Imagine if you built a program from the ground up. It was your passion, your blood, sweat and tears and your relationships and community connections that fueled its creation, but also its continued existence. You’ve poured everything you had into making it a success for years and it has changed the lives of thousands of the people who need it most in the community. And now, you’re ready to retire. But you don’t want to see your life’s work fade away.

Michael Simmons (pictured here far right) created the Denver chapter of the national My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

Hopefully, you have someone like Melissa Janiszewski on your team. Melissa works for the Office of Children’s Affairs as the Strategic Partnership Coordinator. When Melissa found out that Michael Simmons, Program Coordinator for My Brother’s Keeper, was planning to retire, the idea of his knowledge and carefully crafted connections walking out the door kept her up at night. This is a man who Mayor Michael Hancock credits as an invaluable mentor when he was a young black Denver teenager; Michael Simmons even cosigned the loan for Mayor Hancock’s first car (see a video Mayor Hancock recorded to wish Michael a happy retirement below). This is a man who created the Denver chapter of the national My Brother’s Keeper initiative to make the American Dream available to all boys and young men of color by eliminating gaps in their opportunities and outcomes. He took time and care to create hundreds of crucial relationships throughout the community to move this important work forward, and Melissa knew that the program was a success because of this.

Black Belt Melissa Janiszewski is the Strategic Partnership Coordinator for the Office of Children’s Affairs.

So when she came through Black Belt in November of 2019, she started to use the tools taught to create an off-boarding template that specifically focused on capturing information vital to keeping these relationships for the continued success of the My Brother’s Keeper program. She focused on learning deeper insight into the people behind the partnerships, like their communication styles and values. She asked ‘How do we best work with this person?’ and “In what ways do you support this person and their work?’

She sat down with Michael over a series of sessions to fill out the off-boarding form on each relationship, collecting over 20 pages of information.

My Brother’s Keeper walking in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Marade.

“I imagined handing my off-boarding innovation to the person leaving, so that they can fill out the information themselves. For some reason, I hesitated to do that with Michael. Instead, I scheduled time for the two of us to work on this together. I transcribed while he spoke about all the individuals he had built relationships with and how it supported the work to improve outcomes for young boys of color in Denver. At the end of the process, I felt a wave of emotion come over me as I realized how valuable he has been over the years and that if we didn’t have this moment, our Department wouldn’t be able to carry out his legacy and continue these external relationships with the same level of intent, without all his feedback .” – Melissa Janiszewski

Taking the time to have these conversations to start with a fuller understanding of who the important people were and what makes them tick is estimated to save the department $123,240 in employees’ time. But the value of the actual relationships that have been saved by this innovation and what it means to the future of My Brother’s Keeper is priceless. We want to echo Mayor Hancock’s sentiments and wish Michael Simmons a wonderful and happy retirement and thank Melissa for this thoughtful and important innovation.

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