At a young age, Eric Schulz learned that the support of his family made all the difference for him.
The realization came when Schulz – now executive director and founder of Realities for Children – got into “quite a bit of trouble” with two buddies when he was 15.
“My parents couldn’t have responded better…holding me 100 percent accountable for anything I did, but also messaging back to me … that while what I did was wrong, my bad choices weren’t a reflection of the content of my character.”
Schulz’s friend was not so fortunate. His friend’s alcoholic dad responded to his son’s trouble by severely abusing him, according to Schulz. “It was really eye-opening to me,” says Schulz.
The impact was devastating. “My friend later passed away from a drug overdose in his 20s,” Schulz adds.
For young Schulz, the experience was life changing. There, in this tiny, no-stoplight, northwestern Pennsylvania hometown, Schulz declared a life goal, “I wanted to have a group home for kids who didn’t have a healthy family-life, like I did.”
Now, many years later, Schulz has achieved that and more.
Stalled-out in Boulder
Schulz came to Boulder in 1983, just passing through on his way to California. But, as fate would have it, his car broke down.
And – like many Boulder residents – once here, he never left.
Determined to prove his parents right, Schulz put himself through college, becoming the first in his family to earn a college degree. He worked his way through school with two night-jobs – one at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless. After graduation, he became the supervisor of the shelter and over the years, held supervisory and caseworker roles in the Boulder County mental health, school district and social services system.
“As a case manager for adolescents and families, I specialized in abuse and neglect. I was in court a great deal and became steeped in the family dysfunction, abuse and neglect – the cyclical and generational nature of it,” says Schulz.
Then, thirteen years ago, Schulz saw the opportunity to realize the life goal he defined as a 16 year old. In 2002, he started the Polaris House, a north Boulder foster care group home for boys aged 12 – 16 years who have suffered abuse and neglect.
“Most of the kids we work with, they turn 18 and they are out of foster care and they are penniless. So I really wanted to impact that population, and prevent homelessness to begin with,” says Schulz.
By partnering with Boulder County Health and Human services, through the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, funding for each child’s room and board came from stipends rather than foster care dollars. The Chaffee funding continued after the age of 18, which enabled the children to remain at the Polaris House for longer.
Based on 21 Years of Success
In founding Realities for Children Boulder County, once again, Schulz is using a non-traditional funding model. By creating an alliance of local business members, the businesses pay dues. Half of the dues fund the organization’s cause-marketing activities on behalf of its members. The other half underwrites the organization’s charitable activities for Boulder County’s abused, neglected and at-risk youth such as educational scholarships and vocational training.
The unique model was created by Craig Secher. In collaboration with the Fort Collins real estate community, Secher started the flagship Realities for Children Larimer County, a success of 21 years.
When Schulz heard about Secher’s structure, he “fell in love with it.”
“The traditional fundraising model creates a sense of competition among the agencies – a feeling that they are all trying to get a portion of the same donor dollars. Our model emphasizes collaboration, so non-profits can work together to serve the community,” says Schulz.
“And collaboration is much more powerful than competition,” he adds.
This month, we’re honored to present Realities for Children Boulder County as the Boulder Source Featured Friend. For more information, please read “How to Change a Life” and stay tuned for more about the organization’s ongoing programs for at-risk youth and benefits to its business members.
How You Can Help
Become a business member – this year’s goal is to grow from 60 to 150 members