What We Do

As an award-winning 501(c)3 educational non-profit organization based in Denver, Colorado, Cottonwood Institute aims to inspire a new generation of 21st century leaders who are environmentally aware, civilly engaged, and empowered to make a positive impact within their communities.

Our Mission Statement:

Cottonwood Institute is on a mission 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.

Cottonwood Institute Instructors

How We Do It

Cottonwood Institute collaborates with schools and youth organizations—primarily for middle and high school students—to provide high quality, high impact environmental education and service-learning programs.

Student programs engage students with:

  • Hiking and overnight camping trips
  • Discussions about local issues
  • Implementing hands-on, student-directed Action Projects

In 2014, Cottonwood institute:

Served 415 students in the greater Denver metro area

Logged 12,600+ program contact hours

Recorded 4,900+ service learning-project hours

Earth Task Force Local Lunch

Why We’re Different

Cottonwood Institute is one of the only local non-profits along the Front Range that blends environmental education and service learning for academic credit during the school day. We use best practices along with a hands-on, project-based, multi-disciplinary approach.

Our programs empower students to ignite change, not just talk about it. Cottonwood Institute’s change theory 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. That change will ripple out to their friends and family; their schools and communities; the environment; and the world.

We believe that students can’t be expected to care about the environment if they never have a chance to explore the outdoors.

Strive Preparatory SchoolsWho We Serve

Cottonwood Institute programs provide a once in a lifetime experience for underserved middle and high school students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to explore the outdoors and make a difference in their community.

The educational partners that are a funding priority include:

  • STRIVE Preparatory Schools, serving 90% high need, 95% students of color in Denver, CO.
  • KIPP Colorado, serving 95% high need, 98% minority students in Denver, CO.
  • Casa de la Esperanza, serving 100% high need youth, 100% Latino middle school youth in Boulder County.
  • Colorado Youth For A Change, a dropout prevention program primarily serving 83% high need, 80% students of color in Denver and Boulder County.
  • New Vista High School serving public high school students in Boulder, CO.
  • Military Kids, serving youth of military families along the Colorado Front Range.

Our Story

Ford Church

Cottonwood Institute was founded by Ford Church, M.A. in September 2004. The idea for Cottonwood Institute was a culminating project of his master’s thesis in 2003 and came from his passion for the outdoors, his commitment to the environment, his love for inspiring the youth of America, and from his commitment to giving back to the community.