(Aurora, CO) – Kassandra (Kasey) Neiss, a 2008 graduate of WHRHS, has brought to fruition a new venture through her employer, the Village Exchange Center (VEC), a non-profit community center in Aurora, CO serving immigrant, refugee and underserved community members. The nonprofit’s purpose is to celebrate religious and cultural diversity and to empower community through exchange of knowledge and resources. Though collaborative partnerships, VEC serves 2,000 immigrant, refugee, and low-income community members monthly. On April 15th, 2020 VEC launched an urban farm, a project 3 years in the making, at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora, CO.
The Village Farms at Stanley will serve VEC’s mission by bridging the various socio-economic silos in Northwest Aurora and Northeast Denver. The farm, which will incorporate both soil and hydroponic farming methods, is a social enterprise with the following goals: (1) to increase access to fresh and culturally desired foods in Northeast Denver metro area, (2) to awaken youth’s interests in agricultural careers, (3) to provide entrepreneurial and vocational training in the agriculture industry, and (4) to sustain services and programs through revenue generation. 
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, VEC’s mobile food pantry has provided food to more than 1600 vulnerable family members who are from over 18 different countries of origin. Additionally, in collaboration with Impact Charitable, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and Social Venture Partners, VEC has provided cash assistance to more than 180 families, not eligible for unemployment or other federal aid, see ImpactCharitable.org/Workers-Fund to learn more about this important program. 
As such, after careful planning and consideration, the team decided that there is no better time to launch a farm than now. In the midst of this crisis and daily bad news, this program is both an immediate relief effort and long-term recovery initiative. Starting construction now has allowed VEC to offer some financial relief to community members through employment opportunities in the farm build out. In the long-term, the farm will empower and uplift the community by offering educational programs, entrepreneurial opportunities, and the availability of cultural foods after the worst of the crisis is behind us. A youth summer camp for ages 8 to 15 is planned for July 2020 (COVID-19 permitting), a paid farming apprenticeship will enroll youth ages 16 to 24 in the fall of 2020, and entrepreneurial programming will enroll adults ages 25 and older in Spring of 2021. Through a unique combination of outdoor methods and modular hydroponic farming sheds, the farm will educate participants about cutting edge technology while producing fresh foods year-round. 
The funding necessary for the launch has been secured. Kasey has set up a gofundme campaign to raise the funds necessary to begin implementing educational programming this summer - https://www.gofundme.com/f/village-farms-at-stanley. For more information on this project please contact Amanda Blaurock, VEC Executive director at amanda@villageexchangecenter.org or (202) 210- 5565