ENGLISH

Serving Southwest Denver Since 1988

HISTORY

Southwest Improvement Council was founded by Jan Marie Bell to serve and meet the needs of the many diverse populations that exist within the neighborhoods of Southwest Denver.  With an intense focus on improving the quality of life in these communities, Jan held the premise that lives truly can be improved when “people help people”.  Over the past 35 years, SWIC has grown and evolved alongside its neighbors, always recognizing, and embracing the changing demographics and needs of those it seeks to serve.

With the help of Fr. Pat Sullivan of St. Anthony of Padua parish in Westwood, Jan Marie Bell organized a group of volunteers in 1987. With a strong desire to help neighbors help themselves, Jan set out to connect her community while also revitalizing it.With Fr. Pat preparing for retirement, Fr. Joseph Sullivan came to St. Anthony’s within the next few months and wasted no time getting this volunteer organization up and running. He was responsible for acquiring the first major grant funding and for obtaining the org’s IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax-exempt status in 1988. With a continued focus on improving the communities in which they lived, Fr. Joe was also responsible for naming the organization Southwest Improvement Council (SWIC).

Neighborhood Improvement Teams were organized as a result of surveys that matched community needs with individuals who had the skills to address those needs. It wasn’t long before the Teams earned nicknames: “Earth Angels”, “Urban Gleaners”, “Graffiti Busters” and “Block Captains”, to name a few. Neighbors were eager to help each other and improve their community.

In just a few short years, SWIC saw a need to not only clean-up its neighborhoods, but to make housing affordable to its predominantly low-income community. Forming a partner nonprofit, Southwest Neighborhood Housing Corporation (SWNHC), SWIC set out to acquire vacant homes, rehab them and sell them at an affordable price. The organization also began developing and managing affordable rental properties.

In 1992 SWIC leased and moved into the Westwood Community Center, where it managed all activities, programs and sporting events for the City of Denver. It was during this time that SWIC also developed a valuable partnership with Volunteers of America (VOA) and began providing a hot lunch Monday through Friday at the Center for neighborhood older adults, age 60+.

With a continued desire to make home ownership possible and sustainable in southwest Denver, SWIC became a US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Approved Agency and began offering housing counseling services in 2004. While Home Buyer Education was another HUD offering, SWIC didn’t add the curriculum to its Housing Counseling program until 2017. In 2019, SWIC’s counseling team member become a Certified Housing Counselor to meet HUD certification requirements.

Founder Jan Marie Belle retired in 2018, but SWIC continued to call Westwood home until February, of 2023, when it purchased a property at 5045 W 1st Avenue in Denver. Located in West Barnum, approximately two miles northwest of Westwood Community Center, SWIC remains deeply embedded in the communities it has always served.

While SWIC is more than proud of the fact that it survived the COVID-19 pandemic, organization officials are prouder of the way it evolved and adapted over the past 35 years. SWIC is certainly not what it was in those early years – but then, the neighborhoods it serves are far from what they were back then. Changing demographics have presented opportunities for SWIC to expand on the services it provides to a rapidly growing older adult population, while the troubled state of the housing market has made it more important than ever for the organization to continue its work to help individuals realize their dream of owning a home.

An organization that was formed to improve the quality of life in southwest Denver, SWIC’s strength lies in its ability to adapt and evolve to serve the most vulnerable and support its neighbors with their current and most prevalent needs at any given time. SWIC also partners with like-minded community nonprofits and agencies to fill gaps in services and address inequities across the southwest Denver community. Jan Belle’s initial dream of connecting her community lives on today in all that SWIC does and will continue to do long into the future.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

At Southwest Improvement Council we embrace and celebrate the rich tapestry of cultural diversity within our community. We are committed to fostering an inclusive environment where all backgrounds, beliefs, and traditions are not only respected but also valued. Further, we believe that the individuals selected to serve on our Board of Directors should represent our commitment to diversity. We know that if we, as an organization, want to support individuals from all walks of life, we must include individuals from all walks of life in all aspects of our leadership.

Tony Oum, President

Tony Oum is Executive Vice President at FirstBank’s Multicultural Banking Center. He began his banking career in 2008 after graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has a passion to help our diverse communities start a banking relationship, purchase their first home, and help them become financially independent.

Tony was born and raised in Longmont, Colorado. His parents were refugees from Cambodia who survived the horrors of the Killing Fields. They came to the United States with nothing but the clothes on their back and they taught him the importance of hard work and giving back to the community. Tony serves on the boards of Asian Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Emily Griffith Foundation, Jeffco Housing Corporation, and Southwest Improvement Council. He is also an active member of the Cambodian Buddhist of Colorado.

David Fogel, Treasurer

Coming Soon

Mary Lou Vigil

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Gus Achey

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Frances Natividad Coleman

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Timothy Sandos

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Ray Ehrenstein

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Benjamin Cheang

Coming Soon

STAFF

Donna Zimmerman

Donna was selected as Southwest Improvement Council’s (SWIC) Executive Director in August of 2022. She has more than 20 years’ experience in the nonprofit sector and a combined total of 30 years in leadership, marketing and development roles. Donna’s most recent position was in development at a nonprofit that provides programs and services to individuals with disabilities.

Having served on several boards during her career, Donna’s most recent volunteer commitment has been as president of the Littleton-South Metro Branch of the American Association of University Woman (AAUW). Donna holds a BS in Business Administration, with a concentration in management and minor in communications from Dickinson State University in Dickinson, ND, along with an MS in Nonprofit Management and Leadership from Walden University in Minneapolis.

Lance Guanella

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Jenny Nguyen

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Tom Valdez

Since joining the team at Southwest Improvement Council (SWIC) in 2020, Tom has served in many roles. Hired during the most intense time of the COVID-19 pandemic, he initially took on management of the expanded Food Pantry to meet escalated need during this time. Tom has 20 years of professional and business management experience, alongside over 15 years as a Professional Photographer.

Tom currently manages operations and oversees all marketing and communications at SWIC. Additionally, he serves on the Southwest Food Coalition, connecting SWIC to other like-minded organizations who seek to address food insecurity in the Denver Metro area. Tom studied Graphic Design at Red Rocks Community College and Interior Deign at Phoenix College and attended Arizona State University.

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