DU Alumni

Erik Myhren challenges the status quo on behalf of underserved kids

Alumnus Erik Myhren founded Connect the Kids, a nonprofit that introduces disadvantaged elementary students to a wide variety of enrichment programs in areas ranging from arts and academics to sports and life skills. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

In the late 1990s, Erik Myhren (MA ’03) was a television advertising sales representative—a job he found thoroughly dissatisfying.

“One night I drove home crying, wondering what I was doing with my life,” he recalls.

That all changed when Myhren quit his job and was hired by a friend to work at a Denver YMCA summer camp.

“We worked 6 to 6, no breaks, and the kids were always there,” Myhren says. “And for the first time in my life, I wasn’t looking at my watch wondering if the battery had died. The day was gone before I knew it, and I realized, ‘That’s the life I want.’”

Myhren earned a master’s degree in urban education from the University of Denver and has taught at three Denver elementary schools. He has some strong opinions about public education.

“The school environment is an unnatural environment,” he says. “We as adults couldn’t sit and listen to adults babble on for eight hours a day, and we expect kids to do it.”

Myhren also believes that many students need to be motivated to attend school through strong teacher relationships and through exposure to activities that attract their interest.

“I was never a kid who loved school. I showed up every day so that I could attend art class and be eligible for sports activities,” he says. “In the process, I ended up getting a good education.”

But many kids from underserved communities never receive those extracurricular opportunities. So when Myhren began his teaching career, he also started a girls’ basketball team. Within three years, that had expanded into girls’ and boys’ soccer, T-ball, lacrosse and even outings to theater performances and ski trips.

Much of the funding for these activities came out of Myhren’s own pocket or from donations. Pretty soon he realized there was a big demand for the kind of access that he was providing, so he decided to start a nonprofit organization to expand his idea.

Now called “Connect the Kids,” the organization introduces disadvantaged elementary students to a wide variety of enrichment programs in areas ranging from arts and academics to sports and life skills.

For his work on behalf of Denver’s underserved elementary students, Myhren is this year’s recipient of the Founders Day Ammi Hyde Award for Recent Graduate Achievement.

Myhren’s mentor in the Morgridge College of Education, Professor Nick Cutforth, says Myhren “bends the rules, but I think that’s what great teachers do. Great teachers are subversive. They’re challenging the status quo, not for their own ideologies but for the betterment of the kids.”

Myhren simply says, “What I do with the kids makes life worth getting up for every day.”

 

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