Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock gathered recently in an intimate circle at The Denver Foundation to chat with the 17 summer interns who were ending their 10-week stint in the Foundation’s Nonprofit Internship Program. Each student garnered experience individually, working with Metro Denver nonprofit organizations that are addressing disparities in the areas of education, basic human needs, or economic opportunity; and collectively, through workshops and an intensive retreat that addressed issues such as leadership and racial equity. 

Mayor Hancock shared his reflections of developing as a leader, and a few humorous stories, before taking questions from the group.

“I recall walking into the mayor’s office on July 18, 2011 for the first time as the mayor,” Hancock reflected. “Thoughts came rushing back to me about being that poor kid, hungry, cold, and homeless on Denver’s streets for a while, and even the uncertainty after getting into college – how will this all be paid for?” The mayor shared with the students that he took a chance and put in a call to then Mayor Federico Peña during his freshman year and asked to be an intern in his office during the upcoming summer. Hancock received a return call from Mayor Peña on the hall phone in his dorm at Hastings College (he reminded the chuckling students that there were no cell phones back then). Peña offered him a paid internship, and Hancock went on to work for the mayor during his remaining summers throughout college.

“You will acquire a lot in life – cars, houses, objects,” Mayor Hancock shared with the students. “All of those things can be taken away from you. But no one can take away your degree or the experiences you’ve earned.” He emphasized the importance of internships as a gateway to jobs after college, adding that “it’s not who you know, as much as it is how well you know who you know.”

The visit with the nonprofit interns underscored that notion in many ways. While interning for Mayor Peña in the early 1990’s, he reported directly to Lauren Casteel, who was Mayor Peña’s Senior Communications Director. She is currently the Vice President of The Denver Foundation’s Philanthropic Partnerships Department (the department which manages the Nonprofit Internship Program). By way of introducing the mayor to the students, she stated: “The greatest joy of my career has been the opportunity to work with new talent. And what was most compelling about Michael at 19 was his eagerness to learn and receive feedback, which was equal to his desire to offer suggestions and lend his perspective about community issues.”

Additionally, another of the mayor’s key mentors at that time was Denver Foundation President and CEO David Miller, who was Mayor Peña’s Director of Finance.

The 2014 Nonprofit Interns represent the 8th Class in the program, the purpose of which is to provide paid summer work and opportunities for college students who have traditionally been underrepresented in the nonprofit sector (people of color, first generation college students, GLBT, etc.). To date, more than 100 students make up the alumni corps of the Nonprofit Internship Program, many who have successfully entered into the nonprofit or public service sectors. To learn more about the program, visit