By Joseph Rios
Former Denver Nuggets player and coach Bill Hanzlik is a believer in the power of sports – and STEM – to change lives.
He co-founded the Gold Crown Foundation in 1986 – during the prime of his NBA career – as a one-week basketball camp for girls held at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Today, the Lakewood-based nonprofit that Hanzlik runs has grown into a youth-sports- and education-focused foundation serving nearly 18,000 youth in Colorado and surrounding states. Its basketball, volleyball and golf programs are held at the 56,000-square-foot Gold Crown Field House in Lakewood and the Gold Crown Junior Golf Learning Center at Eagle Trace Golf Club in Broomfield.
“Our tagline is that Gold Crown Foundation prepares kids for the game of life. We’re not preparing them to be the next college basketball or volleyball player or golfer,” said Hanzlik, a former MSU Denver trustee.
The Gold Crown Foundation focuses on the life skills that youth can learn through sports: teamwork, character, commitment and responsibility, Hanzlik said. And the organization does that with the help of community partners, including MSU Denver coaches and students.
"Our partnership with the Gold Crown Foundation allows us to give back to the community and use our platform as college athletes to influence the next generation in a positive way," said Jenny Glenn, head coach of the MSU Denver women's volleyball team. "We love the opportunity to interact with young people and foster a love of sport in them. Foundations like Gold Crown are critical in engaging the youth in the community and inspiring them to dream."
As the foundation enters its 34th year serving Colorado’s youth, preparing them for life increasingly includes a focus on science, technology, engineering and math through the foundation’s enrichment programs, Hanzlik said. And to keep their kids active and engaged, Gold Crown goes beyond STEM to also include art in their STEAM programing.
The Gold Crown Foundation opened its first Clubhouse at its Lakewood Field House in 2003, a partnership with the national nonprofit Clubhouse Network, which supports community-based, after-school learning outposts around the country, explained Tawny Vessey, Gold Crown Foundation grants and communications director. In 2016 the foundation partnered with Best Buy to transform that original Clubhouse into Colorado’s only Best Buy Teen Tech Center and in 2018 it opened a new Clubhouse at Edgewater with the Clubhouse Network.
Both facilities offer free after-school learning programs for children ages 12 through 18 designed to develop creativity and confidence through technology, Vessey said. Among the learning tools available for participants are a 3D printer, laser cutter, digital cameras, computers loaded with graphic-design and animation software, drones, art supplies, silkscreen printing and a music studio.
In 2017, the foundation launched its C2C (Clubhouse to career) Pathways to Success program in partnership with Best Buy and the Clubhouse Network. The selective 12-month program provides participants ages 16 to 21 opportunities to develop their technology and workforce-preparation skills through mentoring, job shadowing and paid internships.
In its first two years, Gold Crown’s C2C Pathways to Success graduates have earned internships at Best Buy, Apex Systems, iDE Denver, Integer Group, iFuzion, Colorado Eye Consultants and other companies.
The program “literally changed my life,” said Jennifer Sanchez, a current senior at Alameda International Junior/Senior High School with ambitions to work in the medical field. After undertaking workforce-development training and job shadowing, Sanchez completed an internship at Colorado Eye Consultants last summer.
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“The program was a perfect fit for my goals,” she said.
This year’s class – C2C Pathways to Success’ third – comprises students from Alameda International Junior/Senior High School, Lakewood High School, Northfield High School and D’Evelyn Junior/Senior High School.
Likewise, as its sports and enrichment programming has expanded, the Gold Crown Foundation is addressing the needs of today’s youth through its Health HUDDLE program, said Dillon Barkman, an MSU Denver alumnus and Gold Crown's facilities director. The program is a partnership with Children’s Hospital Colorado, and HUDDLE is an acronym for: Hear, Understand, Destigmatize, Defend, Learn and Engage. It's designed to address mental health, nutrition, sleep, the role of technology and sports performance as it relates to today’s kids.
A spring 2014 MSU Denver Human Performance and Sport graduate, Barkman began his career at the foundation as an intern while he studied sports industry operations. Today, he oversees The Gold Crown Field House, Coca-Cola All Star Park and the Edgewater Teen Tech Center and has had the opportunity to employ dozens of MSU Denver student interns.
"I'm constantly impressed with all of the ways we continue to evolve to reach more and more people," Barkman said. "I'm very excited about the Health HUDDLE and hope to see it keep succeeding."
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Through it all, basketball remains the largest program at the nonprofit, Hanzlik said. Gold Crown hosts hoops camps, clinics, leagues and tournaments for youths in grades 2 through 12. Last year, MSU Denver women’s and men’s head basketball coaches Tanya Haave and Michael Bahl, along with MSU Denver student-athletes, led multiple clinics at Gold Crown, which is also one of only 15 Jr. NBA-affiliated programs in the country. This year, there are 450 teams in its basketball league.
“I believe that the most important thing that our players can do is give back to the community and more importantly give back to kids," Bahl said. "Our players really get behind events like (Gold Crown camps and clinics), and they get to take on a mentoring role. I think our players really get a better understanding of the impact they can have on someone."
The Gold Crown Foundation’s sports and enrichment programs add up to “a blessing for our community,” said Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul.
“Their after-school program and facilities are incredible places that provide kids a safe place to learn and stay out of trouble,” he said. “They’ve given our community so much – and not just Lakewood, but the whole metro area.”
Editor's Note: RED's "Mission Ready" is a monthly feature highlighting the work of an outstanding Colorado nonprofit. There are more than 25,000 nonprofit organizations in Colorado, and MSU Denver's Department of Human Services & Counseling is providing students with the skills and fieldwork required to lead them through its Nonprofit Studies concentration.
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