“It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.”
I agree with Tom Brokaw, but would add that it’s even rarer still to make a difference while knowing, even desiring, that you will never make a buck for it. Yet, that said, we live in a place that is full of amazing people who are doing just that every day. These people spend their time and energy, even their own money, to make the world a better place in myriad ways while asking nothing in return, except perhaps, that we would join them in their cause.
Such folks really are the best humanity has to offer. And because of that, we have chosen to celebrate Boulder Weekly’s 22nd anniversary by celebrating some of the local people making an important difference in other’s lives far from the limelight. We have all year long to tell you what’s wrong with the world, so please indulge us while we spend a little time and ink this week to share with you what we believe is going right.
Not only do Boulder County’s many volunteers and otherwise do-gooders give their time and energy for the benefit of the rest of us, they generally do so in designed obscurity. In other words, it’s hard to get them to talk about themselves and let you take a picture.
They often don’t want people to know that they are doing these really important things behind the scenes. Some told us their volunteer efforts are like an anonymous gift to their neighbors. Others see what they are doing as a way of paying back a world they perceive has blessed them many times over. Still others view their sacrifice of time and effort as a way of finding meaning in a culture that too often measures success only in terms of money, fame or sometimes infamy.
We wish we had room to mention all the incredible, giving people we found or heard about in our communities, but of course we don’t.
So we have whittled down a very long list of worthy friends and neighbors into this small collection of stories.
We hope you find the subjects of these pieces as interesting and inspirational as we did. They are people truly making a difference in the world simply for the reason that they believe it is important and possible to do so.
With that, we at BW would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to all the wonderful people we interviewed for this issue.
As someone once said, volunteers may not get paid, but it’s not because they are worthless, it’s because they are priceless. —Joel Dyer
John Humbrecht: A second chance on the slopes
by Caitlin Rockett
Think back to a moment that changed the trajectory of your life: the beloved high school teacher who drove your career in education, or the party you begrudgingly went to and met your future spouse.
There’s always a moment we can pinpoint as the catalyst for a chain reaction that changed our lives, big or small.
“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life,” Charles Dickens wrote in Great Expectations. “Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause, you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
For John Humbrecht, that memorable day came some 20 years ago during a community service stint with Ignite Adaptive Sports at Eldora Mountain Resort. He was around 41 at the time.
“I said, ‘I can go skiing for community service?’” Humbrecht remembers, laughing. “And the first day I fell madly in love with it, because I used to teach other forms of skiing for able-bodied people, and this was so much more rewarding.”
Humbrecht has been with the nonprofit ever since. These days he’s the snowsports director for Ignite, which has provided recreational opportunities for people with disabilities since 1975. He gets a stipend as the snowsports director, but he’s also a ski instructor, and at Ignite, each ski instructor is a volunteer.
Humbrecht says he put in about 1,200 hours as the snowsports director last year — and that’s not including the time he put in as an instructor.
The New York native says it was a friendship with a neighborhood child that gave him, his first insight into what life could be like with a disability.
“He used to sit on the front curb and watch everybody go by. All of us would be riding our bikes by and this kid would just sit there,” Humbrecht says. “And so one day I went over and said hi to him and we got to be friends.”
Humbrecht has a lifelong history teaching adventure sports: he’s been a river guide, ski instructor, lifeguard and Outward Bound guide. It was Outward Bound that brought him to Colorado for the first time. After living through the dark, snowy winters of upstate New York, Colorado offered a pleasant change of scenery.
“I thought, wow, the sun comes out in the winter? I’ve gotta figure out a way to come here,” he says.
And so he did, through a full ride at the University of Colorado’s computer science graduate program.
While his service with Ignite marked the first time Humbrecht had taught skiing to those with disabilities, it wasn’t his first experience working to enhance the lives of people living with disabilities.
“In grad school here at CU, I got hooked up with people who had disabilities because I was in computer science and so were they, and we came up with methods they could use keyboards and stuff like that,” he says. “It was at the very beginning of having special kinds of software for people with special needs, and we just started experimenting with stuff.”
He founded his own independent software company nearly 30 years ago, and while he says he doesn’t do much with it these days, it’s clear his background in computer science benefits his passion for teaching at Ignite: he built the scheduling software for the ski school. He says he’s hoping to spread the software to other ski schools.
Today, Humbrecht can’t imagine a better career than giving folks a new outlook on life. In addition to his job as an instructor and director at Ignite, he also volunteers one day a week at the Adaptive Ski and Ride School in Breckenridge.
The work, he says, is humbling.
“Imagine you can’t see, and going down a slope [with] somebody just telling you to make turns, the incredible level of trust they have,” Humbrecht says. “And then they get to the bottom and it’s like, ‘Can we do that again?’”
Ignite teaches snowsports for a wide range of folks, including injured vets. And Humbrecht is also involved with the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, held each year in Colorado.
“I’ve been there with students as they just got out of Walter Reed [Medical Center]. They used to be very active, and they’re very depressed now. They feel there’s no active life for them anymore, like they’re gonna be sitting on the couch watching TV for the rest of their life and then we fit them in a sit ski,” Humbrecht says. “And the first day isn’t very successful. And the second day they are starting to learn to make turns, but it kind of hurts because they just got out of the hospital, and they are actually making trips back to the hospital during this time. But by the end of the week they have a smile on their face, and they’ve discovered they can go and be active again and even go out with their friends and even be equivalent and ski the bumps and the steep hills and everything.
“It’s incredibly awakening for them,” Humbrecht says. “And what it does for me and the other instructors, it gives us a good feeling and brings tears to our eyes.”
Ann Noonan: Keeping up with the times
by Caitlin Rockett
The 1970s generated a wave of revolution for LGBTQ rights in the United States — the first LGBT Pride Parade was held in Los Angeles in 1970, Kathy Kozachenko became the first openly gay American to run successfully for political office in 1974, and more than 100,000 people marched on Washington D.C., in 1979 in the largest pro-gay rights demonstration up to that point.
But these are the high points, the moments of positive forward momentum that punctuated a decade equally filled with discourse. Openly gay San Francisco City-Council supervisor Harvey Milk was assassinated in 1977, and anti-gay rights campaigns, most notably one led by singer Anita Bryant, worked tirelessly to eradicate gay-rights ordinances. While “homosexuality” was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973, it wasn’t until 1986 that the term was completely eradicated from the manual. But even then, bigotry toward the LGBT community was well established in America. Eradicating the notion that gay men and women were somehow diseased or psychologically and emotionally impaired would take much longer — and it’s not a stretch to say the opinion still persists.
It wasn’t easy growing up gay in the 1970s, a story Boulderite Ann Noonan knows well.
“I actually ended up hospitalized psychiatrically as a teenager, a lot around gender identity,” Noonan says. “There were things we didn’t have words for back then in the early ’70s.”
Today, Noonan has the words.
“I call myself a GQ lesbian, a genderqueer lesbian,” Noonan says. “I use [the pronouns] she, her and hers, but I have my own creative spelling of it.”
As such, the pronouns s/he, hir and hirs will be used throughout this story.
“When I was first trying to figure things out, I thought… I had no words for it,” Noonan says. “I didn’t have a lot of sexual attraction at that point. I’d have crushes, like on my writing instructor when I was like 10, but that was as best I could figure out. At some point I identified as butch. But I like the word genderqueer because it’s more like there’s a play on it.”
The word helps convey Noonan’s place on the gender spectrum.
“I like being kind of the blend of gender that I am. I have a more masculine appearance, I get called sir a lot, but I’m happy being a woman,” s/he says. “If I had transitioned in my 20s, I’d just be a straight, white male, and how boring would that be?”
That same thoughtfulness, that commitment to evolution that Noonan applied to hir own life and sense of self can be seen in the work that s/he’s done in Boulder’s LGBT communities.
Noonan has been involved with OutBoulder — today, a nonprofit that provides services, programs and support to Boulder’s LGBTQ communities — since the early ’90s, s/he says, “since it was the gay hotline, just a [telephone] message line to hear what was happening that weekend.” Back then it was called Boulder Pride.
S/he joined the organization’s board of directors about five years ago, and became the president of the board in 2009. Noonan closed hir tenure as board president last year, and will remain on the board for one more year as past president.
The changes s/he’s seen over the past five years, Noonan says, are “pretty amazing.”
St. Vrain School District, s/he notes, is about to add transgender right to their nondiscrimination laws, and Noonan can remember a time when the school district wasn’t even allowed to use the term LGBT (and the words that make up the acronym) in their rules at all.
“The [LGBT] community is changing so fast, and the younger people in our community are busting it wide open. It’s hard for people like me, of my generation, to keep up, but I keep trying,” s/he says.
One thing Noonan knows for sure, one thing s/he says s/he’s learned from working with OutBoulder, is that s/he can’t be complacent about hir place in the queer community.
“Because there’s still so much changing and still so much work to do,” Noonan says. “There are things I didn’t know about the transgender community. I think gender issues trigger a much younger part of ourselves than even same-sex attraction. So, we start sorting babies when they’re born and then babies learn to sort. When I get mis-gendered, it’s a 5-year-old at the grocery store trying to figure out which box I’m in. So when you’re trying to throw away the boxes it creates a lot of discomfort, but also a lot more freedom for people.”
While Noonan embraces the discomfort that comes from a lifetime of learning and growing, s/he has also worked with faith communities in Boulder County to create places of comfort for those in the LGBTQ communities. This was important to Noonan, who grew up in a religious family and studied religion for a time at Wesleyan University.
“I was part of First United Methodist Church [in Boulder] becoming a reconciling congregation. And then when I moved to Longmont I was part of First Congregational [United Church of Christ] becoming an open and affirming church,” Noonan says. “So that’s really the heart and soul of the queer work that I did that I feel really proud of, is being part of those processes.”
Part of Noonan’s personal coming out process also involved seeking treatment for substance abuse in 1983. While s/he had previously studied religion for a period of time, s/he found hir life’s calling as an addiction counselor.
“When I was in treatment I was one of those folks that said, ‘Oh, I want to be a counselor,’” Noonan says. “They said, ‘You have to wait a year and see if you still feel that way.’ And I did, so I’ve been in the field ever since.”
S/he started volunteering at Boulder County Public Health’s Addiction Recovery Center (ARC) in 1984, leaving to get more education and experience before coming back in 1998 as the clinical coordinator. When ARC transitioned to Mental Health Partners (MHP) last year, Noonan was director.
S/he’s now the program development director for substance abuse and mental health integration at MHP. And Noonan says the transition was important in order to provide the best treatment for substance abuse.
“The goal [of the transition] was always to make sure integrating treatment was available,” Noonan says. “People who drink and drug often have psychiatric issues and those with psychiatric issues often drink and drug. We’re not a single diagnosis.
“One of the reasons I’m so passionate about integrated care is because I also have a psychiatric diagnosis. You know, I’m my own dual diagnosis example,” Noonan says. “Until I got through my own stigma about getting psychiatric help, I wouldn’t have made it through my sobriety.”
More than 30 years later, Noonan is still sober, and s/he’s just as dedicated to hir work — both professional and volunteer — as ever.
“In the last 35 years I’ve watched this whole change in the Boulder community and in the drug and alcohol treatment community and in the queer community and I’m still really interested in all of it, which is why I stay so active in all of it.”
Bob Brevig: More than a hot meal
By Joel Dyer
It’s 10:45 on a Monday morning when Bob Brevig arrives at the Longmont Senior Center dining hall. It’s a little reminiscent of Norm showing up at Cheers. “Morning, Bob,” “Hey Bob,” “There he is,” “Good to see you, Bob,” can be heard as he makes his way through the room to a back table. He’s clearly well known by everyone in the hall and from the tone of the greetings, well liked.
Eventually he takes a seat and waits his turn.
Brevig has repeated this ritual a couple of times a week for the past 13 years. That’s a little over 1,300 times. What he is waiting for is his turn to load up the hot meals, frozen dinners and newspapers provided by Meals on Wheels so he can make his rounds to all the folks who not only depend on him for their physical nourishment, but also for a good portion of their emotional calories as well.
Like a lot of folks who volunteer, Brevig really caught the bug once he retired. He put in five years in Rochester, Minnesota with IBM before transferring to the company’s Boulder facility from where he eventually retired.
“I remembered Boulder from when I’d been here in the service. I thought, ‘Now that’s a fun town,’ so we moved,” he recalls. “And I love having all four seasons.”
Brevig and his wife Marty are retired. They are physically fit, economically OK, enjoy ice fishing and love to have fun with friends and family, which includes a bunch of grandkids and a couple of very fresh great-grandchildren. Brevig has paid a lifetime of dues in the both the military and corporate America. So now that he can finally do whatever he wants, why is he choosing to serve others instead of just looking out for himself?
“I thought about it,” he says. “But I’ve been blessed so many times over my whole life. I just want to give something back.”
As to why he chose Meals on Wheels he says, “I love meeting new people. A lot of the [Meals on Wheels recipients] don’t have any family living around here so they can get pretty lonely, and having someone to talk to is important. Besides, a lot of the older folks are better than history books. You get to know them and talk about the old days in ways that aren’t in the history books. I have always loved history so it’s great for me to hear about that.”
Do a ride along with Brevig on his route and it all becomes clear. He knows his clients well.
At the first stop we come to, Brevig tells me that the “guy who lives here is going to have a big smile on his face today. When the Broncos win, he’s the happiest guy in the world. When they lose, that smile goes away.” The Monday I rode with Brevig was the day after Denver defeated the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. The smile prediction was a safe one. The next stop just had a cooler on the porch for the meals to be left in. Brevig noted the man at that address was new to his route and they hadn’t started talking much yet, but he was hopeful that would change.
Next came a… mature, sharp-as-a-tack woman with white hair. Brevig dropped a meal and a newspaper off for her but not before we sat down and visited for a while.
She was curious and informative. The first thing she asked us was if they had found the missing man up on Longs Peak. I gave her the bad news that they had, but he had fallen a couple hundred feet and didn’t make it. She said it was what she had expected noting how harsh the high country could be in January.
Brevig then told her that, like her, I was originally from Oklahoma. We started swapping stories about the panhandle where her grandfather had farmed, or at least tried to, during the Depression.
She said, “Nothing grew down there but he was a German [immigrant] and stuck it out. He eventually raised cattle and I guess that worked OK.”
We talked about old Fort Supply, Shattuck and Beaver County, Oklahoma Brevig’s right. It is better than any history book.
We went on to meet a collage artist whose amply sized cat, we were told, recognizes Brevig’s particular knock at the door and runs to greet him with great enthusiasm every Monday. Later we spent time with a lovely older woman who told us all about her recent visit with her family. It was like a peak behind the curtain of a life lived out of view for way too long.
Watching Brevig and listening to his conversations leaves the observer little doubt about his motives. He doesn’t fake his interest in what’s being said. And when he asks one of his Meals on Wheels clients “how they’re doing,” his question isn’t a throwaway nicety. He cares. And he understands that what he is doing is important.
“If it weren’t for Meals on Wheels, I don’t know what some of these people would be eating,” he says.
But he also understands that he and the other Meals on Wheels drivers are far more than just a food delivery service. For many clients, Brevig and his peers may be their only human interaction for days at a time. And with many being elderly and often with health challenges, these drivers provide what could be best described as a “wellness check” when they drop off their food. They look and listen for any changes that could be evidence of unattended medical needs.
Over the years Brevig has had the opportunity to assist a number of people in this way. He once discovered a woman who had fallen and was unable to get back up or call for help. He has also had reason to report changes in a client’s speech that may have been associated with a stroke or other issue.
But more than anything, he has been a friend to the men and women he delivers food to.
“I really do love meeting all these people. It’s great for me, and I hope it’s that way for them,” he says.
Having watched it unfold in person, I can assure you it’s interesting, important, inspiring and it goes both ways.
Thanks to Bob Brevig’s 13-year commitment to Meals on Wheels and more importantly his clients, a good many lives have been made richer.
And Brevig would tell you none more so than his.
Pat Dudley: Sewing memories
By Joel Dyer
After years of working various shifts at the Federal Aviation Administration facility in Longmont, Pat Dudley’s husband finally settled into working days. And as a result, Pat, who had always been a stay-at-home mom and homemaker found herself settled in to being a bit… shall we say… bored, which was not a good fit by any measure for her high-energy personality.
“After he started working days and my daughter got married, I really needed something to do with my days,” she says. “My friend said they needed volunteers at the hospital so I went with her to an orientation. I’ve been volunteering ever since. It really filled a big niche in my life.”
It must have been quite an orientation, because for the past three decades Dudley has been a volunteer at Longmont United Hospital where she has been filling a big niche in other people’s lives, often at their times of greatest need.
Dudley wears a lot of hats these days in her volunteer work. She is on the board of volunteer services, has helped fundraise more than a million dollars over the years, she runs the sewing and knitting volunteer operations and has reserved one very special task for herself — the creation of memory bears.
Unless you have had a baby or found yourself in an extensive stay in the hospital lately, you might not realize the importance of the volunteers who put in countless hours knitting and sewing for the cause.
The birth of a child is a big deal in parent’s lives. Locate that scrapbook in the attic and you’ll likely find a tiny little stocking cap and pair of blue or pink sock booties along with a blanket so soft you’ll wish it was 10 times bigger so you could wrap yourself up in it. Chances are, these items were all made from scratch, so to speak, by volunteers like Dudley.
This crew also sews soft pillowcases to take the place of scratchy hospital versions as well as walker bags, PICC line covers and other things all designed to give comfort to people who are anything but.
Dudley says she feels a little guilty because the sewing volunteers do so much hard work filled with love, but when it comes time to deliver the goods, she’s the one who gets to drop off the items and see all the joy and appreciation they create. But when it comes to sewing love and memories, nothing compares to memory bears for Dudley.
Memory bears are handmade teddy bears sewed from the clothes — often a favorite shirt, blouse or dress — of someone who has passed away.
For the past 10 to 15 years, she isn’t quite sure, Dudley has been sewing memory bears for all the people who pass away at the Longmont hospital.
She recalls the first time she was tasked with creating memory bears; it was for “a son and grandson who had been killed in a car wreck.
“It was just so touching and amazing,” she says, “and after I gave them the bears and they took them home, they came back and asked me if I would make them another one. I just fell for it right then. You just know that [these bears] are going home where they will be loved because they are made from something that will always remind them of their loved one.”
While regularly interacting with people at such a difficult time in their lives would be an emotional challenge for most of us, Dudley says she can do it because she has seen the power of the bears to heal.
“[The memory bears] have become the love of my life,” she says with whispered emotion. “I’ve made as many as 42 bears for one person because she wanted to share those memories with so many people.
“I feel kind of selfish, but I want to make all the bears and I do.”
Along with her many other volunteer duties over the last 30 years, Pat Dudley has been sewing memory bears at a rate of one to three a month for more than a decade. What that means is that she has literally brought comfort to hundreds of families at their time of greatest need and has done it all for the reward of knowing she has brought comfort to others.
All of us owe a debt of gratitude to Dudley.
And Longmont United Hospital owes a debt of gratitude to the FAA’s shift manager and to whoever it was that gave that orientation to volunteers three decades ago. It must have been a doozy.
Andy Jacobson: For the love of the game
by Sarah Haas
It’s a frigid winter day. Just behind signs that warn to keep off the ice, Viele Lake is definitely frozen — so cold that rebel hockey playing teenagers have seized it Canadian style, risking a stern slap on the wrist from park managers or worse, a plunge into the icy waters below. Other than their skates clicking on the ice, it’s pretty quiet out, save for the honking of geese that are wishing they had taken the chance to fly south for the winter.
The birds aren’t the only thing flying today — about 100 yards north of the lake, neon plastic discs swirl through the air in stark contrast to the gray skies, shuttling impressive distances in mesmerizing arcs toward tiny steel baskets. The clang of the plastic hitting the chains is particularly sweet, ringing in the scores of a die-hard disc golfer out for leisure or sport, or maybe it’s something in between.
On a spring or summer day, the course would be sprawling with dozens of golfers, from novice to pro, out to play a free game at Harlow Platts Disc Golf Course. But today there is just one guy out on the course — the snow crunching beneath his feet and little puffs of steam marking each exhale as he jogs laps around the nine holes.
City representatives say it is hard, if not impossible, to estimate how many people use the park, but just about everyone agrees that, despite the ability to quantify its value, it is wildly popular and a beloved community asset.
Beloved, but easy to take for granted. With no fee to play and no need to sign up for a tee time, it is easy to overlook the work that goes into making it all possible. There isn’t even an official position, volunteer or otherwise, to maintain the course. But one thing is for sure — it wouldn’t happen without one man, Andy Jacobson, the same dedicated guy jogging around the course when it’s too cold, even for the geese.
It all started back in 2006 when Jacobson and his family moved to South Boulder. Living close to the disc golf park is great for Jacobson, a diabetic attentive to his exercise. Walking the course in normal fashion proved a bit boring, as was going for a straight up jog, so he combined the two.
Shortly after he began his routine, he literally ran across an old-standby disc golfer carrying a big, black bag around the course, picking up trash to keep the greens tidy. When Jacobson ran across his path, he thanked him. Without looking up or missing a beat the man grudgingly said, “You should be doing this.”
Jacobson mulled it over and no more than a week later, did exactly that, picking up trash and doing light maintenance at the course.
As the weeks, months and years passed by, Jacobson accumulated more and more responsibility — setting pins, acquiring equipment, organizing weekly doubles matches and plate tournaments and everything else you can (or can’t) think of that goes into taking care of the course.
The work doesn’t end there. Jacobson is also part-time ambassador, working with Boulder City Parks and Recreation to fund and manage the course, talking with neighbors to make sure the space is respectfully shared, talking with nearby schools to get students involved in the sport and occasionally closing the course to accommodate other groups that use the space.
Jacobson does a lot of behind-the-scenes politics so that the players don’t have to — so much that it’s hard to imagine that he does it all in just eight hours a week. But the workload is sort of beside the point for Jacobson, a humble and sincere guy, who seems to think there is really one essential part of the job.
“Being there,” Jacobson says.
Jacobson is shy about his role because he does what he does for simple reasons: he loves the sport, he cares about the community and he is in a position to lend a hand. Everyday he not only plays the course, but takes care of it — out of love and respect.
Deep down Jacobson is proud of his work and of the community that he helps to bring together and knows that the community is grateful for his contributions.
“You’re welcome,” Jacobson says. “I have learned that that is the right response. People always say thank you when they see me pick up trash or they will thank me for moving the baskets. Instead of giving them a complicated, ‘I am doing this for myself,’ or, ‘It’s good to change up the baskets,’ I have learned to simply say, ‘You’re welcome.’”
The disc golf course is a special place in Boulder and the Front Range really, allowing the opportunity to get away from the grind of life and go toward something a bit loftier, something totally unconcerned with with profit, politics or productivity. So next time you are out there, whether or not you see Jacobson, get in the habit of saying thank you and know that somewhere out there he humbly replies, “You’re welcome.”
Mark Flower: Working through retirement
by Christi Turner
For Mark Flower of Longmont, retirement is just another word for more time to do what you really love. “You might call nature my religion,” he says.
These days, he spends as much time as he possibly can out in nature, restoring and protecting it as a unique form of “worship.” At 71, Flower is known as the most active volunteer with Boulder’s Wildland Restoration Volunteers (WRV), an organization with a suite of outdoor ecological conservation and restoration projects in Colorado and beyond, and a volunteer roster in the thousands.
“It rejuvenates me to get out in nature,” he says. “I’ve been an avid hiker for years … but an organized effort to go and attempt to actually repair damage and bring things back is just so appealing.”
He’s been a dedicated volunteer with WRV for 10 years, and logs about 15 to 20 volunteer projects per year. That’s a hefty portion of WRV’s impressive average total of 60 projects per year, and double his pre-retirement yearly average of 10 per year. He’s been as far away as the northern reaches of Colorado, as deep in the trenches as the post-flood restoration efforts in Lyons in 2013 and as close as his own neighborhood, restoring one of his favorite parks just two blocks away, also damaged by floodwaters. Among WRV’s thousands, Flower is one of just a handful of volunteers who have worked on more than 100 projects. And he doesn’t just show up on project day to do what he’s assigned; as a long-time WRV crew leader, he’s a key part of the planning and execution of every project he attends.
“The crew leaders are the backbone of WRV, because that’s who volunteers spend their day with, that’s who shapes their experience,” says Flower, who remembers being nervous about becoming a crew leader, but now delights in it. “I always make sure to have my crew stop, step back and take a look at what they’ve accomplished along the way.”
And since this past year, Flower has also become a project leader — a specially trained volunteer that works closely with WRV staff during every stage of a project. His biggest role so far was with the Upper Gunnison Basin Habitat Restoration project, a multi-day, multi-year, multi-stakeholder effort to restore the riparian and wet meadow habitat of the threatened Gunnison sage-grouse. On that project alone, Flower helped coordinate 30 volunteers building small erosion mitigation structures, during four nights of camping at 8,000 feet. “It’s like a vacation for me,” he says. “A hard, working vacation, but to places I might never see, with wonderful people.” It’s also a kind of vacationing that’s earned Flower a “Project Leader of the Year” award.
Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, Flower certainly appreciated nature. But it wasn’t until moving to Colorado in his early 20s that he felt truly involved with nature. From his very first backpacking trip — that unforgettable Colorado moment of waking up at 10,000 feet, surrounded by peaks — to his avid outdoor restoration work now 50 years later, the Centennial State inspires in Flower not just a reverence, but a sense of responsibility and stewardship for the land.
It’s easy to understand why Flower sometimes refers to his hearty volunteer schedule with WRV as his job — although he has no plans to officially leave retirement to join the organization’s staff. That’s a role for younger folks, he says. And this “job” brings him endlessly more satisfaction than a typical day at his old desk would have, servicing the IT needs of the business office at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“I get so much more out of this than I put in — I really do,” Flower says.
He recalls returning home after one particular project last year, filthy and utterly exhausted.
“I came inside and just flopped down in a chair. And my wife asked, ‘Why do you do this?’” Flower says. (His wife fully supports his active volunteering schedule, but doesn’t come along for the adventures.)
His answer was clear and immediate: “I said, ‘Because I just love it. I love it!’”
Kai Kloepfer: Seeking to end unintended gun violence
by Angela K. Evans
From a young age, Kai Kloepfer has been building things. He recounts walking around summer camp with an engineering textbook under his arm and day-dreaming about new projects. “I’m sure the counselors thought I was insane,” he says with a laugh. “But it’s always been my passion.”
Previous projects include a remote control blimp, an access control system for his room and a robot outfitted with a night vision camera. But it’s his newest project that is drawing the most attention. For the past three years, the 18-year-old Boulder local has been working on smart gun technology that would require fingerprint identification to unlock the firearm.
Inspired by the tragic events of the nearby 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting where 12 people were killed and 70 people injured, Kloepfer, then a student at Fairview High School, began researching and experimenting safe gun technology on top of his other schoolwork.
“Of course I knew what mass shootings were but it was the first time I was honestly able to connect with [one] and understand on an emotional level what it was,” Kloepfer says. He describes being absolutely surprised not only by the event, but also the reaction of many people around him who simply shrugged their shoulders and said, “Oh yeah, that happens.”
“But what do you mean that happens?” Kloepfer says. “It’s not supposed to happen.”
Around the same time, Kloepfer was researching projects to enter in the Boulder Valley Science Fair, a regional competition that could eventually lead to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. “I wanted to do another engineering project but I wanted to do one that maybe had some degree of societal impact instead of just ,‘Oh, let’s build a cool robot,’” Kloepfer says.
Through his research, the Boulder teen quickly realized that although mass shootings are a problem in the U.S., there isn’t much he could do from an engineering perspective to help prevent them. However, there is something he could do about unintended gun violence. “There’s actually a much larger problem of accidental gun deaths, misuse of firearms, situations where the owner isn’t intending to cause harm, but harm is caused nonetheless,” he says. “Every 30 minutes in the United States a child dies or is injured by a firearm.”
Everything Kloepfer says is backed by statistics, data from national polls and anecdotes from his conversations with law enforcement officers, gun owners and families affected by gun deaths. He is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to unintended gun violence and the arguments over gun control.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to, at least not in the near future, get rid of firearms, especially not through a government mandate just because of our unique political atmosphere,” he says. Smart gun technology “won’t stop people intending to cause harm with firearms but it will really help prevent a lot from that other category.”
Smart gun technology isn’t Kloepfer’s idea — the idea has been around for decades. “But nobody’s done it successfully,” he says. So the Boulder teen started by using iris recognition to unlock firearms, but quickly realized this wouldn’t work since most people use guns wearing sunglasses or at night. The next logical step in biometric technology is a fingerprint sensor, which he installed on a plastic prototype. The project won the science fair in 2013, as well as a $50,000 grant to continue developing the technology.
He graduated from Fairview in 2015, and deferred his enrollment to MIT until this fall to work on his smart gun technology. Mostly working out of his parent’s home in Boulder, Kloepfer has a team of contracted engineers in San Diego to help him apply his technology to real firearms and not just the plastic prototypes he’s been experimenting with.
Kloepfer’s technology would allow a gun owner to register as many users as they want using the fingerprint sensor, which both unlocks and locks the gun in less than a second. “From the perspective of the person who is supposed to be using the firearm, there’s no downside, assuming the engineering is done correctly,” Kloepfer says. And that’s his goal — to get the engineering right, so that gun owners would willingly buy firearms equipped with his technology. At this point, Kloepfer says the fingerprint sensor is 99.999 percent accurate, but the mechanical lock still needs work. “My eventual goal is to get the entire smart aspect more reliable than the firearm it’s on,” he says.
Kloepfer is adamant he doesn’t want federal funding or government involvement in the development of this technology because “any sort of government involvement raises the wrong kind of questions,” he says. “For this technology to succeed, for it to really be adopted by the market, it has to be a consumer choice.”
But he says, from his research, over half of gun owners would willingly purchase a firearm using smart gun technology. And although he has spoken with gun owners who see his technology as a form of gun control, he says most of their opposition has to do with engineering glitches, rather than the concept.
“The reason I talk to those people, when you get them to talk about why they don’t want it, most of the time there’s a reason in there and in most cases that reason is something I can fix,” he says. “It’s an engineering problem, not always, but most of the time.”
Kloepfer admits he still has a lot of work to do to get this technology accurate enough to be used on real firearms sold on the market. And it’s going to cost money — $72,000 to make the first metal prototype and $5 million to actually bring a fully tested model to market, and Kloepfer is hoping to raise the initial funds through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. But it’s a work and a cause he’s committed to.
“A single unintended death, or intended death, from a firearm can really impact a community, a family, in a lot of negative ways,” Kloepfer says. “If I can find a way, pretty much with no down sides, to prevent those sort of things from happening — prevent people from using firearms to commit suicide, prevent firearms from taking family members away from their family — that’s sort of the goal, is to stop that.”
Karma Sherpa: Sharing community while rebuilding Nepal
by Angela K. Evans
When a 7.8 earthquake struck the Himalayan country of Nepal on April 25, 2015 and images of the devastation were broadcast across media outlets, people around the world responded with time and resources to help where they could. And for at least one Boulder resident, helping Nepal rebuild has become his mission ever since.
Karma Sherpa grew up in Nepal and while he works a full-time job at Frasca Food and Wine on Pearl, he has also spent the last 20 years guiding tourism treks around his home country. With a small team of 15 based in Kathmandu, Sherpa has used these resources, as well as his connections in Boulder, to bridge the two worlds and bring much needed aid to his village.
After hearing of the devastation at home, Sherpa immediately cancelled his treks for the rest of the year and assigned his staff of trekkers to focus on relief efforts. With help from a friend in Boulder, Sherpa raised $63,000 in an online fundraising campaign for immediate relief efforts. He wired the funds directly to his brother with instructions to purchase makeshift shelters, blankets, medical supplies and food, then transport it to the villages with the most need, including his own.
Although he thought about traveling home to assist his team, he decided to stay in Boulder and focus on the fundraising and organizing the logistics of the relief effort. “If I go there and more people go there, the more resources we’ll consume, and there’s only a limited amount I can do,” he says. “We did the best that we could in that situation. They would drive as far as the road goes and from there they would have to carry. It wasn’t a big operation, but we did a lot of good work at that time.”
The first few months after the earthquake, Sherpa would work at Frasca in the evening then go home and work through the night organizing and communicating with his team. With continual aftershocks, there was always more to be done. “During that time I worked up to 20 hours a day doing all I could,” Sherpa says. “Many days I didn’t get to sleep because our nighttime is their daytime there. … Mentally and emotionally it is very tough, but my coworkers, my bosses were very supportive during this time.”
After the immediate needs of the people in Sherpa’s village were addressed, he shifted his focus and began researching how to rebuild. He found engineers in Japan who specialized in earthquake-proof building and organized a trip to his home village in the fall.
“By the time we finished building these two houses, all the local carpenters learned how to build an earthquake resistant home. So now if we need to build a house, they know how to do it,” Sherpa says. “We did a lot of research about how to make it cost effective with local material using a different method.”
He also contacted former trekking clients who are doctors and dentists, and he gathered a team of local volunteers with the help of the Lyons-based Himalayan Development Foundation to provide medical clinics. “My focus is involved to make a sustainable community and longer term impact,” he says. “There are different ways to do things, but this is my focus.”
Nepal has a complicated political history, according to Sherpa, which in many ways has prevented the country from developing — a century-long dictatorship, followed by a lengthy civil war and then the devastating earthquake and aftershocks last spring. To complicate matters, the country adopted a new constitution in September, which triggered a fuel crisis, as ethnic groups on the border have created a trade blockade with neighboring India.
“When there’s a natural disaster there is no control. If it happens, it happens,” Sherpa says. “But this other thing is caused by humans. As a social work and a humanitarian worker I believe that can be changed. Why do people have to suffer under that kind of circumstances?”
But the blockade didn’t stop Sherpa from bringing his team of builders, doctors nurses and volunteers to help rebuild his village. When he first arrived, Sherpa would walk from his family home as early as 4 a.m. through the empty streets looking for a taxi. If he couldn’t find one, he’d simply walk all the way to his destination. He describes taxi drivers waiting in lines for two days without food just to purchase 2 gallons of fuel in hopes of making some money to feed their families.
Sherpa says the price of fuel has risen 50 percent since October. Kids have stopped going to school for lack of transportation, and the hospitals can’t get essential supplies. People are cutting down trees all around the capital in order to cook and heat their homes, causing smoke to sit over the city. “This is a human crisis,” Sherpa says. “The world is so connected. One place hurts, everybody is hurting.”
But while Sherpa hopes the politicians can stop the fuel crisis, he remains focused on rebuilding.
Sherpa’s hometown, Taksindu Chhulemu, is a small village in eastern Nepal, south of Mount Everest. To get there requires first a flight to Kathmandu, the capital, then another short flight to eastern Nepal, followed by a six-hour hike.
“Compared to a Western country, it’s very different, you know with different challenges,” he says.
Growing up, Sherpa’s village didn’t have running water, electricity, telephone connection or even a road connecting it to other parts of the country.
Sherpa is the second youngest of nine children. His father was a social worker until he passed away, unable to afford treatment, when Sherpa was not even three years old and his mother was pregnant with his younger sister. His mother never had a paying job, but spent her time working the family farm and raising Sherpa and his siblings.
“That kind of put our family life in a very challenging situation,” he says. “Even as a 10-year-old boy I was always thinking how can I change the community and how can I change my mother’s financial situation.”
So when Sherpa was a teenager, he decided to leave his village to find a paying job. He walked three days and then rode a bus for 12 hours before reaching the capital. But there wasn’t much opportunity for a young man without education to find work in Kathmandu.
Finally, Sherpa was hired as a porter to carry supplies for Western trekkers and climbers into the mountains. At the time he didn’t even have warm clothing and struggled to hike the 18-19,000-foot mountain passes with the heavy loads on his still developing teenage frame. “With that load at that age, I found very challenging,” he says.
But on his second trip, Sherpa met a woman from Switzerland who changed the trajectory of his life forever. Although Sherpa couldn’t speak any foreign languages at the time, “Somehow, through my expression or whatever, I was able to tell her my situation,” he says. “I feel we communicated by our hearts.”
Several months later, he received a letter back in his village from the woman, who offered to pay for his education and expenses, which is how he learned English and finished high school.
“After that, I said, ‘Yes you help me with my study, but now I have to figure out myself,’” Sherpa recalls. “It’s very generous for you to keep sending me money but if I rely on you, it’s probably not best for you and it might not be best for me. You helped me cross the bridge, but now let me challenge myself.”
Sherpa began guiding trekking trips in 1995 and has continued to lead trips throughout Nepal ever since, even after moving to Boulder in 2001. Although he has organized summit expeditions on some of Nepal’s famous peaks, including Everest, Sherpa mainly focuses on shorter, less-intense treks.
“I mostly do smaller mountain hiking, give more people more authentic and true adventure experience,” he says. “I like to support the local communities, I like to interact people with local communities.”
And by doing so he hopes to foster the same types of connections and resources he’s found through his relationships with foreigners. “I know how little help can really change other people’s lives,” he says. “So that’s why my focus is bringing those opportunities to the remote areas. A lot of those children have the same situation as I did.”
For now Sherpa has cancelled or postponed his trekking trips as he continues to focus on rebuilding Nepal. He is currently organizing another trip to his village in March, where he intends to bring Colorado architects to rebuild a damaged school in his village. With the help of his bosses at Frasca, Sherpa has already raised $70,000 for the project.
He also wants to bring another group of volunteers to his village later this fall. “We still have to do a lot of work. The thing is, they can learn about the country, explore different cultures and at the same time benefit the community that suffers,” he says. “We build community and we share community. That’s my belief.”
Lonny Frye: Keeping the community warm
by Matt Cortina
For Lonny Frye, the joy comes when he sees a kid in a coat.
“Yeah, I see the things that I’ve donated often on the kids,” Frye says. “It is nice to see the kids wearing good solid coats and gloves on the playground.”
Frye has been donating clothes to Boulder’s neediest communities for 20 years. Whether it’s socks and underwear for the city’s homeless population or coats and winter hats for children whose families can’t afford them at Whittier Elementary, where his two sons attend school, Frye says he helps because, “it’s just the right thing to do.”
“I just think it’s a good thing to do, to help people, so I do it. It makes me feel better, and it makes them feel better,” Frye says.
Frye has volunteered with the nonprofit Deacon’s Closet in Boulder, a charitable wing of the Presbyterian church, to process thousands of clothes and distribute them throughout the community each year. The program brings in about 3,000 coats to the area, and on top of that, Frye buys about 80 winter coats every year to donate to the community, by browsing through thrift shops, shopping online and waiting for sales at local retailers.
Donating clothes is a natural fit for Frye, who makes a living selling vintage clothing. Repurposing clothes that others have given away has become a small passion for Frye, and the fruits of his labor ripen in winter. He says he sees homeless people wearing the brightly colored and oversized varsity-style wool jackets that don’t sell well in Denver.
Before every winter, Frye meets with other volunteers in the area to determine the number of coats needed for children in the school district and how best to accommodate that need. Frye says the process of donating clothing to those in need is not cut and dried; especially in schools where kids and families can be embarrassed if others knew they accepted clothing donations.
“When you go to the elementary school there’ll be huge pile of clothes that kids have left on the playground and this and that and end up in the lost and found,” Frye says. “It’s better to donate coats from other sources, because you don’t want to have the time when a kid says, ‘That’s my coat.’”
Working to redistribute perfectly good clothes has allowed Frye to see gaps in the way Boulder recycles and repurposes materials. Even though he says, “Boulder is quite charitable,” and Deacon’s Closet gets many donations, the amount of waste can be frustrating.
“College students throw everything away at the end of the year. They mostly have their wealthy families, and they toss everything,” Frye says. “All that stuff doesn’t usually get to us, it gets thrown away. That’s a way to improve the recycling unit here: a lot of that stuff doesn’t get used.”
But donating clothing is not Frye’s only charity. He also spends most mornings operating a safety lane at Whittier to usher students in and out of cars. On top of that, he has helped lead fundraisers to pay for everything from school supplies to sidewalk repair. He says the schools in Colorado are “grossly underfunded,” but that “that’s another topic entirely.”
For his long-term efforts to improve local schools, Frye was honored last year by the Boulder Valley School District. Whittier Principal Sarah Oswick said of Frye that all the work he’s done for the school has been anonymous and behind-the-scenes.
Frye says he was humbled by the experience. “I was very much touched by that,” he says.
If you’re interested in donating clothing, Frye says there is a need for men’s coats over women’s coats (about four of five coats donated are women’s), blue jeans and necessities like socks and underwear.
Nicolas Bell: A new generation
by Matt Cortina
Middle school is rough. We can all agree on that. But Nicolas Bell made life in one Boulder middle school a lot better last year.
While finishing eighth grade at Centennial Middle School, Bell created the Allies Club, the school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), as a vehicle through which students could learn about and explore LGBTQ topics. The need for such a club, Bell says, was obvious.
“I did it because Centennial never had a GSA before, and the kids there weren’t really educated on anything LGBTQ-wise. I started it to make a safe place for anyone and so people could expand their knowledge,” Bell says.
Now a freshman at New Vista High School, Bell says his time at Centennial was spent not only learning whatever it is you learn in middle school classes nowadays, but also learning about who he was.
“In seventh grade, I came out to my parents as trans, and at the start of eighth grade, I officially transitioned,” Bell says. “I didn’t know earlier on. That was middle school for me.”
The impetus for the creation of the Allies Club came in not only creating a space for fellow classmates to explore their identities, but also to simply inform students that there were other identities in the world. Bell says when he came out as trans, many students didn’t know what that meant.
“Most of [the students] really didn’t get it, but they were open to learning, and I sent letters to all of my friends, and they told some other people too,” Bell says. “At the beginning of the year people were calling me by my chosen name and as the year went on more and more people started calling me by my correct pronouns.”
Bell got the idea for a GSA from looking around in the district — Manhattan Middle School had a similar program, as did many high schools, and Bell wanted his school to offer that to its students. In order to start the club, Bell needed some help. With the guidance of his school counselor and health teacher, Bell set to work setting up the parameters of the Allies Club. He earned the school a $5,000 grant from the Colorado Education Initiative to fund the club’s activities and supervisors.
The club met on Thursday mornings before school. The school interventionist, counselors and health teacher supervised the club, and slowly but surely, students began to attend.
“Most of the students didn’t really know what it was so I had a few of my friends come and by the end of the year we had a lot more members,” Bell says. “It was great, everybody was super awesome, and it got to be about 15 members by the end of the year.”
The meetings ranged from generally informative sessions to talks about what’s going in current events regarding LGBTQ issues. Sometimes, Bell says, the club would discuss different aspects of life as an LGBTQ person. Other times, the group would just have fun activities.
For the Day of Silence, the Allies Club stood out in front of the school with stickers and cards to educate students and parents about the history and current state of harassment and abuse for LGBTQ students.
Bell says he wasn’t scared about any potential harassment or abuse from his fellow students during club activities.
“I didn’t feel scared,” Bell says. “I just wanted it to be a cool space. And I really wanted it to happen so I just went for it.”
The impacts of the Allies Club were immediate, Bell says. At a time when kids aren’t fully sure of their sexual or gender identities, the club became a resource for those with questions.
“We educated lots of other people, and everybody in the club said that it was pretty cool, and some people felt like they could come out,” Bell says. “I was the only trans kid, but I educated people on other gender identities and everybody in the club was cisgender but we also educated about sexual orientation and a few kids felt safe to come out as gay or bi.”
Bell says he had to learn a lot in order to become not only an advocate for his LGBTQ peers, but an educator, in a way, to them. To do so, Bell worked with Out Boulder and Boulder County’s OASOS program, which supports LGBTQ youth.
Now, Bell is a member of the New Vista High School GSA, but keeps tabs on the LGBTQ communities at the district’s middle schools. Bell visited Manhattan Middle School earlier this school year to share his life experiences with students there, and a visit back to Centennial brought the knowledge that the school is planning to continue the Allies Club for future generations of students. Bell is also working with Sources of Strength, a group that works to prevent youth suicide by offering positive outreach and alternatives to troubled teens. The cumulation of his work earned him special honors from the City of Boulder, who named him an Outstanding Youth Volunteer Award winner in 2015.
In addition to all that work, Bell is now setting his sites on a career in medicine, but advocacy for his peers will likely continue to be a part of his life for the foreseeable future.
“I want to always work on being an advocate for LGBTQ rights, and I want to be a neurologist,” Bell says. “It’s totally cool to do research on the brain.”
Catherine Hopkins: Feeding the hungry with bomb quesadillas
by Amanda Moutinho
There are so many deserving causes in the world. When you want to help, it can be overwhelming to choose where to devote your time. It was a conundrum that Boulder resident Catherine Hopkins was feeling, until happenstance took over.
“One day I was on the SKIP bus heading home, and a teenage girl got on the bus with a backpack. I heard her say to the bus driver to let her off at the homeless shelter, and I was thinking how very young she was,” Hopkins says. “The bus stopped at the house on Broadway, the Attention Homes house, and I had never noticed it before. … You don’t even think about it. Boulder is such an affluent society you don’t expect that there are homeless children.”
The moment stuck with Hopkins, and she went home and researched Attention Homes, learning about the resources and services they provide for homeless youth. A few weeks later, she saw an ad for the nonprofit looking for drop in cooks, and she decided to check it out. Four years later, every Wednesday, Hopkins works the Attention Homes kitchen, making about 100 meals a week for kids in need.
It’s a cause that’s close to her heart. Hopkins was born in Ireland, and by the time she was 6 years old, she had lost both her parents. She and her sister went to live in England with her aunt, who had eight children. At the same time, Hopkins’ two older brothers were living in foster care. Thankfully the family remained close and always knew where each other was. Hopkins says at the time in the ’60s, there weren’t the same institutions available as there are now.
“Children are such a very vulnerable sect of our society. [Attention Homes] struck a chord with me, because I was very fortunate myself,” she says. “That’s something that’s always been there [in the back of my mind] — how lucky I’ve been.”
Hopkins is taking that good fortune and spreading it to the displaced youth of Boulder. But she hasn’t always been in Boulder, and her path to the Front Range had some interesting detours. She returned to Ireland later in life, and when she was working in Dublin she took a leave of absence to work as a dental assistant in Saudi Arabia in the mid ’80s. There she met her future husband, Martin, a civil engineer from Oklahoma. Soon afterward, they moved to Indonesia, then eventually returned to Saudi Arabia, but not before doing some stints in Kuwait and Dubai. In the late ’90s, they settled down in the States, choosing Boulder after reading about in an article in USA Today.
Hopkins has nothing but good things to say about her travels around the world. She cites her favorite part of her adventures as all the wonderful people she met. With her kind nature, it’s not surprising that she makes long and lasting friendships. Just ask Attention Homes Director of Programs Chris Nelson who says Hopkins has been such an amazing addition to their team. He says she’s become a personal friend to him and his family.
“She is not one of those people who wants a lot of recognition, to her character she [volunteers] for all the right reasons, which is awesome,” Nelson says. “She’s always cheery. She’s friends with everyone that comes in, and the staff is always thrilled to see her.”
Hopkins spends most of her volunteering time in the kitchen, which she calls her comfort zone. She loves to cook and says she loves feeding people. No matter what’s in the fridge, Hopkins can whip up something delicious. Her cooking skills are wide ranging, but she’s developed a reputation for her quesadillas.
“When I started, they would get in food products and they’d say, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘I’ll just work with whatever you got.’ And they always had tortillas and cheese. And that’s how it became a thing,” she says with a laugh.
Her quesadillas are now a Wednesday staple, and the kids call them “the bomb,” Nelson says.
But outside of her trademark, Hopkins is resourceful, which is especially important for nonprofits. If you get six hundred rutabagas, then a little creativity is needed. Hopkins is always thinking of others, and she’s constantly aware of food sensitivity, allergies, likes and dislikes, serving up healthy, colorful meals.
Always ready to lend a hand, Hopkins is giving and generous with her time and energy, Nelson says. “She’s who many people aspire to be like.”
Gretchen Fair: Putting the pieces back together
by Amanda Moutinho
The brain is a wonderfully complex organ. It gives us a sense of identity, helps us navigate the world and stores our memories, even those embarrassing ones from high school you’d sooner rather forget.
But when tragedy strikes, each person’s brain reacts differently. When we get lost inside our own head, sometimes we need guidance. And that’s when someone like Gretchen Fair can step in.
“For a lot of people it’s helping to string together a more coherent narrative,” Fair says. “One of the things trauma does is it disrupts our normal, linear way of thinking about things. … So when we think of a traditional flashback, which is very much a mixing of then and now, it’s like a puzzle. And all the pieces [can] fall out and it gets all jumbled.”
Fair is a licensed clinical social worker, focusing in psychotherapy, and she aids patients in reassembling those mentals blocks to meet their own goals and live a better life.
But she wasn’t always a therapist. Fair started her career as a labor and employment lawyer. When she realized that she really enjoyed mediation and interacting with people directly, she decided to go back to school.
“What drew me to social work in particular is that it doesn’t just have the clinical aspect,” she says. “There’s an emphasis on social justice, and working with underserved populations. … When I looked at different grad programs, I thought about other types of psych degrees, but I liked social work because I liked the empowerment piece.”
Eight years ago she received her degree and started practicing, and a year and a half ago she brought her skills to Boulder, via Washington D.C. She’s spent her social work career specializing in assisting sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors. In Boulder, she splits her time between a group practice in Longmont and volunteering with Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA).
At MESA, Fair contributes in any way she can, whether that’s going on hospital visits with survivors, doing community outreach or taking shifts on the 24-hour hotline. The hotline is particularly moving for Fair because she says people can reach out any time they’re in need, and they’re offered immediate help, even if it’s 3 a.m. She receives a variety of calls from anyone from concerned teachers, to worried parents, to recent or past survivors. She says it can be a lot easier to talk on a phone than to someone face-to-face.
“There’s just something really powerful about being there for someone in a way that’s anonymous so it helps them feel more comfortable. They might say something on the phone that they might not even say to their therapist,” she says.
Fair also works with patients at InReach, which offers discounted therapy rates to the community. Fair says InReach is a good option for those in need of counseling who can’t spend big chunks of change for a session. It makes mental health resources available to anyone who needs them, regardless of income.
Through all her work she’s learned how strong and resilient people can be. She says she’s inspired when people are motivated to help themselves and see the light at the end of the tunnel. She’s seen people rise from the ashes of bad childhoods to have successful lives and become great parents. Above all, Fair says she’s honored to work in this field and be that person her patients can turn to.
“I always really appreciate when people get to a place where they trust that I can be there to hear them or be there with them in that moment, because that’s very hard,” she says. “I never lose appreciation of how hard that is for the client.”
Interpersonal violence is a symptom of a bigger cultural issue, including negative media portrayals and victim blaming. But Fair is optimistic about the future as people learn more, listen to and support survivors.
“I try to focus on the person, rather than the systemic problem,” she says. “I do get moments where I’m frustrated at different systems that are in place that are sometimes are not as supportive to survivors as they could be, and sometimes actually harmful to them. But I also think, we’re also moving toward more awareness about survivors.
“And also, it’s about getting to know people one on one. You’re so focused on that person and their experience and their resilience, and their growth. It gives a much more hopeful lens.”