training.

“The final prong —I think of it like a pipeline, starting with the garden—is we’re also creating a locally owned economy and economic resilience. For example, we have families that make salsa from the food they grow. So we’re launching a food entrepreneur program to help them transition from it being a hobby to an economic opportunity. We’re partnering with Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute to launch that program and test the entrepreneurial appetite in Westwood. We’re figuring out ways to use a locally owned economy to sustain the community—making sure the dollars that are made in the community stay in the community.”

2. What keeps you inspired and going when things get tough?

“It’s always the people. My colleagues and the community are incredible people. Everyone is so giving and caring and really passionate about community and about helping their families, and that always trickles out to the community at large.”

“For a community with little to no access to healthy food, somehow someone always brings food to our meetings, someone is always finding a way to share. I admire that ability to make the most out of what you have. I see it every single day in people.”

“I grew up very similarly; we didn’t have a lot but we always made the most of what we had, and I never felt like I lacked something. Once you realize the strength that spirit brings, possibilities are infinite.”

3. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to break new ground in a traditional field?

“One thing I learned from Re:Vision’s cofounders is they didn’t try to come into a community that’s already established and try to change everything. They approached it from a lens of: ‘This community has so much; it’s vibrant and it’s full of people who care and who love their families and will do anything for them. How can we supplement this?’ Rather than coming in and saying ‘This is how we’re going to “save” you.’”

“Sometimes people mean well, but when you bring in something from the outside, it’s not sustainable, because if you leave, that change goes with you, usually. Joseph and Eric were so careful to lay a strong foundation for change but recognize that change comes from within.”

4. What book do you recommend to everyone you meet and why? OR What book is on your to-read list and why?

“The book that has affected me most lately is Michelle Obama’s Becoming. What struck me most is that she didn’t set out to be a first lady, or to be the first black first lady. She didn’t even set out to change the world; she simply wanted to do what moved her and honored her background.

“She had a deep desire to help people, and that led her down a path, and she accepted it all with such grace … You could see how she grew up in how she approached being the first lady. She didn’t try to fit into a mold; she really embraced her background and made that role her own. She didn’t set out to be this epic changemaker; she just set out to do what she felt a call to do, and it turned into something amazing and transformational. Her whole approach was so genuine and careful.

“I also listen to a podcast called Nonprofits are Messy, by Joan Garry. It’s super awesome; it feels like a master class in running nonprofits, and I listen to it on my drive into work.”

5. How have you worked with JVA, and how has that helped your organization?

“Previously, JVA helped us with grantwriting and evaluation, but I wasn’t at Re:Vision at the time. Most recently we hired JVA again to take on our grantwriting, and it’s been a great process because they have given us a really wonderful structure, from tracking grants to a calendar, to things we really needed to keep things transparent.

“I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have a spreadsheet on where we are with grants today, so if someone asks, I can tell them. I don’t have to track it down. It streamlines the process. And they’re helping us with thinking creatively about how we are approaching funding opportunities. Sarah (Hidey) has found a lot of opportunities that hadn’t come across my desk.”

6. What else would you want to share with us that we haven’t asked?

“We are still looking for volunteers for our annual fundraising gala on September 21. Volunteers can reach out to Emily Ureste at emily@revision.coop.”

Opinions and recommendations shared in the Changemakers blog belong to the individuals profiled and do not necessarily reflect those of JVA.