DENVER - When Stephanie Welsh walks around her warehouse, she can show you what looks like piles and piles of items no one needs anymore. The woman who calls herself the "Dumpster-diving Diva" sees this stuff as a way to help teachers in the classroom and with the pocketbooks.
"Ninety-five percent of what you see in this store is stuff that was going to be discarded, either recycled or headed off for the landfill," Welsh, executive director of RAFT Colorado, said.
RAFT stands for Resource Area For Teachers. It is a large warehouse near Coors Field for items that Welsh has convinced local businesses to give to her instead of the garbage dump. Welsh then uses things like fabric rolls, file folders, and cardboard cylinders to support teachers around Colorado by selling to them for pennies compared to dollars. Teachers often spend their own money to supplement the classroom.
"With the new Colorado content standards that's really coming through," Welsh said. "Teachers are expected to engage their kids with more hands-on activities."
Jaquita Hurst is a 1st grade teacher at the Farrell B. Howell K-8 School in northeast Denver. She says going to the RAFT warehouse saves her hundreds of dollars a year.
"On average, when I go to RAFT, I have shopping carts full of items and my bill could be $4 to $7," Hurst says.
She is using carpet squares for kids to use during reading time. She has a dozens of file folders taped together to create "writing offices" for her students. She has water bottles and bags that were given to RAFT by companies and organizations.
"What is one man's garage could be another person's treasure," Hurst says.
RAFT is also about helping teachers create new ideas, as well. They provide professional development and workshops to help educators try something innovative. The warehouse has a Green Room where teachers can uses laminating machines, cutters, and other art supplies to make something for the kids.
"RAFT gas a lot of science kits that they have already premade for you," Hurst said.
Volunteers even go through the materials and package ready-to-use experiments for teachers using the recycled materials.
"In addition to saving teachers money, we save them a lot of time," Welsh said. "So, the ideas are there. The science is there and they can go out and get kids engaged right away."
The Morgridge Family Foundation started RAFT Colorado, which is modeled after a program started in San Jose, California. This week, RAFT is holding a fundraiser to support operational costs of maintaining the warehouse. If you would like to find out more, click here: www.raftcolorado.org.
Welsh calls the whole non-profit endeavor a win-win.
"In addition to helping educators, we're helping the environment," Welsh said.
(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)