Sky PoseWhat is the Cottonwood Institute? The Cottonwood Institute (CI) is an award-winning 501(c)3 educational non-profit organization based in Denver, Colorado.

Mission: CI’s mission is to connect underserved students to the outdoors and empower them to take action to improve their schools, the community, and the environment for future generations.

Vision:  CI’s vision is to inspire a new generation of 21st century leaders who are environmentally aware, civically engaged, and empowered to make a positive impact within their communities.

Why does it matter? CI believes that students can’t be expected to care about the environment if they never have a chance to explore the outdoors.

Change theory: CI believes anybody can change the world. CI programs teach students the skills they need to ignite change, not just talk about it. The change theory that CI has adopted is: Gift + Issue = Change. Every student has a gift and when they apply it to an issue they are passionate about they will change themselves, which will ripple out to their friends and family, their schools, their communities, the environment, and the world!

How does CI do it? CI collaborates with schools and youth organizations to deliver high quality, high impact environmental education and service-learning programs that are designed to strengthen leadership skills, civic engagement, and environmental stewardship. For more information, please visit the “Programs” section of our website.

Who does CI serve? The educational partners that are a funding priority in 2014 include:

Why is CI unique:

  1. CI programs provide a once in a lifetime experience for underserved public school students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to explore the outdoors and make a difference in their community.
  2. CI programs are available for academic credit. CI’s core program called the Community Adventure Program was the first environmental education class of its kind offered for academic credit through the Boulder Valley School District.
  3. CI programs blend both environmental education and service-learning. A lot of organizations utilize one educational strategy or the other.
  4. CI values quality over quantity. CI’s core programs may serve a smaller number of students, but they have a deeper impact because they have more contact hours, compared to shorter programs that may only serve students once.
  5. Students opt-in and sign up for CI programs. CI students are not forced to take programs by their parents, school, or organization and are more engaged because the programs and service-learning projects they take on are based on their passions and interests.

Recent Accomplishments:

  1. In 2013, CI served over 545 youth in the greater Denver metro area, logged over 17,000 program contact hours, and recorded over 7,900 service-learning project hours through its educational programs, outreach programs, and volunteer projects.
  2. In 2011, CI students were the recipients of the 2011 National Environmental Education Foundation Green Prize and received $10,000 to continue the sustainability initiatives they pioneered at their public school.
  3. In 2009, CI’s Earth Task Force helped write a grant to The Earth Day Network and won a $32,000 solar panel system for New Vista High School, which was installed just before Earth Day 2010. Each member was recognized by the Boulder Valley School District by receiving Superintendent’s Honor Roll Certificate.
  4. Since 2007, 5 Community Adventure Program Alumni have won the Outstanding Youth Volunteer Award by the City of Boulder Youth Opportunities Board. Each year, only 10 students are selected to receive this distinguished award.
  5. In 2006, CI received the Colorado Alliance For Environmental Education’s Environmental Education Award for Excellence for the Community Adventure Program awarded by former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.
  6. Since 2003, CI students have designed and implemented over 30 student-directed Action Projects to address local environmental issues, including water conservation, energy conservation, and organic gardening projects.

Student Testimonial:

“The Community Adventure Program was, without a doubt, one of the best classes I have taken at New Vista High School. The Community Adventure Program helped me understand more about my place in the world and how I want to save it. It has helped me understand the incredible potential and opportunity I have as a high school student to make a true difference in the world.” Community Adventure Program Student

Educational Goals:
The Cottonwood Institute achieves its vision and mission by:

  1. Delivering fun and engaging programs
  2. Connecting underserved students to the outdoors [Awareness]
  3. Increasing their knowledge of local environmental issues [Knowledge and Critical Thinking]
  4. Empowering students to take personal responsibility to improve their schools, the community, and the environment [Problem Solving, Decision Making, and Stewardship]
  5. Developing 21st century student skills, including: leadership, critical thinking, and problem solving skills [Problem Solving, Leadership, Decision Making, and Stewardship]

Evaluation Data:
Below are key evaluation results from CI’s STRIVE Preparatory School program according to post course student surveys:

  • 100% of participants recommended their program to other students
  • 88% of participants increased their knowledge of local environmental issues.
  • 100% of participants developed the skills to make a positive impact in their schools, the community, or the environment.
  • 88% of participants said they would take personal responsibility to improve the local environment.
  • 100% of participants developed 21st century student skills, including: leadership, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.

Organizational Goals: CI has three primary organizational goals for 2014: 1. Deliver high quality, high impact programs. 2. Serve a diverse source of underserved students. 3. Maintain a sustainable and diverse source of funding.

How You Can Help The Cottonwood Institute Thrive: Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our educational programs and to help us empower our students to change the world! To make a tax-deductible donation, please make all checks payable to Cottonwood Institute and mail your donation to PO Box 7067, Denver, CO 80207. You can also donate securely online by Clicking Here.

For more information contact: For more information about how we are “changing the world, one adventure at a time,” please visit the Action Project section of our website or contact Ford Church, M. A., Founder and Executive Director at 303.447.1076 ford@cottonwoodinstitute.org.

History of the Company: The Cottonwood Institute was founded by Ford Church, M. A. in September 2004. The idea for the Cottonwood Institute came from his passion for the outdoors, his commitment to the environment, his love for inspiring the youth of America, and from his interest in giving back to the community. In 2003, Ford received a Master’s degree in Adventure Education from Prescott College and created the Community Adventure Program as a culminating project of his thesis. The Community Adventure Program has been implemented at New Vista High School in Boulder, Colorado since October 2003 and based on the success of the program and requests for more programs from parents and students, Ford founded the Cottonwood Institute and their summer programs approximately one year later.

Anti-Discrimination Statement: The Cottonwood Institute shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. These activities include, but are not limited to, students, hiring and firing of staff, selection of volunteers, selection of vendors, and provision of services.


Staff & Instructors: You will find pictures and bios of our key staff and instructors.

Board of Directors: Here we list our Board Members and Advisory Board Members, photos, and affiliations.

Partnerships & Affiliations: This sections provides links to our educational partners, business partners, and affiliates.

Volunteer & Job Opportunities: Has a current list of volunteer and job opportunities for those that want to get involved with the Cottonwood Institute.

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