Tammy Bellofatto had been the executive director of Bayaud Enterprises for fewer than six months when Covid-19 officially arrived in Colorado.
The nonprofit uses a wide range of programs to support its goal of helping Denverites facing barriers to employment, such as disability or homelessness, find and keep jobs. But many of Bayaud’s pay-for-service offers, like its document shredding business, could not operate during the stay-at-home order. Bayaud was losing money fast.
So Bellofatto got creative — and flexible.
“The city’s like, ‘Who can deliver meals?’ I’m like, ‘We can,’” she told the Denver Business Journal. “‘Who can help us at the National Western Center and Coliseum shelters?’ ‘We can.’ The city needed security guards around the Covid vaccination sites. So we started a security company.”
Her up-for-anything strategy worked. Bayaud workers delivered 6,000 meals a day and had so much work that it hired 80 laid-off restaurant and bar workers. And while Bayaud qualified for the first round of Paycheck Protection Program loans, it was denied the second round — because it was making too much money.
“It really did help us out tremendously, financially, during Covid,” Bellofatto said. “Being able to pivot.”
That willingness to change course has arguably been a theme throughout Bellofatto’s life. Throughout her unpredictable journey to the helm of the 53-year-old Bayaud, though, the desire to help people find jobs has endured.
“It’s just really cool to be able to help people get to where they want to be and help them be self-sustainable,” Bellofatto said. “What employment does for folks is it gives them purpose, but also gives them choices.”
When it comes to choices, Bellofatto admits that she hasn’t always made the right ones. She grew up in Long Island, New York but moved to Green Mountain, Colorado, with her parents when she was 13. Bellofatto tried community college, but it wasn’t for her, so she worked for a phone company and started a traveling karaoke business instead.
Around the time she turned 30, Bellofatto began partying and taking drugs, first landing her in jail in 2003.
While waiting for her sentencing, Bellofatto began working with the Arapahoe House, a treatment facility for those struggling with drugs and alcohol that once had facilities all over the metro but closed in 2018.
Bellofatto isn’t sure if it was her efforts at recovery, or something else, that caused the judge at her sentencing in 2006 to show leniency. But he did, requiring a yearlong stay in the halfway house rather than sending her to prison.
Avoiding prison put Bellofatto in a better position to turn things around, she said, because it allowed her to keep working and going to rehab. She continued her karaoke company and worked at Lechuga’s Italian Restaurant.
“I just kept my head down and did what I had to do,” Bellofatto said.
Not long after her sentence at the halfway house was up, in 2008, Bellofatto was recruited by the Felons Regaining Equal Employment Coalition. Known as the FREE Coalition, it helped those with felonies on their records get jobs— and, in part because Bellofatto fit into that same demographic, she figured she’d try something new and help others like her.
Much of the philosophy underpinning Bellofatto’s work today formed at the FREE Coalition. She learned to uncover individuals’ motivations and pinpoint the types of jobs they might both excel at and enjoy. She spoke to employers, too, working to change biases about incarcerated individuals and find job openings that matched her client’s strengths. “You have to have an honest match,” Bellofatto said.
She still remembers the first person for whom she got a job. “I got this guy who just got out of prison after 12 years and got him a job at Wendy’s,” Bellofatto said. “He was so happy, so excited. And he did really well.”
When FREE Coalition shut down soon after Bellofatto joined, she went back to restaurant work, taking a position at Gallop Café, a former Denver staple on West 32nd Avenue.
That’s where Bellofatto met Rudy Gonzales, CEO of Servicios de la Raza, a social services organization that serves Denver’s Latino population. Gonzales recruited Bellofatto to run a summer employment program for youth offenders, and the program’s success earned her a more permanent position at Servicios de la Raza as a medical case manager for HIV patients.
In 2011, Bellofatto returned to the employment work she loved by starting a job as a vocational specialist at Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. As she rose through the ranks — first being promoted to manager, then to director of the vocational services division — Bellofatto deepened her understanding of trauma-informed care.
“I learned that not everybody got to homelessness the same way,” Bellofatto said. “It could be a divorce, it could be drugs and alcohol. Most Americans are one or two paychecks away from being on the street, right? I learned to graciously talk to folks about how they got to where they are.”
Bellofatto had a hand in many CCH employment programs, such as South Street Works, which helped place those the Coalition served at positions within the organization. Those individuals could then put the Coalition on their resume, using it as a springboard to another job.
During her eight-plus years at the Coalition, Bellofatto grew the nonprofit’s vocational services department from two employees to more than 20. She credits the nonprofit’s outgoing CEO, John Parvensky, for being flexible and willing to listen to her ideas.(Parvensky earned the Pinnacle award, a lifetime achievement honor given as part of DBJ’s Most Admired CEO program, this year).
But Bellofatto’s own work was being recognized, too.In 2018, the Denver Institute of Urban Studies awarded her an honorary doctorate in public service; that same year, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper pardoned Bellofatto, wiping the felony off her record.
When David Henninger, who founded Bayaud Enterprises in 1969 and served as the nonprofit’s executive director since 1973, announced his retirement, friends and colleagues encouraged Bellofatto to apply for the position.At first, she was hesitant to leave the Coalition, an organization she considered her landing pad.
In the end, “I was like, ‘What the heck, I’ll throw my hat in the ring,’” Bellofatto said. After a rigorous round of interviews, she was offered the executive director position at Bayaud in August 2019and officially started the role in Oct. 2019. Henninger stayed to oversee the leadership transition until the end of that year (he remains on the nonprofit’s board of directors).
The arrival of Covid-19 raised the stakes of Bellofatto’s already-Herculean task of leading a more- than 50-year-old nonprofit that had been overseen by the same executive throughout its existence. Joblessness in Denver soared, and Bellofatto felt sharply the responsibility for the 350 people Bayaud itself employed, as well as their families.
“We only laid off the people that wanted to be laid off, that didn’t want to go work in Covid response,” Bellofatto said, adding that those workers were able to get unemployment benefits and were hired back once they felt safe.
To support the nonprofit’s rapid transition to helping the city’s pandemic relief efforts, Bellofatto’s team established a temporary staffing company called the Bayaud Enterprise Staffing Team, which is now a permanent fixture at the nonprofit.
She also leveraged her relationship with CCH, getting those in Bayaud programs work cleaning the motel rooms her former employer used for its respite care program.
Such initiatives joined a kaleidoscope of existing Bayaud programs, including federal AbilityOne contracts, under which Bayaud trains members of the disability community for tasks like working in a mailroom or in IT, then offers them support in maintaining that position.
Bellofatto credits Bayaud’s leadership team for helping her maintain the nonprofit’s many moving parts while continuing to innovate. “It’s been amazing to just be able to hand somebody a project and then watch them make it unfold,” she said.
The worker shortage that emerged after the first stage of the pandemic forced employers to be more open to unconventional hires. In 2022, Bayaud’s Day Works Programs, which contracts with cities and counties to connect individuals with low-barrier work, served 250 individuals, according to Bellofatto, some of whom spring-boarded into lucrative careers: IBM hired a woman who was part of the Bayaud-run Day Works program in Adams County.
Bayaud is also expanding the support it offers the vulnerable populations it serves: Bellofatto recently hired a clinical employment specialist (a licensed professional counselor that focuses on job coaching) to offer mental health support to individuals entering or reentering the workforce.
And there’s more to look forward to. In the next few years, Bellofatto plans to renovate Bayaud’s headquarters at 333 W. Bayaud Ave. and potentially add affordable housing. But employment will remain Bellofatto’s top priority.
“People need housing and health care, but I believe there needs to be a third part to that pyramid, and that needs to be some form of self-sufficiency,” Bellofatto said. For some, like those with disabilities that prevent them from working, that support should come from social security, she said. But for others, she believes employment can be that third tier.
“Employment got me out of where I was,” Bellofatto said. “And that’s why I’ve always been all about employment.”
- Name: Tammy Bellofatto
- Age: 53
- Organization: Bayaud Enterprises, Inc.
- Title: Executive Director
- Advice to those new to social work: Your clients’ successes are not your successes, and their failures aren’t your failures. “You have to not take credit for either one. If people fail, they fail. You’re there to help them and pick them back up if they need it.”
- Passion project: Sits on the Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans under the United States Department of Veterans Affairs
- Not-so-secret talent: Bellofatto comes from a family of bowlers and has bowled a 300 three times before. In 2021, she placed first in Greater Denver USBC’s 100th Annual City Championship.
- Favorite way to relax: Spending time with her two daughters, six grandchildren and two rescue dogs