Helping The Helpers

Alyssa Kopf

Through the DESCI Community Housing Program, those who serve Denver Public Schools' students receive support for their futures. 

What do you remember most form your school days? Start by recalling your classmates and teachers. Now think of the other people at your school.Which cafeteria staff member had the biggest smile? What was the name of your favorite bus driver? Who called for you to be picked up when you weren’t feeling well? Did your school custodian help you raise the flag each morning?

Memories from school days are made up of so many faces — people who support children’s education in many different ways. In addition to teachers and administrators, janitors, facilities managers, and food service staff provide essential “behind-the-scenes” services to students and their families.

Shelly Wright is one of these people. As a Denver Public Schools (DPS) Campus Safety Officer, she thinks she is likely to be remembered for the goofy hats she wears while directing traffic to help her students cross the road safely. She says, “I don’t think the kids even know that I have hair!”

Shelly has worked for DPS for 10 years, following positions in schools in Englewood and Littleton. Feeling burned out from law enforcement after working in Adams and Boulder County jails, she transitioned to school safety. 

Although her commute became much longer and she experienced a significant drop in income,  her love for working with kids in schools felt more important.

However, as Shelly’s rent expenses rose faster than her income, she worried she would need to leave both DPS and her apartment of four years. At her former job, her income had been comfortable. Now, even with supplemental income from jobs during the summer, Shelly was feeling continual strain.

When she found out about the Denver Educational Senior Citizens, Incorporated (DESCI) Fund at a union meeting she said to herself, “This sounds too good to be true.”

DESCI started in 1953 as an effort to provide housing for older Denver Public Schools employees and retirees. DESCI incorporated as a nonprofit in 1957 and, assisted by a low-income housing loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), built a 12-story apartment complex off Cheesman Park.

After 50 years of operation (1963-2013), the building faced mounting maintenance and renovation expenses. After much consideration and input, the Board sold the building and created a housing subsidy fund at The Denver Foundation. The housing subsidy provides for more flexibility than ownership of a single building, and allows people to access support to stay in their current homes or have self-determination when choosing where to live.

Shelly fits the profile of the DPS family members that the DESCI Fund was established to support.

She met the eligibility requirements for the fund, but was nervous about picking up the phone and asking for assistance. “I am not someone who asks for help. I struggled silently and worried month to month,” says Shelly. “From the first call that I made, talking to Rosanne Sterne [managing consultant of the DESCI Fund], it was a great experience. I didn’t feel ashamed or less than.”

Shelly now works at Bill Roberts K-8 School in Stapleton and hopes to finish her career at Denver Public Schools. Thanks to the DESCI Fund, she has remained in her home and can think about what comes next after retirement. She says, “I don’t think I could have done it without DESCI.”

Currently, DESCI provides more than 80 monthly housing subsidies to educators and school employees, retirees, and members of their immediate families. The Fund also continues to support the 21 members of the DPS family who stayed in the former DESCI building after its sale in 2013.

Shelly has told other DPS employees about the DESCI Fund, and people are often surprised and grateful to know about the resource.  Talking about the DESCI Fund, including taking part in this interview  and photo shoot, is her way of “paying it forward.” When asked to  describe the DESCI Fund in one word, Shelly says, “Invaluable.”

The DESCI Community Housing Program provides rent subsidies to low-income persons 55 years of age and older who are DPS retirees, current and former employees, and members of their immediate families. To learn more, visit and search, “DESCI.”

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