Photos by J. Adrian Stanley
A crowd of 1,000 people came to support Urban Peak at its fundraiser breakfast under the Colorado Avenue bridge.
Sana Noor pauses as she tells a crowd of over 1,000 people about the emotional, physical and sexual abuse she endured as a child, including being raped by a neighbor when she was only 10.
"All this was under the roof that I was supposed to call home," she says.
Collecting herself, she explains that as she grew into a teenager, her relationship with her parents worsened. They were strict followers of Islam; she was an atheist. She craved her freedom and they wanted to tightly control their daughter. She was expected to cover her hair and her access to technology was extremely limited.
When her parents gave her an ultimatum — follow their rules and religion or leave — she chose the latter. She remembers searching her phone desperately before finding Urban Peak in Denver as she awaited a ride away from the family home.
Her parents didn't take long to find here there and demand to staff that she come home with them. But Noor says that she was scared they'd hurt or kill her. The situation escalated. Police were involved.
Urban Peak eventually brought Noor to Colorado Springs to keep her safe. She was covered in a blanket in the backseat of a car on the drive here, in case her parents were watching. Forty minutes into the drive, when staff was sure they weren't being followed, she remembers being allowed to uncover herself. She saw Garden of the Gods, and felt the wind in her hair.
"I never felt as free as I did at that moment," she tells the crowd.
Urban Peak Colorado Springs
"We are here for youth that are in the toughest moments of their lives," Executive Director Shawna Kemppainen tells the crowd.
, the area's LGBTQ-inclusive youth shelter, provides outreach, shelter and longer-term housing for homeless youths. It operates on a $1.8 million budget. As a part of its mission, the nonprofit offers access to case management, health/medical care, family/life skills, education, employment, and the Safe Place program.
The annual OFF THE STREET breakfast is Urban Peak's largest fundraiser. It's long been held under the Colorado Avenue bridge, where passing trains occasionally interrupt speakers. The idea is to bring the audience into an environment where a homeless youth might be forced to sleep. This year's breakfast raised $169,467.
As the audience tucked into breakfast burritos from Picnic Basket Catering
, Executive Director Shawna Kemppainen explained that Urban Peak's programs have been growing.
In the past year:
• Since last July, Urban Peak had housed (not just sheltered) 58 youths, and of those 54 remained safely housed. Kemppainen explains that it costs an average of $35,000 a year to leave someone homeless (think clothing and shelter, but also ambulances, police and health care) compared to just $14,640 to keep a youth housed for that year.
•Urban Peak helped 15 youths earn a GED or high school diploma, which will increase each of their wages by an average of $9,500 a year.
• Urban Peak has built/is building partnerships with Urban Peak in Denver, Peak Vista Community Health Centers and Partners in Housing to provide more holistic care to youths and to reach longterm goals to end youth homelessness.
• Most important, Urban Peak provided social, emotional and physical safety for youths, who might otherwise seek connection with those who wish them harm. "Human beings are neurologically hardwired to find belonging," Kemppainen notes.
Sana Noor tells being abused as a child, stifled as a teen and forced to leave home early. It was Urban Peak, she tells the crowd, that gave her a chance to join the Air Force and give back to her community.
When Noor arrived in Colorado Springs, the staff helped her to start a life. That meant writing a resumé, getting signed up for Medicaid, getting immunizations, setting up a bank account, getting an ID, getting a bus pass to look for jobs, and working with a case manager.
At the time, Victoria Scanlon was brand new to case management.
"I recall telling Vic, 'I'm going to be your first success story,'" Noor says.
Noor got her first job at Jimmy John's. Then she got a second job. She began meeting with an Air Force recruiter. Fluent in four languages, she thought she'd like to be an airborne linguist.
That didn't quite come together, but she did get into the Air Force, go through basic training, and now works in finance. She's finishing her associate's degree, before working on her bachelor's, and studying for a pilot's license. Now stationed in Florida, she makes sure to give back in her free time, recalling how much was given to her.
Noor says it's been wonderful to watch her life come together, though she gets a little sad when she watches her peer's parents celebrating their milestones. She hasn't been in contact with her own family since 2016. Still, she says, she has her friends from Urban Peak. "Family isn't the people whose blood you carry; it's the people who you love and care about and the people who love and care about you."
Noor says she traveled back to Colorado for a chance to give back to an organization that was there for her at her lowest moment.
"It's a scary thought wondering how different my life could have been," she says.