You belong; you are unconditionally loved; and you have immeasurable worth and value. These are the pillars of Denver-based nonprofit Dry Bones, which works with unhoused youth and young adults.
The nonprofit began 21 years ago by Matt Wallace, his wife Nikki, and Jeff and Kama Medders. Before starting Dry Bones, the Medders were visiting Denver and became aware of how many kids and young people were living on the streets. They began interviewing those impacted about what was being done to help this age group. One thing led to another and eventually Dry Bones was formed.
“This younger population often has a completely different set of needs than the general unhoused population,” says Matt, executive director of Dry Bones. “The younger population is new to this life of not having a place to belong. Maybe they've hopped from group home to foster home, maybe even to a family member's home for a while and this is their first experience of being unhoused and living on the streets. They just hold tremendous hope and expectations that they won't remain on the streets forever, and that kind of changes the nature of services and the nature of what's needed.”
By meeting unhoused youth and young adults—typically those between the ages of 12 and 30—where they are mentally, physically and emotionally, Dry Bones is able to build friendships with them and help them with a variety of wants and needs. These services range from providing home-cooked meals several nights a week to bowling outings, street outreach, shower and laundry services, resource navigation, emotional and spiritual support, safe spaces, companionship and much more.
Dry Bones also offers job readiness and training, including a 12-month job training program through their social enterprise, Purple Door Coffee.
From assisting with resumes and applications to providing work attire, Matt and his team of volunteers help young adults find worthwhile jobs. But only if that’s what they are asking for, Matt says. “We want to see young people become members of society with wholeness and that looks different for every person,” he says. “We don't have any sort of cookie-cutter goals for these kids. We want them to come into their fullness and find wholeness.”
Dry Bones doesn’t have one single end product or task in mind for these young adults. By not checking off a box or completing of a set program, these kids can become who they want with additional support and guidance as needed. This is indicative of a genuine relationship, Matt says.
“We also don't age people out of the community,” Matt added. “Dry Bones is a genuine, lifetime supportive community. We have a lot of people that even though they've moved off the streets, and they're long off the streets, they're still a part of our family, our community, and we're still the system that provides that relational life support for them.”
The youth-focused nonprofit is always looking to grow its community, but to do that, it relies on donations and volunteers. Those interested can make a monthly or one-time donation at drybonesdenver.org/donate-now, organize a donation drive, purchase coffee from Purple Door Coffee or volunteer. Volunteers must complete a training course with Dry Bones, complete a background check and application and provide references. More opportunities to get involved can be found at drybonesdenver.org/be-involved.