24th anniversary issue

Celebrating local people who make the world a better place

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Susan France

Happy anniversary, time for an optimism break

I have to say, this has become one of our favorite issues of the year to put together. Sure, we love getting to celebrate the anniversary of our founding. After all, a quarter of a century of award-winning news, culture, arts and entertainment coverage is certainly something to be proud of. But that isn’t the only reason this issue is special. Three years ago, we decided to celebrate our anniversary every year by shining a light on the unsung heroes in our communities, the folks doing good — often behind the scenes — who make Boulder County an amazing place to live.

Obviously we will never be able to write about everyone who merits a place in these pages. Our neck of the woods simply has too many good Samaritans, do-gooders and volunteers deserving of a mention. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate at least a few of these wonderful folks each year.

Boulder County is blessed with great weather, beautiful scenery and a nearly unmatched quality of life, but I would argue that it is the people living here who make it truly special. Yes, there are a few jerks sprinkled into the mix. We know this because we have to cover them all year long, but not in this issue. This issue is a jerk-free zone.

Speaking of Trump, I think that’s another reason it feels so good to publish this particular issue. The news cycle over the past 12 months has been enough to shorten our lives by no small measure. From the ongoing assault on immigrants and young black men, to the continued capitulation of our government towards major polluters like the oil and gas industry, from the frightful impacts of climate change to the dismantling of the EPA, this has been a year drenched in anger for many of us, or worse, a sense of helplessness.

But let’s not forget this has also been the year of the women’s march, the rise of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements and the birth of sanctuary cities. While it’s true that terrible things are happening, it’s also true that the vast majority of us have become more motivated to right the wrongs we see around us.

Yes, we have many elected leaders on both sides of the aisle, including the president, who are racists or climate deniers or more motivated by reelection than by doing what’s right for the rest of us, but we must remember that it’s within our power to change all that.

Times may indeed be scary, but they are also ripe for change, the kind of long-lasting change that can bring about a better world for our children and grandchildren. The insanity of this past year has drawn a line in the sand and every one of us has to choose on which side we will stand. Don’t forget, we have been here before and won. We will win again.

So for this week, this one short week, let’s all be optimists. Let’s take a few days to thank those who make our lives a little better whenever and wherever we see them. Let’s take all that energy we are using to rage against the current state of politics and direct it instead toward those among us who could use a helping hand. Let’s learn from the examples of those on the following pages.

I’d sincerely like to thank each and every one of you, our readers, for letting all of us here at Boulder Weekly into your lives. I hope we’ve done right by you these past 24 years. As someone who was here at the very beginning, I can honestly say we’ve tried.

So here’s to you, Boulder County. May the next 25 years be memorable for all the amazing things we accomplish together and may we all live our lives in such a way this coming year that each of us deserves a spot in our next anniversary issue.

— by Joel Dyer, editor

Learning from each other

Alyssa Finer may lead Conversations in English but she’ll always be a student

by Angela K. Evans

Susan France

Every Wednesday morning, like clockwork, Alyssa Finer heads upstairs at the Boulder Central Library and waits in the BoulderReads Lab. As it approaches 10:30, the start time for the daily Conversations in English drop-in class, people trickle in. There’s Desta from Ethiopia, Azusa from Japan, Gopal from Nepal. As the class starts, a few more people arrive, and Finer greets them with a warm smile and a soft voice. She welcomes them into the room by asking them to introduce themselves, where they are from and why they enjoy this free program.

“I need to meet people, communicate, improve my English,” says Maria from Spain. “I think it’s a good place to practice English with other international people. It’s a social meeting, and it’s interesting because there are people from many different countries.”

Then, unsolicited, Maria points to Finer. “She’s the best English teacher because she brings poems.”

Each week, Finer brings in a different discussion topic, usually inspired by her own reading. Sometimes she starts with a poem, other times just an idea. On this day, she steers the conversation around a discussion of the five senses, asking the participants to describe different aspects of their lives and experiences through their taste, sight, sound, touch and smell. With a variety of accents and pronunciations, the group of about a dozen share and laugh together for the next hour or so. As each person talks, the rest of the group listens intently. When sharing, Finer helps out with word choice and sentence structure, but mainly just lets everyone practice.

No two groups are ever the same, as some participants are only in town short-term, visiting family or going to school. But it’s part of what Finer likes about the group — she’s always learning something as she listens to people share their stories from around the world.

“I always think I can always learn from everybody, so everybody has something they can teach me,” she says. “We’re all so similar. We should respect whatever differences we have and we can learn from each other.”

There was the veterinarian/opera singer and his wife from Venezuela who came the day she wanted to talk about music. And a Muslim couple who taught her about the celebration Eid the day the group talked about holidays. An Iranian couple showed up the day she brought in a poem by Hafez, a 14th century Persian poet. Last summer, a group of about 12 people came to Finer’s class every week. In the end, they all walked away friends, making sure to take group photos before disbanding.

“The goal of the program is for the learners to be talking as much as possible and communicating with each other and that’s something that I hear with Alyssa’s groups — you really hear the learners communicating and connecting with each other,” says Shelley Sullivan, BoulderReads manager. “It gets noisy and that’s a good sign, it means people are talking and having fun.”

Finer, one of many facilitators, has been leading a group once a week for the past two years after seeing an ad on the Library’s website asking for volunteers.

“I wanted to give back. I thought it was a nice thing to help people feel connected to living in Boulder,” she says. “[And] with the whole political wave I felt it was even more essential to make people feel welcome and let them know we wanted to learn about them, too.”

She’s lived in Boulder for the past 17 years, moving here from California, and New York before that, where she worked as a corporate bankruptcy lawyer and then for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as an enforcement officer. “I really went in with the idea to help the little people, but it really wasn’t the right place for me to do that,” she says with a chuckle.

“Retiring” once she moved to Boulder, Finer spends most of her time writing short stories and volunteering in different capacities, whether with her son’s school or at the Library. And it’s something she’ll do for the foreseeable future, both as a way of welcoming newcomers to Boulder and growing herself.

“It really lifts my spirit, the people here,” she says. “I’m always learning something.”

Listen to the universe, work hard

Adrienne Sines mentors youth for fun

by Caitlin Rockett

You might say Adrienne Sines is fearless. At the very least she’s a real go-getter, a take-action kind of woman. She had a wild plan to move to Colorado, so she and her husband took a vacation here — but they also put their house in Michigan up for sale, you know, just to see what happened. The pieces fell into place almost effortlessly; the house sold and Sines was able to easily obtain a license as a community counselor in the state. They found a place to live on the Front Range and boom, here they are.

And this was all in their first year of marriage.

“It was like the universe was saying, ‘You should be here,’” Sines says from her office at the Community Reach Center in Thornton.

Sines is a bilingual intake program manager with a history of serving in school-based, residential and in-home outpatient settings. She’s comfortable with helping people through difficult situations, so it’s no surprise that she quickly signed up to be a mentor with Boulder County’s Community Youth Mentoring Program.

It took about a year for Sines to get paired with her mentee, but finally she got to meet 12-year-old Sydney. Sines has been mentoring Sydney for four years now.

“She was so sweet, at 12 and 13,” Sines says. “She’s such a great kid. She’s been through a lot and it’s amazing that she’s still in school, keeping her grades up.”

Sydney comes from a large family, one of six kids raised by a single mother. Around the house Sines says Sydney has a lot to do, helping with chores and childcare, all of that on top of just being a regular teenager dealing with the usual stuff like schoolwork and dating. Over the years that Sines has mentored her, Sydney has moved a number of times, once out of state. She’s dealt with changing schools and making new friends at what most people would consider tender times for a young girl.

So when Sines came into the picture, it gave Sydney a chance to just have some fun, to get some one-on-one help with homework. It gave her a chance to be a kid.

And it gave Sines a chance to be a kid, too.

“The first year she’d love to go swimming. We’d go to the rec center. Things I normally wouldn’t do, so it was a lot of fun for me,” Sines says. “She got me to take her to Elitch’s and that was a big thing because I don’t like roller-coasters. We’ve done ice-skating. Jump City, roller-skating. We would even get work done, school projects, go to the library. I would have a fun kit in my bag with games, crafts, nail polish, coloring, all sorts of stuff.

Now at 16, Sines says Sydney’s grown “too cool for all that.”

“I’ll still bring things, like I taught her to play cribbage. Now we really just go out to eat. We try to go shopping, even just window shopping. The mall is what she wants to do now. We talk a lot, and we’ve done some journaling.”

The two used to live close enough to walk to each other’s houses, but Sydney’s moved further away and has a part-time job now, so it’s harder for the two to meet consistently. But they talk on the phone once a week just to check in.

Just this past year Sydney was awarded the Rising Star award from the Youth Mentoring Program. The award acknowledged Sydney’s hard work to stay in school, and her dedication to sticking with her mentor. But the cherry on top was a laptop.

“I think a light really went off for her that, like, ‘I have a room of people supporting me,’” Sines says. “I think she saw there was a way out of this situation if she keeps working.”

Sines says Sydney has always wanted to be a neonatal nurse, and that her plan is to go to college. If she does, she’ll be the first in her family to do so.

While Sines says people might think she’s more comfortable taking on a mentorship role because of her education in counseling, she says it’s not about that.

“Yes, I have a master’s degree in counseling, but it’s not counseling. It’s not mental health treatment. It’s not therapy. Anybody can do it. If you want to sit down and hang out with a child and listen to them and be willing to do some kind of planning of some kind of activities, you can do this. They’ll usually guide you to what they want do. If they are more outdoor oriented or like sports or they’re more crafty… as long as you have the time it’s something anybody can do.”

Life’s guarantees: death, taxes and shorts in cold weather

Jeff Bogart’s humble offerings

by Emma Murray

Susan France

It was likely Benjamin Franklin who made famous the adage people have always known: death and taxes, two things you’ll never escape no matter how hard you try.

Thankfully, death only comes by once a lifetime. But taxes, like pesky summer thunderstorms when you’re out in the mountains, never come at a convenient time. “They’re like working a puzzle,” Jeff Bogart says with a smile. Which, he admits, “is great for an old retired guy. It keeps your mind alert.”

Over the past 10 years, Bogart has given thousands of his waking hours to taxes. Not his own, but other people’s. Normally when people reach retirement age, they’ll hang up their professional hat, kick back, relax and savor the peace they’ve worked decades to store up. But for Bogart, that lay-low phase didn’t last long.

Shortly after retiring from his career as a technical electronics designer, Bogart resolved to tackle the tasks he’d put off while a working man and avid Boy Scouts volunteer: tidy up the house, organize the 16 patents-worth of paperwork that he keeps in his home office, scan records, throw out the nonessentials. That, plus church and his spot on the bell choir, was enough to keep him busy for a few years.

“Then I decided I needed something interesting to do,” he recalls. With a mop of white, wispy hair and wire-rimmed glasses — add to that his wizened, compassionate looks — Bogart might as well be a Franklin descendant.

It’s been almost 50 years since Bogart and his wife moved to Boulder from New Jersey. “Best decision we ever made,” he says. Likely due, at least in part. to the fact that he’s found the resolve to wear his favorite article of clothing — shorts — every day of the year. (“Seriously,” a close advisor of Bogart says, “He never wears pants. Even if it’s 0 degrees outside, he’ll wear shorts.”) 

One day, in between clearing out papers and rearranging files in the house, Bogart thumbed through the pages of an American Association of Retired People (AARP) magazine. “I ran across this Tax-Aide program. … [the magazine said they] were looking for people to do taxes for the elderly and low-income people. I thought, OK, I can do that, I’ve done my own taxes… then I learned how complicated it really is.”

Tax-Aide is a free, personalized tax preparation service for low-to-moderate income taxpayers, geared especially towards those 50 years and older. The near-50 service locations around Colorado are primarily volunteer-run, and rely heavily on recently-retired folks like Bogart who have time to attend the initial 40-60 hours of training every year, and free weekdays to serve the program’s patrons during the February-April tax season. 

Mark Riley, the Boulder/Broomfield district Tax-Aide coordinator, explains, “It would be difficult, if not impossible for [the people we serve] to do their taxes on their own.”

One session with a professional tax preparer can cost up to $200 or $300, he says. “That’s a lot of money to some people. … And [doing taxes yourself,] especially for the elderly and those who don’t have access to the internet, it scares them to death.”

Only after enduring a rigorous, multi-day tax training regiment — which teaches all prospective and veteran volunteers current tax policies and how to use the materials, calculators and resources at their disposal — and passing a test administered by the IRS by more than 80 percent, are volunteers allowed to help at Tax-Aide. Bogart now helps lead these trainings, ensuring each fleet of volunteers is poised to provide accurate and efficient services.

It was a few years ago that Bogart started to note aspects of the volunteers’ IRS-provided tax software that he could improve himself. He started tinkering with writing software programs that would quicken and simplify some of the calculations involved in processing and understanding Tax-Aide’s services. Eventually Bogart built a resource webpage where volunteers can access many tools and calculators that expedites their job.

“Sometimes there are little things that you can do to reduce taxes for somebody that the software [provided by the IRS] just does not allow you to do directly,” Bogart explains. “And so if you can figure out ways to work around that and make it work properly… that’s what a lot of my little software tools are for.”

Riley doesn’t miss the days when “we used to carry thick manuals and books, to research and calculate. … Instead of paging through manuals to get at information, you can go to the [Bogart] site and get it all quickly and easily. It’s easy to get to and understand. This stuff’s pretty arcane, so it helps a lot.”

Riley was the one who realized what exactly Bogart was building. He eventually asked it he could share the software and now its use has spread to tax-service agencies across the country.

A few weeks ago, Riley handed Bogart the second nationally syndicated award he’s received in a matter of months. The first, “in appreciation for his contribution in the area of program innovation and programming,” was the National Director Award, bestowed upon him in early December.

“His name is a household name in the tax world,” John Meredith, who’s on the National Tax Training Committee, says. “They call [the software program] the Bogart calculator. … Jeff’s tools are very easy to use — intuitive, makes the process much easier. If you talk to volunteers anywhere around the nation, they’re using his site.

“Makes it all done easily for the poor devil behind the computer,” Meredith says with a laugh.

When tax season rolls around, Tax-Aide volunteers post up at several locations, sometimes in senior centers, at libraries or in rec centers. They open their doors free of charge for anyone in need of tax help. In as little as two hours, using the Bogart calculator, a person’s taxes can get done. Last year the Boulder/Broomfield district helped 2,700 people file and receive their tax returns.

“A lot of technical people don’t relate to common people,” says Meredith, who, like Bogart, comes from a tech background himself. “They’ll frown at people who can’t turn on their computer. But Jeff’s not that way.”

Held up to the light, Bogart’s gold and maroon plaque shines: “Because of his creativity, dedication and collaborative work ethic, Jeff’s contributions to AARP Foundation Tax-Aide have had a profound positive impact for volunteers across the country and at all levels of the program.”

The second award, the “Tax-Aide Fellowship Award,” which only goes to a handful of volunteers selected from around the country each year, echoes Bogart’s invaluable and selfless contributions, says Riley. “He’s spent thousands of hours doing this thing for nothing, just for the program. It’s remarkable, in terms of his character and spirit of giving.”

At the end of the day, and even at the end of tax season, Bogart is as unwilling to leave his humble state of mind as he his to don full-length pants. “It’s about the program, not about the award,” he says. “That’s the funny thing, I didn’t set out to do [win anything]. I just saw a need and did it. And that’s what happens.”

Finding the rooster’s voice

Robert Bellows and the Warrior Story Field

by Sarah Haas

Sarah Haas

At this early stage of the sculptures, they’re largely anatomical, insides facing out, but you can feel the sturdiness of their boney architecture and the power of their thick, wire muscles. One of the pieces has a fully-formed head bearing large, gruesome teeth, and a gold-tinged, barely visible heart that will soon be covered up with scaly skin. It’s not hard to imagine fire pouring out of the dragon’s mouth.

The skeleton of the second sculpture is less developed, bits of scrap metal stuck together, in support of a bird-like frame. The dominant beak hovering 20 feet above the ground confirms the hunch and brings attention to the decidedly feminine eyes of what will someday be a phoenix.

The sculptures are the creations of the Warrior Story Field (WSF), a grassroots nonprofit that’s been working with veterans to transform and share experiences of war through the language of art since 2013. WSF is a collective of veterans turned artists, led by local artist Robert Bellows. He isn’t a veteran and he never expected to work with them. Call it coincidence or call it fate, “this,” he says pointing to his home workshop animated by vets, “is where I am supposed to be.”

The group of vets working with WSF, 12 in all, are of all different ages and have seen all kinds of wars. But all of them know what it’s like to be a “warrior come home.” With one another, they are creating a space empathetic to how isolating it can feel to leave behind the structured world of the military and come home, with no position or rank, and feel lost.

“We all came home from war a little different,” someone says in the distance.

Bellows is listening nearby, embodying what was once his modus operandi that earned him the nickname “the silent one” as a young man. Now at 70 years old, his silence seems the exception to the norm as his crew jokes, “Bellows for bellowing hot air, right?”

Don’t let his humility fool you — Bellows is the conductor of this metal orchestra. Not only is he the original visionary, but he’s also the only one among the crew with the practical know-how to pull it off.

Since the project was born in 2013, he’s donated countless hours of his time, let the project overtake his personal studio and fully supplied it with tools and materials. But never once has he referred to himself as a volunteer or his spending as a donation. He only calls it what it is: “art.”

“What I’m doing with these vets is my personal work,” he says. It just so happens to involve a dozen veterans.

The project began when two vets showed up in 2012 offering to help Bellows work on his rooster sculpture, commissioned by the owner of Alfalfa’s to sit outside the entrance to its downtown Boulder store.

The guys, two vets from the Iraq War, were big and stoic looking and they wanted to help. Bellows, who was in the middle of cutting thousands of metal feathers, eagerly accepted. At first, he was akin to a task master, teaching them to use the tools and make metal into sculpture. Soon, he found himself leading them on a much more internal sort of journey.

“One day the guys came to ask where to place the feathers,” Bellows says. “I didn’t know how to answer so I told them to feel it.” Telling the story he raises his fists to his armpits, elbows bowing out like wings, and puffs his chest out forcefully.

“Caaaaw! Caaaw!” He says, laughing. “You have to find the rooster’s voice to find yours.”

The trio may not have known it at the time, but out of that moment WSF was born. And it was then that Bellows understood the soldiers had shown what they needed: work that could turn war into creation.

Weeks later they would ask him, “What are we going to do next?” and although Bellows might not have expected the question, he was not surprised. It was the feeling of finding his calling.

“I am literally overtaken by this art and this project. It is working me in a huge way and I am literally carrying the dragon’s energy and the phoenix’s energy, but I’m also carrying the space in between — the chaos between the two ways of life,” Bellows says.

“I’m not always sure of what to do next or of the answer to any given question, but the collective can carry that now, and we need them to, because making these sculptures is a deep and important study of the effect of war on a culture.”

Making progress

How Gary Sobol turned his Parkinson’s diagnosis into a program that has helped thousands

by Katie Porter

Susan France

Before his diagnosis, you’d find Gary Sobol running marathons, churning his legs over and over again. But when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008, the Boulder resident was brought, for a moment, to a screeching halt.

But it didn’t stop him for long. He channeled his running energy into a new cause. Sobol now teaches classes to people with neurological diseases and heads a nationwide fitness nonprofit called GZ Sobol Parkinson’s Network.

“It’s been quite a change, but it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” he says of that life-changing doctor’s appointment and subsequent decision to dedicate his life to volunteer work related to the disease.

It all started with a small weekly class at the Mapleton YMCA. Four or five people would attend, looking for someone who knew how to help. Sobol worked with experts to develop an inclusive workout plan to combat some symptoms of brain illnesses: rigid muscles, limited movement and balance issues. It was important they were exercises anyone could do, whether freestanding or with a walker or in a wheelchair.

“Funny things started to happen; these people were making progress,” Sobol says. “Some of them couldn’t get out of a chair, and every day [now] it seems like they’re doing something that’s helping them.”

Now, six years since the first boot camp, his organization hosts hundreds of classes each week, taught by 580 certified volunteer instructors in 18 states. Sobol estimates total attendance falls around 3,000 participants.

He says the expansion is something he never could have dreamed of, and credits much of it to media exposure and word of mouth. People from all across the country (and, recently, even abroad) have reached out to him, looking to start leading classes. He doesn’t charge anyone for training. He simply requires they come spend time with him to get certified and trained.

“When I teach a class of instructors I tell them, ‘This is going to change your life. You’re going to see people affected by this and doing things they never thought they would do, and when you get that you’ve got to stop the class and point that out because it’s giving the other people in that room a lot of hope,’” he says.

The incredible part is that upon being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Sobol was advised not to break a sweat. Generally, doctors would steer sufferers away from exercise because of the risks associated with strenuous activity.

“They don’t know what to expect; they say you have to be so careful because when your movements slow down everything gets more complicated,” he explains.

Sobol, however, didn’t want the degenerative disease to have control of his life. He decided to pick a few of the intermediate motor skill issues he was experiencing and take them into his own hands — literally.

He had lost the ability to write a check, so he worked on hand dexterity for several months. One day, to his wife’s amazement, she found a check in the office with his handwriting. His doctor said he had taught his brain to form new pathways.

Now Sobol is able to see the same “dramatic results” in those who come to his classes.

A long list of success stories includes a woman with an anoxic brain injury who went from being unable to stand for more than three seconds before awful discomfort set in, to standing for 25 minutes, pain-free. Another woman, wheelchair-bound in her 60s with Parkinson’s has attended Sobol’s class for years. She just recently regained her ability to walk, not only forwards, but even backwards across the YMCA gym floor. And another Parkinson’s sufferer who worked with him has now started her own Sobol-inspired classes at a YMCA in Massachusetts.

“I’ve never seen a group of people who are so grateful. It’s hard for me to explain without having tears in my eyes. We’ve learned how to help people’s lives,” Sobol says. “There are people there who have been affected and suffering for a long time and they really appreciate it and make it a point to say, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing.’ It’s such a treat to teach these classes.”

Most recently the GZ Sobol Parkinson’s Network has teamed up with the Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Center in Westminster to spread the word about how these physiotherapy exercises can help multiple sclerosis patients as well.

“Especially now that we know it helps with other issues, we are focusing on outreach,” Sobol says. “If someone in a city needs help with Parkinson’s or MS or some other disease, I want to be the first gentleman they call.”

Check out one of his organization’s classes, available throughout the week at 11 Denver metro locations. They offer varying advancement levels, and dance, yoga and tai chi classes. Visit www.parkinsonsnetwork.org for more information.

Building community connection through goats

Taber Ward and her life-changing passion projects

by Sara Aranda

It’s a Saturday in September and people have arrived with yoga mats and towels to a quaint 25-acre stretch of agricultural land off Iris and Broadway. They settle into various stretches and poses in the open air, when suddenly there’s a happy and curious goat at their feet, in their laps, on their bellies. Despite the laughter, Taber Ward gently guides the program along. After another successful session of goat yoga, people leave Mountain Flower Goat Dairy feeling giddy and at ease.

“[Goat yoga] has become a really fun team builder for companies,” Ward states, volunteering much of her time for such creative programs. “I used to teach yoga without goats … but the farm is so convenient and beautiful, and the goats are just so funny.”

Ward, who co-founded Mountain Flower Goat Dairy in 2012, now volunteers as a board member in addition to being a yoga instructor. Incorporating the goats into yoga activities was a new addition to the farm’s seasonal programs. First and foremost, Mountain Flower Goat Dairy is an educational doorway for the community to engage with and learn about humane husbandry, land conservation and sustainability. It’s also where you can buy into raw goat-milk shares.

Colorado law forbids the sale of raw milk, so Ward and her counterparts tapped into a solution for what seemed to be a common sentiment in Boulder: “People were not only craving a [dairy] product they could trust, but also the interaction and engagement with animals,” she says.

Members of the community can buy into the ownership of the goat herd, which legally allows members to receive and consume the raw milk produced. Goat yoga and raw milk for the people — a collaborative manifestation of Ward’s founding ethics of going with the flow and filling needs for the community. One unpredictable outcome has been the heavy interest in an outlet for Boulder youth. “Not every kid wants to go hiking or play sports,” she says, so summer programs and visiting hours “provide an outlet for the next generation” of farm-animal lovers.

Mountain Flower Goat Dairy was established as a partnership with Long’s Gardens Iris Farm when Taber Ward and Jonathan Vaught approached landowners Dennis Gates and Catherine Long Gates with a huge proposition for an educational goat farm. At the time, Ward was in her third year at CU Law School, taking an entrepreneurship class, and somehow found time to write up an entire business plan and get the ball rolling on the farm project, all while simultaneously studying for and taking the bar exam.

“[It was] so much added stress,” she says in retrospect. But over the past six years, despite the initial naysayers and daunting tasks she navigated, Mountain Flower has become a community gem. With nine weeks of kid’s summer camps, tours and year-round opportunities for next generation farmers to thrive, Mountain Flower is a living preservation of agriculture.

The full story behind this quaint goat farm starts in upstate New York. Ward grew up in a family heavily influenced by her father’s career as an environmental attorney. With a foundational ethic for the protection of the land and the environment, Ward went off to college in Montreal to study anthropology. 

“Food is such an amazing, important part of connecting humanity,” she says, “and I wanted to be involved in helping that be a positive connection.” She ended up working for a Meals on Wheels program and later with a student initiative called the “People’s Potato” at the University of Concordia, providing free vegan lunches for the community every single day. Newly inspired by food and thus agriculture, her work led her to farms in California and Colorado, gaining mentorship from people like Boulder’s own Margaret Hollander of Capering Goat Dairy.

Every season brings a different whirlwind of projects on the farm. In the fall, breeding becomes an arduous task. But each spring, 20 to 30 baby goats are born to Mountain Flower — a prized aspect of its busy spring visiting hours. With the animals’ liveliness, the farm becomes “a cool mix of predictability and routine, with a lot of creativity for solving problems,” Ward says.

While it might seem rosy from the outside, this line of work is littered with never-ending chores. “If you’re not doing it, no one else is,” Ward says. The goats have consumed her life (and others’) for years now, so it’s not uncommon for Ward to work even while sick. Getting “beat up” by the physical and emotional labor is commonplace and is representative of agriculture as a whole, she says.

All other interests and hobbies had been pushed aside until recently, when Ward made the transition from both farm management and on-the-ground farmhand to strictly volunteering as a board member. Yet, for all those years, her care for the goats and this project was derived from the most wholesome passion — she couldn’t see herself doing anything else.

Seeing the community interact with the goats during visiting hours, the delight of the children, the hands-on experience of producing a sought-after dairy product, made all the labor worth it to Ward. The larger picture she sees, one where the animal agriculture system at large is broken, reminds her how important it is to keep moving forward.

Agriculture as a whole, as she puts it, does not have the “end-game in the same way as other industries,” especially for small, sustainably-oriented agriculture that also incorporates animals, like Mountain Flower. Ward is a promoter of genuine and humane practices, not wanting the farm to sell out for profit or have specific goals for growth that outweigh community benefit.

It’s nearly a catch-22, however, in that organic and humane agriculture is hard to do when simultaneously running a business that requires higher premiums for the work involved. “It’s not convenient and it’s more expensive, so people have to be willing to pay the premium for the extra time involved.” This is an echo of her once yearly fear that the nonprofit farm and its vision would fail, with down-to-the-wire payroll and the reality that they are responsible for living creatures. “You are inevitably going to have animals that die and get sick,” she says, always feeling “so responsible that [the business] becomes something emotional.”

Community support has undeniably grown with the farm each year. “The interest is there and the community wants us to work,” Ward says.

Having worked in land conservation and on-the-ground farming since 2002, one of the ways Ward has gotten through the grind is fully immersing herself in the work. “I think sometimes people look down on [that type of body work],” she says. “Like, ‘Oh, that’s not very intellectual.’”

Nonetheless, within the continuous support from landowners Dennis and Catherine of Long’s Gardens, Ward finds another well of unrelenting motivation. “Catherine and Dennis are really doing this,” she says. “Their family has been farming this property for 100 years,” despite numerous opportunities to sell the land off as many early Boulder families have done. “[But] they’re out there every day farming and really believe in agriculture … I have so much respect for that.”

With faith that the farm will continue to thrive, Ward speaks now of a new chapter to her life. “This farm is my baby, and my passion for this industry or this project has not waned at all, but I find myself interacting with it in a different way.” Her next big adventure and “creative upwelling” will be that of starting a family, though the sustainable food movement will always be a priority in her life. Ward paints this new phase of her life as a matter of “trying to let [the farm] go to the next group of farmers who are trying to find their way.” To her, it’s not a matter of shifting interests.

Community efforts are really what make movements succeed in the end, she says, and she’s invested so much in promoting a humane, sustainable and co-creative farm life. “But [the farm] is and was so much more than me,” she says. It’s the neighbors “who put up with the noises and smells of goat farming,” the landowners, the families who bring their kids, the goat milk shareholders, the staff and board, donors and all the volunteers. “I feel like I just helped find the matches, and then this community lit the matches alongside me and believed in this: us working together.”

One of Ward’s newest outlets for her work is with the nonprofit CDR Associates, where she applies her law expertise to help facilitate “conflict resolution of environmental and community disputes” — a job that continues to create very meaningful experiences in her life.

Thus, with the dawn of the new year, Ward invites everyone to keep an eye out for baby goats and Mountain Flower’s spring visiting hours, which will take place every Saturday starting in March or April; and of course, make sure to join in a session of goat yoga. The goats love it, and you will too.

‘With,’ not ‘for’

Charlene Ford on helping out the community with Circles

by Michael J. Casey

Courtesy of Charlene Ford

Just what is Circles?

“It’s a program that I believe in,” Charlene Ford tells Boulder Weekly enthusiastically. “It’s easy to be enthusiastic about it because I do believe in it.”

Ford, a retired real estate broker and high school business teacher, joined the Boulder branch of the nationwide Circles program a little over two-and-a-half years ago and hasn’t looked back since.

“Basically Circles is a merging of government and public,” Ford explains. “The goal is to help people who are trying to get out of poverty and off of public assistance.”

Founded by Scott C. Miller, Circles USA is a grassroots, community-driven program that offers emotional and personal support to those living below the poverty line.

“We have a wide variety of Circles members that are vetted to get into the program,” Ford explains. “They have a strong desire to improve their position financially, for themselves and for their children.”

Simply put, a family that joins the program becomes a Circles member.

“We have single moms and dads, we have mature adults who have had major setbacks, like job loss and health issues and had to go on public assistance,” Ford explains. “It’s more difficult for them to get back into the workforce and earn a living wage so they can support themselves.”

These Circles members are then paired with a couple of community volunteers, called “allies.” Allies assist with any number of day-to-day activities; particularly the roadblocks that tend to keep impoverished people from getting ahead. Circles describes this core principal as “with, not for.” As Ford sees it, she is there to help “with the big small stuff.”

“That could be getting a drivers license, could be helping them sort through custody and legal issues,” Ford says. “It’s always encouraging additional education, or getting their GED; or getting community college certifications; or going on to college, if that’s what they choose.”

Allies can even help members determine what direction they should take for long-term employment. But as Ford emphasizes: “We don’t do it for them, but we walk with them. That’s the difference.

“I believe in walking beside people to help them with their issues,” Ford says, “Because we all have issues.”

Everyone struggles with something but most are born with safety nets below them: family members to lean on, communities that provide assistance and government services — schools, libraries and the like — that provide education.

“Most people have, if they’re lucky, a circle of support around them: family, friends, people that they can go to, to help them sort through different issues and life’s problems,” Ford explains. “That’s what the Circle members are in need of. … Their support system is either non-existent or it’s not helping the situation; it could be hurting the situation.”

No one should have to go it alone. The members have Ford, and Ford has Liz Black, Christian Phillips and Jamie Heil, fellow allies who work on the Circles Fundraising team.

“We don’t raise money for Circles, we raise money for support,” Ford explains. “For organizations that support Circles Members.”

This support can range anywhere from finding discounts on car repairs, to assistance with childcare, to acquiring donated washers and dryers. As Ford recounts, one member was a mother with a 5-year-old and a potty-training 2-year-old.

“She was changing sheets every night or so, and she didn’t have a washer and a dryer,” Ford recalls. “Out of that need, we started the washer dryer program, raised money and partnered with Mountain High Appliance in Louisville.

“They partnered with Whirlpool to get basic sets of washers and dryers at a low cost,” Ford continues. “We raised money for 10 sets of washers and dryers for last year and 10 sets of washers and dryers for this year.”

Like all the assistance Circles allies provide, these washers and dryers go a long way to helping someone with simple day-to-day chores. For someone working full-time, attending college classes and raising children, that assistance does a lot.

“They don’t have to drag their laundry to the laundromat and spend those hours, and the money, which they don’t have,” Ford says. “It just made good, common, practical sense to me.”

And Ford uses that good, common, practical sense to help Circles members achieve their goal: “Improve their lives for themselves and their children, make a living wage with the goal of getting off public assistance.”

There is strength in numbers and, as Ford has discovered, those numbers produce heartwarming results.

“When you see results, gosh!” Ford says excitedly. “Because of this program, we had outstanding results in 2017: we had 100 percent of our Circles members no longer receiving cash benefits or food stamps!

“It makes me so proud for them,” Ford says. “What an awesome thing!”

You don’t have to talk long with Ford to realize how strongly she feels about the effectiveness of Circles.

“It’s a program that works and you get to see those results,” Ford says. “That’s a very intimately rewarding experience.”

Changing lanes

Ron and Dee Brown: Boulder County’s power couple

by Emma Murray

Everything began in Thunderbird Lanes — the old bowling alley that, before its demolition in the ’80s, stood beside what was then the Flatiron Ice Skating rink, and now the Colorado Athletic Club off Foothills Parkway. It was the winter of 1977 and Boulder was booming.

Earlier that spring, Ron Brown had walked across CU Boulder’s graduation stage and collected his diploma, the words “recreation” scrawled front and center across the glossy sheet of paper. He promptly set to work taking care of Thunderbird’s bowling machines.

The bowling alley was the place folks could go to have a carefree, good ol’ time — where life was as simple as rolling a thick, heavy ball down a greased surface just to see how many pins might tumble. And rolling again and again, free refills, unlimited opportunity.

Come December, a beautiful girl had posted up behind the snack bar, doling out food and drink to the parties that hefted ball after ball down the lanes. She was kind and sweet. Her name was Dee, and Ron was smitten.

By March, a mere five months later, the two were walking down a different kind of lane: an altar instead of bowling pins, more wholesome food in lieu of the snack bar, seats all around, more light, slower music. They agreed, happily, to spend the rest of their lives together.

“So, it was like there was a reason I chose a major that was absolutely worthless,” Ron now laughs.

“It brought our two paths in orbit,” Dee says with a smile, her purple-tinted hair rooting her spirit back in time.

The couple stayed in Boulder until 1990, when they moved to Longmont, and as life got a little more serious than bowling balls and snacks, Dee went on to work for a surgical instrument company in Gunbarrel while Ron worked at a magazine subscription service.

Now, fast forward through four-decades-worth of swings from the never-ending life pendulum that oscillates between happy and sad, good, bad, simple and complicated, and Ron and Dee, again, are spending a lot of time together in yet another lane.

This one is lined with a mix of pop bottles, chewing gum and brightly packaged snacks that Dee couldn’t have even dreamed up back in 1977 — it’s checkout lane number 15 in the Longmont King Soopers on 17th and Pace streets.

Every Tuesday, as Carry-Out Caravan volunteers, Ron and Dee oversee operations at checkout 15 — shopping, bagging and delivering as many as four dozen grocery orders that are submitted by elderly and disabled adults who are unable to drive or grocery shop for themselves.

“I believe that we’re all on this planet to help each other out, and I think when you live in a community, you should then give to the community,” Dee says.

It’s been about four years since she and Ron started volunteering together, and they have no plans of stopping until they can no longer lift a grocery bag with gallon-sized water jugs or cat litter. In the meantime, bringing ease and lightness to the people they help, whether through conversation or physical aid, keeps them young at heart. Reminiscing with the elderly about their good ol’ days opens the door for Ron and Dee to recall their own good ol’ days together at Thunderbird.

In addition to their Tuesday mornings — when they arrive at King Soopers at 6:45 a.m. to set up the grocery shopping operation — they also spend a few days a week volunteering for Carry-Out Caravan’s sister program, Medical Mobility, both programs of Boulder County CareConnect. When needed, they’ll pick up elderly and disabled individuals and drive them to different healthcare appointments around the county before returning them back to their homes.

This service means a lot to Dee. “As I see it, a lot of these people who have to give up driving — and if you don’t have anybody to drive you places — kind of lose their independence,” she says. “So I think when they know, ‘OK, I can get to my doctor’s office,’ it still gives them a sense of independence rather than having to go into assisted living or someplace where they have drivers.”

Ron adds, “Most people don’t think about it, but if you put yourself in somebody’s place that’s 10 or 15 years older than you are, and you see ‘Oh, I might be going down that road soon…’ so we help them out, and we enjoy it. It’s what we do and it makes us feel good, helping.”

Whether driving someone to their doctor’s appointment or delivering a week’s worth of groceries, “I like to hear their stories,” Dee says, about “what it was like to live back, maybe in the ’40s and ’50s.”

She fondly remembers one woman she drove to an appointment who’d went to her same high school, only it was 20 years before Dee had attended. Dee rolls her eyes when thinking about another woman who buys dog food but doesn’t have a dog — “I guess she liked to feed raccoons.” And laughs at the one time a gentleman asked them to buy cheese aged 4 to 6 years.

Some of the grocery orders are hard to fill, says Ron. “A lot of times they haven’t been shopping [for themselves in a while] and they’ll want something that doesn’t exist anymore.” They try to find current products as close as possible to the earlier generational iterations — Oreos for Suzy Q’s, Cheez-Its for Planters’ Cheez Balls, and so on. Usually people end up happy no matter what foods they get.

As for themselves, “We eat the same thing every week,” Dee says with a laugh, keeping it simple and easy for their week-to-week meals. 

“I’m into free range, organic,” says Ron. “Other people [we shop for] get ten freezer meals a week, cookies and ice cream. But they’re in their eighties, so whatever they like, you know? They’re doing fine just the way they are, so keep on.”

A hair-oic effort

Shaving her locks is natural for community-minded Dutch au pair

by John Lehndorff

Susan France

Lorraine Remezond didn’t plan to set an example when she left the Netherlands and accepted an au pair position with a Boulder family. But after less than a year here, the 20-year-old is having an outsized impact on the community.

Her brown hair hangs down just to her shoulders but it won’t for long. She will cut it off in March to support a cure for childhood cancers.

“I heard about children with cancer and thought it was so sad. They haven’t gotten to live their life yet. If I was in that situation I would hope that someone would help me. So I said: ‘Why not do it?’” Remezond says.

Remezond will lose her locks March 11 at a Westminster hair salon as part of the nationwide, head-shaving St. Baldrick’s Day events held near St. Patrick’s Day each year. The first event was in 2000 and the name, which combines “Bald” and “St. Patrick’s Day,” has stuck. According to the California-based St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the organization has become the top private funder of pediatric cancer research grants in the U.S. and also around the world.

“My parents were not that excited when I told them what I was going to do. ‘America’s changing you,’ they said. I said: ‘I’m not worried about my hair. My hair will grow back,’” she says.

Her host family in Boulder was enthusiastic from the start. “I told them and they said, ‘We’ll support you 100 percent. We’ll stand beside you when you do it,’” Remezond says.

Born in the town of Oosterhout in the Netherlands, Remezond more recently has called Bergen Op Zoom, near the border with Belgium, home. She lives with the family of Caitlin and Matt Hardy in North Boulder and helps take care of 3-and-a-half-year-old Jack and 7-and-a-half-month-old Abe. “Abe lights up when he sees Lorraine,” says Caitlin Hardy. Lorraine doesn’t even mind that Abe is at the teething stage now.

“She has helped us so much. The kids adore her. I feel super-lucky that she has become part of the family,” Hardy says.

Remezond says that she feels the same way about the family. “I’m glad they chose me. I really like Boulder, too. It’s really active here. I go out on walks and do a lot of things with the family. They took me on vacation to Mexico, which was great,” she says.

Hardy says that she is not at all surprised that Remezond committed to participating in St. Baldrick’s Day. “Lorraine is such a do-something-for-someone-else kind of person. She goes above and beyond to help others. It’s awesome to have her in this community from so far away,” Hardy says.

Jen Rodehaver is a Local Childcare Consultant with Cultural Care Au Pair, the organization that placed Lorraine with the Hardy family and provides support for the more than 100 au pairs working in Boulder. The au pairs are typically aged 18 to 25 and have already had some college education.

“It’s really a cultural exchange program. The au pairs exchange child care for the opportunity to travel, practice their English and gain experience,” Rodehaver says.

However, in many ways Remezond is not typical of other au pairs. “She is an exception because she has a degree in childcare. Also, not all au pairs are as outgoing as Lorraine. She is a good example of a person who has really taken the spirit of the program to heart. She is involved with the family and the other au pairs as well as the community,” she says.

Remezond has earned the status of ambassador for the au pair program locally and helps to welcome new arrivals into the au pair community. “On her own, Lorraine is organizing a day at an indoor trampoline park for au pairs and their host children. She came up with that idea herself,” Rodehaver says.

She is helping Remezond spread the word about her upcoming hair-cutting donation for St. Baldrick’s Day. “She started putting it out there and it was very heartfelt. She had heard about it and jumped at the opportunity. So far she seems really calm about losing her hair,” Rodenhaver says.

Rezemond says she hasn’t had close contact in the past with many people who were fighting cancer. “This is different because it’s kids,” she says. At the March 11 event, she is looking forward to meeting some of the kids struggling with cancer and families that are benefitting from St. Baldrick’s-funded research and the organization’s outpouring of love and support.

Remezond said firmly that she is “not homesick,” and hopes to stay in the United States for a full two years. She has enjoyed getting to know the American fare at Good Times Burgers and the Cheesecake Factory, but does miss some of the foods she knew at home including the famous artisan chocolates made in the Netherlands and in Belgium.

She hasn’t had a lot of time to decide on her future plans. “I really enjoy taking care of babies so that’s what I want to look into when I get home,” she says.

“You never know what will happen in your life. I’m down for anything that happens,” she says.

To get involved with St. Baldrck’s Day: Lorraine Remezond will have her head shaved March 11 at Salon StEllEr in Westminster. To donate and support her or to participate yourself, go to: stbaldricks.org/participants/mypage/938312/2018.

Peas, love and flaxseed butter

The conversationalist life of Stele Ely

by Tiffany Bergeron

Susan France

Maybe you’ve seen Stele Ely at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market. He’s the man wearing a large cap and an ensemble created from all kinds of Earth-related props. It’s hard to miss him with the giant globe on his hat, singing and playing guitar.

It’s pretty common that most environmental acts go unnoticed. Ely is doing his best to change that. Between the farmers’ market and Pearl Street is where Ely spends his time engaging with the community, thanking and encouraging their every-day acts that will save the planet, no matter how small or big. For him, volunteering his time to walk about Boulder is more of a lifestyle choice than anything else.

“I gave up regular work to try and help this planet survive,” Ely says.

As a teen growing up in Grand Junction, Ely would regularly skip school to spend time in nature. He had a deep sense of curiosity for plants. In his truancy, Ely started to notice the environmental effects of the ranching communities in this area he called home. The pollution he saw is what changed the course of his life.

“I wanted to be strong so I could save this puppy,” he says, referring to the planet. “I wanted to help people become more healthy in my community, and to have compassion for the chickens and cows. I saw how they were treated.”

Since then Ely has become a vegan and believes he’s saving the planet in his own way. But simply motivating himself wasn’t enough. He wanted to do more to encourage others to follow in his footsteps. That’s why he created XO Earth, a sort-of brand that chronicles and explains most of Ely’s conservation efforts, and which can be accessed through his website XOearth.org.

XO Earth enables Ely to do the work he loves. His persona is part cheerleader, part educator and part entertainer. In an old-school way he’s an influencer, inspiring people to think more actively about their Earth.

One of Ely’s favorite things to do is give out his XO Earth awards on the streets in the form of a currency he calls an Earthe. To earn an Earthe is simple. All it takes is an act that involves honoring the earth. It’s just another way to feel differently about the value of conservation, or perhaps a way of re-promoting it. XO Earth encompasses the ways in which Ely shares his enthusiasm and gives thanks for the choices people are making.

“I go to the farmers’ market a lot, and I thank people for riding their bikes, for eating organic, and supporting their local farmers. I walk back and forth and give people awards for bringing their own bags,” he says. He gives people positive feedback for the most part, but won’t hesitate to point out when someone is wrong. You could say he has been cultivating XO Earth into a modern day version of Captain Planet.

“I’d like everyone to volunteer. We need everyone on board right now. Do something for an organization that builds the integrity of the sustainable community. Teach what you know — everyone has something to teach about what they love and how to protect what they love.”

The conservation effort is not lost on Boulder. Ely has a wide and receptive audience when he’s out promoting his cause, perhaps in large part because, with his wacky get-up and charismatic personality, he makes it fun for kids and adults alike.

Ely’s work doesn’t end with XO Earth.

“I also volunteer to help people get jobs, to work on people’s homes or businesses. For free I’ll meet with people to help counsel them. I help people in their homes with some environmental things — helping businesses become more environmental. I encourage people to start green teams and I want to be their environmental consultant or sustainability cheerleader.”

Ely says he also volunteers his time to organizations that support the cause. He works with Sierra Club, 350.org and companies that want to go green.

Ely’s main tools in his fight for conservation are curiosity and fun. He wants to know about people’s level of action, in a way that’ll keep positive momentum moving forward. He wants future generations to enjoy this planet as much as he has.

“This place is too fun. I’ve had a blast, and I want to keep going for a lot of years. It’s a great playground. I don’t want that to go away.” As he says himself, it’s all about “Peas, love, and flaxseed butter.”