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Change-Makers Fall 2023

PLAYING IT FORWARD
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Music defines Coleman Smith. He shares his passion as teacher, performer and perpetual student.

GEODE GIRL

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Catalina has somewhat of a hard outer shell but when she shares her story, you see the incredible light she holds inside.

FINDING US A

HOUSE & HOME

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Becky shares her experiences on searching for affordable housing. Now she helps others find theirs.

MEMOIR HELPS TEEN MAKE HIS MARK
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Anthony's past traumas and pain had been masked, until he decided to write and self-publish his memoir.

FIBARK TO BURNING MAN TO BOX OF BUBBLES

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Ken, inspired by Burning Man in 2012, manifested the creative space

Box of Bubbles.

ADVOCATING FOR

OUR EARTH

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Sylvie, a Salida Senior, promoting, advocating and building a more sustainable town.

HELPING DADS FIGURE OUT FATHERHOOD
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Zebulon's own struggles have assisted him to train and support other fathers.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

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Stella shares her experiences studying abroad to create a more positive Salida community.

SAVING THE SPIRIT OF ST ELMO

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Melanie shares her appreciation for old things, by actively working to preserve the spirit of St. Elmo.

SAVING THE SPIRIT

OF ST. ELMO

CREATING A CULTURE OF THE RIVER
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Mike's love for the river and ability to bring people together, resulted in adventure on our waterways.

A YOUNG WOMAN CREATING A BETTER WORLD

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Wise for her years, Gloria writes, coaches, competes and creates substance free fun for youth.

LIVING WITH ALZHEIMERS

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Dixie shares her experiences living and struggling with Alzheimers disease.

PASSIONATE TEEN FIGHTS FOR HER CONVICTIONS
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Diagnosed with Dyslexia, Opal stands up for herself and begins advocating for equity in education.

TURNING FEELINGS

INTO SONGS

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Cathryn's job is teaching piano, but her main calling is building trust and loving her students.

Coleman - Playing it Forward

Written by Lisa Ledwith

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Music defines Coleman Smith. He began playing the violin at 3 years old, performed extensively throughout childhood, and graduated high school early to pursue a college degree in music. Today, he shares his passion for playing in multiple ways–as a teacher, performer, and perpetual student.

 

While Coleman plays with many bands, including Yonder Mountain String Band and Rapidgrass, in Chaffee County he’s best known for founding Coletrain Music Academy with his wife Robin. They chose Buena Vista for the beauty of the area and also because teaching music in a rural community resonated with his childhood experiences.

 

Coleman grew up in the small town of Chico, Texas. He says he loved practicing and playing as a kid, but remembers long drives for lessons. “There was a classical lesson, an orchestra lesson, a fiddle and a swing lesson,” he says. “The dedication that my parents gave me as a young child is one of the main reasons I'm so passionate about Coletrain.” The school, located on Cedar St. in Buena Vista, is downtown and close to schools–that convenience is important to him.  

 

But Coleman’s passion for music education isn’t bound to Chaffee County. He also visits places like India, Bali, and Nepal with his band The Bluegrass Journeymen, a group dedicated to “building cross-cultural connections through music, education, and adventure.”

Hearing Coleman talk about his projects is like hearing a parent talk about their child. As he lists their multiple workshops, collaborations and instrument donations, his voice rises in awe. “It gives me a lot of pride that we're connecting with different cultures, sharing our music and learning about theirs,” he says. “It's humbling as a musician to travel and discover new styles of music. To continuously grow as a musician by remaining a student is very important."

 

Coleman’s mother owns a ballet studio, so Coleman grew up seeing the transformative power of creativity first hand. “I think growing up in a studio is the inspiration for how I approach Coletrain. I saw as a young man the impacts that the arts had on the community and the students.” Perhaps this is why Coleman’s musical aspirations transcend fame. It’s clear he plays and teaches because he knows how important that education has been for him. “I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have music in my life,” he says.

 

In Coleman’s earliest memory, he’s playing the violin. “That's where my adventure begins,” he says. “I've tried to go before that and there's nothing. It's literally me and the violin.”

Coleman
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Change Makers Top
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Catalina Esparza - Geode Girl

Written by Megan Juba

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Catalina is a geode. Her rough childhood experiences have given her a somewhat hard outer shell but when she opens up and shares her story, you see the incredible light she holds close inside. She openly gives her sparkle to those she’s close to and can be found taking care of her friends, herself and others with boldness. “When I feel like I’ve been treated unfairly, I’m quick to snap up to it.”

 

At a young age Catalina was on her own a lot and learned to fend for herself. At 14, at the start of her high school years, she was given the choice to stay in New Jersey with her mom or move to Salida with her dad. Even though leaving her friends was a tough decision, she chose to move to put herself in a better situation. She had the keen foresight that positive change was needed.

 

In school, she often sees that teachers are more comfortable with students who do “well” in school and get frustrated with the kids who struggle, like herself. She gives an example of a time when students were being treated unfairly in the classroom. Catalina was the one to speak up on it. She spoke with students from opposing perspectives, made a list of common concerns and then spoke directly to the teacher to come up with solutions that the entire class would feel good about. Ultimately, the plan was an agreement that anyone, at any time, could openly share if they saw favoritism happening in the classroom.

 

Catalina’s earth green-gray eyes are sharp and her voice strong when she says, “It’s not going to be the end of the world if you express that you are uncomfortable with something, if you don’t understand or if you are stuck. There’s probably someone else who feels the same way you do.” 

As far as her future, Catalina says, “I’m hoping to graduate, which is minimal, I know.” She admits, “I feel like I’m three, four, five steps behind. I have a hard time feeling like I’m doing things well.” Overwhelm, fatigue and depression are a huge part of her struggle but Catalina has arranged her school schedule and has a team of specialists to help with these issues. She has also worked to create a family of friends who she calls her “motor.” She makes sure that each of them feel loved every day. “Everyone has value,” she insists as she puts her hands to her heart. 

Catalina
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Becky Longberg - Housing Advocate

Written by Kelly Landau

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When a job posting came up for a Housing Navigator in 2022, Becky Longberg felt she might be a good fit–she had deep community connections, had worked with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and most importantly, she had “lived it.” She knew the struggle to find reliable, affordable housing. Becky came to Salida in 2005 to raise her son near his grandparents and initially lived with them; then in a 440 square foot rental, and onto a doublewide trailer. She met and became close friends with one of many “old men angels” who throughout her life have befriended her–and for the next eight years, this adopted “uncle”would provide her and her son with an affordable, long-term rental.

 

But in 2022, and only five months into her new job, everything would change. Her adopted uncle died, and it became clear very quickly that they would not be able to stay in the rental. She sent her son to his grandparents; she did some house-sitting. Just as she was going to stay at a friend’s place for the winter, her father died. Becky would find herself back where she had started, in the room at her mother’s house where they had lived when her son was an infant.

“And so all that time when I am facing potential homelessness,” she says passionately, “I am working with these clients that were desperate. And I realized that it isn't a crime or personal fault to be homeless. Stuff happens and puts us in these situations. And those situations are very difficult to get out of, even for someone who has average smarts and lots of resources. I'm super blessed, I've got a network, I've got people I can call when I need help--and yet here I was, almost homeless.”

 

It's been a long journey, but she just finished painting the pink kitchen in the house she purchased. She moved up to Programs Manager at her job. Over the last two years she has used her passion, experience, and love of this community to change lives. When asked if she had an example to give from someone she had helped, she relays, “People come back to me, just often enough to surprise me. And they’ll say like, Oh, what you did was so helpful, the timing was perfect. You turned me on to this opportunity and this is what came of it. Really what I’m doing is just helping people brainstorm solutions, and then take action. And I have so much compassion for them because I was almost in their situation.”

Becky
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Anthony Schedegg - Accidental Ambassador

Written by Lisa Ledwith

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Anthony Schedegg’s life hasn’t been easy. For years, past traumas affected him to the point of flashbacks, nightmares, and a near constant stream of negative thoughts.

 

Anthony had trouble piecing his past together. He purposefully ignored memories, making uncomfortable jokes to mask his pain. Then, things changed. At 15, with his family stabilized and supportive friends by his side, Anthony decided to write and self-publish his memoir.

 

Anthony’s story begins with his earliest memories: the loss of his father and painful relationships with friends and family. He peppers the chapters with drawings and sketches from throughout his life. The writing feels like Anthony himself–direct. Even the hardest parts are colored with witty humor and biting self-awareness. His eyes gaze sharply, intelligent and honest, much like his story.

 

Anthony says he purposefully avoided metaphorical language, writing as plainly as possible to combat what he calls “the fuzz.” “I was thinking about the pieces of the awful things that happened to me but not piecing them together. That’s the fuzz. Fuzzy memories.”

 

The “funnier, lighter bits” of Anthony’s life are intentionally absent. “Everything else was too loud, too imprinted in my mind,” he says. “Now that they (bad memories) are out, I guess I can focus more on my joy.”   

When asked how people received his story, Anthony pauses. “It’s rough stuff,” he says. But his writing was an act of forgiveness. He employed a matter-of-fact tone to make the events crystal clear and avoid blame. He mentioned that the book was often greeted with silence from people in the book, but never with denial.

 

When asked if sharing his story was a way of standing up for himself, Anthony stops to think. “I just wanted to put my story down so I didn’t have to keep thinking about it,” he says. While he doesn’t see himself as a self-advocate (not an intentional one, anyway), writing helped him move forward. By publishing, Anthony feels like a part of history and thinks it might “help people feel like they’re not alone in their emotions.” In school, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books helped him feel less awkward. He thinks his story might do the same for kids with trauma beyond the typical middle school problems.

 

Sales of Anthony’s book haven’t been great, mostly teachers and friends, and he’d like to sell more. But that’s not why he wrote it. “I wanted to make my mark on the world,” he says. “Just the fact that it exists is enough for me.”

Anthony
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Ken Brandon - Art Advocate, Creator & Dreamer

Written by Nathan Ward

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The Great Depression upended Ken Brandon’s ancestors, his father hoboing the rails before settling in southeast Colorado. Ken was born there, in Las Animas, a creative child in a school system without a single visual arts program.

 

“Drawing was the way I got recognized…but I had no way in school to learn it,” remembers Ken. His life changed when his family first got a television and he discovered John Gnagy’s program You Are An Artist. “I lived to watch that show. It sustained me.”

 

Ken’s parents later encouraged him to pursue commercial art. After graduating from Colorado State University, he painted signs, silk screened shirts and taught college art classes. In 1978, Ken visited Salida for the first time. “We just fell in love with the place.”

 

Locals talked up FIBArk and Ken asked if the event had a t-shirt. It didn’t, so Ken was in business. “I printed the first FIBArk t-shirt right there at the park and hung them on trees to dry.” He told everyone they wanted to move to Salida. Someone knew of an old house and Ken bought it for $7,000.

 

“My first sign job here was for Jack Watkins, marketing director for Elmo Bevington’s ski area. Word got around and soon I had more work than I could keep up with.” 

The early 80s were thriving, but the late 80s and 90s were tough. “The human spirit always believes it can succeed,” says Ken, but businesses started and failed quickly. “I’d paint a sign for a business, then another for their going out of business, then repaint the same signboard for the next dreamers that moved in.”  Salida was inexpensive and open, artists moved in and started to transform the community as galleries sprouted in the empty buildings.

 

Inspired by Burning Man in 2012 to “make something weird,” Ken manifested the creative space Box of Bubbles. “Beyond art, I’m really an advocate for creativity,” muses Ken. “I started Box of Bubbles to encourage people to dream, to have an idea and see it realized - stories, screenplays, music, anything.”

 

Unique projects followed, all collaborations with people in the community–a “Ballcano” of beach balls down S’ Mountain, dragon masks for Chinese New Year, spinning in the air while squeezing paint onto a giant canvas below, Giraffe Man, costumes for parades, films, speakers, classes. 

Ken
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Sylvie Wolkenbreit - Advocating for our Earth

Written by Katie Brown

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In 2021, Sylvie Wolkenbreit was introduced to the film, Seaspiracy. Its message ignited a spark inside her, and she has been on a mission to advocate for sustainability ever since.

 

Now a senior at Salida High, she is the only youth representative on the city’s sustainability committee, and after graduating, she hopes to study Environmental Science.

 

Sylvie’s eyes are bright with purpose as she sits across the table at a coffee shop and talks about her passion projects. In addition to her other roles, she interns as a sustainability consultant for a local motel, has volunteered at fish hatcheries, and works at restaurants.

 

“I know it’s kind of depressing to see how downhill our environment is going,” she says, “but I had someone tell me…‘it takes one person who believes enough in what they’re doing to fix it.’ I’m not saying it is going to be me, but it could be me if I just believe enough and work hard enough. It’s possible.“

 

When asked about her incredible drive, Sylvie tells me about her 8th grade year. Black Lives Matter was gaining traction, and everyone was getting involved. It was the most politically intense year she’s ever experienced, and an introduction to what it meant to stand up for something you believe in.

 

On the flip side, Sylvie and her peers have also learned that some things are more important, and she makes a point to express that, “I still believe in what I believe in and advocate for those things, but it’s also really important to hear other sides of the story and have respect for other opinions, even if you don’t agree. Losing a friendship is not worth it.”

 

She tells me that she feels Salida is special this way. “We have a unique population,” she shares. “The people who live here come from all beliefs and politics, but we all come together.”

Perhaps it is this unique population that helps motivate Sylvie to believe in the best outcome for our Earth, and to put her heart and soul into working toward that goal. She has a few tips for what you can do to contribute. “It comes down to a few principles,” she says. “Be mindful. Be respectful. Be responsible. Everyone can do it and it benefits everyone’s quality of life.” As for other youth hoping to get involved in advocacy work, her sage words of advice are: “Adults do listen. If I brought something to the committee that you were really passionate about, they’re going to take that into consideration. And we can make just as much change as adults.”

Sylvie
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Zebulon McCain - Helping Dads Figure Out Fatherhood

Written by Chad Heeter

Struggling through a mid-life crisis six years ago, Zebulon McCain’s then 16-year-old son asked him and his wife to attend a local Family Youth Initiative parenting class so that they could address the friction at home.

 

“I expected it to be this P.C., kind of feel-good nonsense,” said McCain, sitting outside Bunny and Clyde’s after a morning of jiu-jitsu practice. “But it wasn’t. We came away with such a better understanding of teenage kids – what they’re up against, where they’re at.”

 

McCain and his wife got so much out of the 12-week program, they returned the next year. It was at the end of that season, that McCain and the other dads wondered if they could have their own class – just for fathers. Though dormant for 10 years, a Chaffee County program for dads did exist. They just needed leaders to revive it. McCain stepped up, and to date, he has led five seasons of Nurturing Fathers: Tools for Being a Great Dad, a workshop that has served more than 55 Chaffee County fathers.

 

“Every season is better than the one before.” Each session class is capped at 13 dads, with one or two of the men court-ordered to be there. The first night, he hands out their workbooks. Several men quickly flip through the pages, getting a sense of what they’re in for, hoping for a cheat sheet or shortcuts to the content.

“You know where the answers are?” McCain makes it clear. “They’re here, in this circle.” The classes are strictly confidential, which helps the men open up. “They’re so pent up; there’s so much built up that has to be let go.” By the second meeting, tears flow.

 

“Once they let it go, nobody cries again. But for some reason in class two, that dam has to break.”

 

At the end of each season, McCain’s never sure he’ll continue facilitating. It’s emotionally draining, and he needs time to decompress. Jiu-jitsu is where he regains his balance.

 

Just like the circle of dads, the 14ers Jiu-Jitsu gym is another “safe place where we’ve got each other’s backs.” Asked how his gym friends would describe him, he laughed. “They’d probably say I’m the one out in the parking lot helping someone with men’s issues.”

 

McCain said he’s just a facilitator. It’s the men who put in the work. They leave the program with “greater self-awareness and exposure to methods they didn’t know existed.” Back home, the proof of the classes continues to show up in McCain’s relationship with his son, now 21. “He can open up to me now.,” said McCain. “It’s what I always hoped for.”

Zebulon
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Stella Veazey - Hope for the Future

Written by Lisa Martin

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“I would prefer to have deeper conversations with people.” Stella Veazey elaborates on why surveys are important in determining future policy decisions, while emphasizing the importance of personal testimonies to provide context to the data.

 

Stella volunteers with the Extraordinary Teen Council (ETC) as the youth liaison between the Salida City Council and her peers at Salida High School and Horizons Exploratory Academy. Her role is to discover what the students think about issues that impact them and their community, and then report the outcomes to the City Council to assist with setting policy. Stella loves the process and understands her impact on local government. “Even if a decision isn't being made solely based on my survey, there's still a shift of thought happening where, instead of breezing right over this entire demographic, now they're like, let's talk to Stella about this.”

 

Stella credits her mom with discovering the Semester School Network program that led Stella to spend a semester at the School for Ethics and Global Leadership in South Africa. Stella struggled for words when describing her experience there, “…it's difficult to articulate, but their societies are so much different from ours because theirs are philosophically communitarian.”  She paused again and thoughtfully brushed a strand of her long hair away from her face, “There's just these slight differences, just kind of an energetic difference of how everybody treats each other, which was really cool and super kind.”

Stella’s African experience impacted her profoundly and she wishes more students would take advantage of spending a semester in a foreign environment. “The students were way smarter than me, just insanely intelligent…talking about politics all over the continent and beyond the continent, and it was really, really, really interesting.” As Stella continues to share her experiences, she becomes animated and her smile won’t quit, she has an obvious passion for life and learning, and inspiring hope along the way.

 

Being active in your community and trying to make positive change is important for everyone according to Stella. “It makes people happier. It improves quality of life. I think anytime we make somebody else feel better, we feel better. That's kind of just a human trait.”

 

Stella’s future involves a higher level of education. “The main path that I'm really interested in is policy writing. Like sociology or politics or global studies or things like that.” Making positive change in the world is clearly a driving force for Stella.

Stella
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Melanie Roth - Saving the Spirit of Saint Elmo

Written by Nathan Ward

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Escaping the Oklahoma heat, Melanie Roth’s family first visited this area in the 1920s.  Over the years, Melanie’s grandmother, Marie Skogsberg, became close friends with Tony and Annabelle Stark, the last full time residents of St. Elmo.

 

The Starks lived in St. Elmo from the 1890s until 1958. As the mining town declined, they worked to prevent vandalism and looting. Annabelle later bequeathed her properties to Marie to continue to protect them.

 

“I was named Annabelle Stark’s godchild. She never had children and it gave her something to be excited about,” states Melanie. This fueled Melanie’s lifelong fascination with St. Elmo. “I’ve always had an appreciation for things that are old, especially when they are well taken care of.”

 

Melanie has worked throughout her life to continue Annabelle and her family’s legacy to preserve the spirit of St. Elmo. Gesturing at the authentic buildings along St. Elmo’s main street, Melanie explains, “We stabilize, rather than restore, to keep the beauty of how the buildings have evolved over 140 years.”

 

She actively worked to maintain St. Elmo properties while in college, and helped the Colorado Historical Society with Doug Hagen’s nomination to list St. Elmo as a National Historic District in 1979. Melanie, and other local homeowners, have partnered to maintain buildings and rebuild structures, in 2010 forming a nonprofit organization to expand the effort. “We’re looking farther afield now, working to preserve the entire upper part of Chalk Creek Canyon.”

 

St. Elmo will always face danger. “In 2002, the fire was a huge setback. A horrible change,” laments Melanie. The fire burned the town hall, the Stark duplex and home and more. Fire remains the biggest risk, but the town is also threatened with being loved to death by an increasing number of visitors, especially those driving off-highway vehicles who rarely spend enough time to learn about the area.

 

“People who do spend time tell us it’s so nice to see something authentic. We need to preserve history as it really was,” explains Melanie. “I’m not aware of many places that have touched people as much as St. Elmo. Many come back year after year.”

 

Moving forward, it’s important to pass the work on. “We’re working to develop young people to continue this work. They have interest. We’re establishing the framework for the future and creating an endowment to fund it,” promises Melanie. “I would like to see St. Elmo as an immersive experience for families. Stay in a period cabin. Do chores. Highlight the older values. Provide a unique historical experience and hopefully generate a lifelong appreciation for St. Elmo and Colorado history.”

Melanie
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Mike Harvey - Creating a Culture of the River

Written by Nathan Ward

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The Arkansas River, siren of Salida. Families stroll the riverwalk. Children play on the beach. Surfers carve the waves. The scene buzzes with positivity. It wasn’t always this way–concrete walls, chain link fences and railroad debris once littered the shoreline.

 

Then people started to improve the river corridor with a boat ramp and kayak course. Progress continued, fueled at the core by Mike Harvey who has worked 25+ years to create a culture around the river in Salida and Buena Vista.

 

1993 Mike arrived with zero river experience, but “I fell in love with this valley immediately. Life here was such an eye opener for me. I found my tribe.”

 

Fast forward five years and many river miles later, “I thought it would be cool to make a freestyle playhole downtown,” states Mike. “Then I could easily paddle every day.”

Mike and like-minded friends formed the Arkansas River Trust. “We applied for an Army Corps of Engineers permit with just some hand-drawn pictures. Then we had to figure out how to actually build it.”

 

Queue Fred Lowry, local contractor known for supporting community projects. Mike excitedly explained the idea. “Fred just listened. Finally he asked ‘How much money do you have?’ Money? We don’t have any money. Fred just said ‘That’ll work.’” Thus started a unique friendship and partnership - one with a vision, the other with excavators, rocks and local credibility.

 

Rocks, permit, excavator lined up, “I had a panic attack” admits Mike. “What am I going to tell him to do with the rocks?” He called Gary Lacy, a FIBArk boater at the forefront of a movement to build whitewater parks on rivers.

 

“Gary designed the wave and it was fantastic. Paddlers came from all over!” High water blew the wave out the next spring, but the idea persisted. The group built more waves, created the riverwalk, raised a bandshell in Riverside Park, cleaned the shoreline and face of downtown Salida.

 

“Mostly I helped bring people together around the idea,” says Mike. “It took a lot of people. Some have worked on this as long as me, like Larry Shirwood (who now owns Lowry Contracting). Larry worked on the very first project and he still works with us today.”  

 

Mike realized this project was more than building a wave “where I could go flop around in my kayak.” It shaped a community to protect and celebrate waterways. “My favorite thing is seeing kids grow up playing in the river. They ride bikes to the river, wetsuits tied around their waists, carrying a surfboard. That is so fun to see.”

Harvey
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Gloria Esparza - A Young Woman Creating a Better World

Written by Nathan Ward

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Wise for her years, a multifaceted being full of promise, not just in the future, but right now - Buena Vista High School senior Gloria Esparza is one of these rare people. A woman whose gifts include writing, sharing compassion, coaching, competing and creating substance free fun for the youth of our communities.

 

“I grew up on a ranch in South Park,” explains Gloria. “Although I’m really allergic to any animal that has hair. It’s tough on a ranch.” She transferred from Fairplay to BVHS her Freshman year.

 

Gloria energetically reveals, “Honestly, I just really love being really involved in my community.” In addition to school, Gloria works as a Youth Advisor for the Family and Youth Initiatives program 5th Quarter Teen Council. “5th Quarter stands for the 5th quarter of the night, like after 4 quarters of a football game. We put on events for substance free fun as we call it. Kids come and enjoy fun things for free. We’re not going to drink alcohol. We’re not gonna have drugs. We’re just all going to get together and hang out.”

 

Anyone who grew up in this valley knows there are many parties where alcohol and drugs are easily available, so young people advocating for something different feels promising. “I’ve learned it’s important to provide a safe and accepting environment. If people need help, they can call me. No questions. No judgment.” 

Born into a family of athletes, Gloria competes in basketball, volleyball and soccer. She also coaches softball for younger girls. “Coaching is one of my absolute favorite things in the world. I love getting to hang out with these little girls and teach them softball.”

 

Contrasting her athleticism, Gloria’s spoken voice is soft. “My voice gets lost in a lot of places, so I started writing.” Gloria explains. Her 5th grade teacher read a poem in class and it spoke to her. She started writing her own poems, one which won an award at the state level. “Writing helps me get out all of the stuff I can't say. I've just taken to it, but it’s still kind of a hidden thing I just do on my own.”

 

She plans to build on all of this by working in child therapy to destigmatize mental health issues in children and teens. It’s hard to put yourself out there, especially in this age of instant digital evaluation, but Gloria exudes courage and generates confidence.  

Esparza
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Opal Juba - Passionate Teen Fights for her Convictions

Written by Lisa Ledwith

Opal Juba speaks her mind. The seventeen-year-old Salida High School senior is lively and feisty–a girl who tells it like it is. She’s also quick–she moves fast and talks a blur, hands engaged, punctuating ideas.

 

In 4th grade Opal didn’t like reading. This confused her mom–Opal had always loved books and stories. Time with a specialist revealed that Opal was listening as other students read books aloud. She would then memorize the words and pretend to read to teachers, masking her struggles.

 

Once Opal received a dyslexia diagnosis, school changed. The school added helpful support classes to her schedule, but it meant missing some regular instruction. The extra work piled up. “It was really difficult because I would get behind,” she says. “I was having to be, like, ‘you guys need to take some of this stuff off.’” This is how she began advocating for equity in her education.

 

When asked if this was hard, Opal admits that speaking her mind came naturally. “Even when I was really tiny, if I thought something was wrong, I’m like, I’m not gonna do it. There wasn’t one moment I decided to stand up for myself.” 

In high school, more testing revealed an autism diagnosis, which changed the understanding of her needs. Opal, like any student with a learning disability, has a unique plan tailored to her. However, in her experience, the accommodations she’s granted by law aren’t always honored. Opal makes her voice heard, advocating for her own schedule changes, class placements and more. But she’s the exception, not the rule.

 

Opal sees when her friend’s accommodations go unnoticed. She takes pride in empowering them to stand up for their needs. She animatedly recalls a friend with vision problems. “They’re like, ‘I'll just deal.’ And I'm like, ‘No, you're not going to deal. You're going to move to the front of the class.’ And I know that's something my friends appreciate.”

 

Always fighting for the underdogs, she’s joined the Extraordinary Teen Council, attends district board meetings, and voices concerns to her school administration. For example, it fires her up to see sports teams celebrated at assemblies while art students winning awards go without mention.

 

Opal graduates this year and plans to attend art school. She loves helping others and could also see herself teaching. It seems unlikely, though, that she will ever stop standing up for her convictions. “That's definitely something I've noticed,” she says with a sly smile. “I'm certainly the most opinionated person in the room. All of the time.”

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Opal Juba - Passionate Teen Fights for her Convictions

Written by Lisa Ledwith

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Opal Juba speaks her mind. The seventeen-year-old Salida High School senior is lively and feisty–a girl who tells it like it is. She’s also quick–she moves fast and talks a blur, hands engaged, punctuating ideas.

 

In 4th grade Opal didn’t like reading. This confused her mom–Opal had always loved books and stories. Time with a specialist revealed that Opal was listening as other students read books aloud. She would then memorize the words and pretend to read to teachers, masking her struggles.

 

Once Opal received a dyslexia diagnosis, school changed. The school added helpful support classes to her schedule, but it meant missing some regular instruction. The extra work piled up. “It was really difficult because I would get behind,” she says. “I was having to be, like, ‘you guys need to take some of this stuff off.’” This is how she began advocating for equity in her education.

 

When asked if this was hard, Opal admits that speaking her mind came naturally. “Even when I was really tiny, if I thought something was wrong, I’m like, I’m not gonna do it. There wasn’t one moment I decided to stand up for myself.” 

In high school, more testing revealed an autism diagnosis, which changed the understanding of her needs. Opal, like any student with a learning disability, has a unique plan tailored to her. However, in her experience, the accommodations she’s granted by law aren’t always honored. Opal makes her voice heard, advocating for her own schedule changes, class placements and more. But she’s the exception, not the rule.

 

Opal sees when her friend’s accommodations go unnoticed. She takes pride in empowering them to stand up for their needs. She animatedly recalls a friend with vision problems. “They’re like, ‘I'll just deal.’ And I'm like, ‘No, you're not going to deal. You're going to move to the front of the class.’ And I know that's something my friends appreciate.”

 

Always fighting for the underdogs, she’s joined the Extraordinary Teen Council, attends district board meetings, and voices concerns to her school administration. For example, it fires her up to see sports teams celebrated at assemblies while art students winning awards go without mention.

 

Opal graduates this year and plans to attend art school. She loves helping others and could also see herself teaching. It seems unlikely, though, that she will ever stop standing up for her convictions. “That's definitely something I've noticed,” she says with a sly smile. “I'm certainly the most opinionated person in the room. All of the time.”

Opal
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Dixie Goldsby - Living with Alzheimer's

Written by Megan Juba

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As if the details of her story might be pictured on the back of her lids, Dixie squeezes her eyes shut tight, wrinkles her forehead and puts her hands over her face. Specifics elude her. “My doctor said, ‘You ought to get yourself into an assisted living place.’ And I thought, she must know something that I don’t know and I better do it now.”

 

Dixie’s eyes tear up and her voice cracks as she describes the pain of watching her own mother’s slow death with Alzheimer’s disease. Her mom was in a hospital for years, couldn’t talk or recognize the people she loved and was vegetative in the end.

 

Dixie inherited one of the genes for Alzheimer’s and is already in its early stages. After receiving her doctor's warning, moving to an assisted living facility in Colorado Springs seemed like a reasonable idea–to have all the amenities for aging and also be close to family. But, after living there for six months, Dixie realized it wasn’t a good fit for her. “I felt empty there. I just got spoiled living here in Salida.” Coming back to Salida proved relatively easy at first–she moved into her same home, put her things in their place and resumed her normal activities.

 

But, as her disease progresses, she questions if she should have stayed.

Dixie describes her Alzheimer’s like being on a cooking show where you don’t know what they are going to ask you to cook beforehand. “You are given the task of keeping your life together and there are so many moving pieces.” She worries. “Will I have all the parts to keep it together?”

 

“Right now I’m in a scary place.” Simple systems to keep her life on track are becoming more difficult to manage. For example, she forgets to check her phone for what is scheduled each day, forgets to set an alarm for important activities, forgets to bring her phone upstairs even if she did remember the alarm…and, where is the phone, anyways?

 

Dixie admits, “I’m not sure what I’m going to do, in the big picture, as time goes on.” She has looked into Columbine as an option, but her income is too high. She’s frustrated there are no other assisted living facilities in Salida. She’s considered moving to a smaller place but there aren’t many choices and she struggles to find someone to hire to help with daily tasks. Dixie shrugs, then sits taller in her chair and says with conviction, “I might just do Death with Dignity, to be honest with you.” 

Dixie
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Cathryn Bishop - Turning Feelings into Songs

Written by Katie Brown

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“My job is teaching piano, but really it’s just to love kids and build trust. That’s my main calling.” Cathryn Bishop has been teaching piano, guitar and voice for twenty years in Salida, and it’s clear from the outset that, for her, teaching young people music is more than just learning notes and scales.     

 

Cathryn comes from an immigrant family in Nebraska, and Swedish was her first language. By the time Cathryn was five, her mother, an accomplished pianist herself, knew that this tiny, precocious girl was too much for her to handle as a student. So, Cathryn marched herself to a neighbor, knocked on her door, and asked for lessons.

 

It wasn’t until later in life, however, that music came back into Cathryn’s life. After moving to Colorado, getting a degree, marrying, and raising children,  she received a scholarship from DU to study voice performance. Soon, Cathryn took a leap of faith and moved to Europe to sing opera. She sang in many different languages, and today she speaks French, German, Spanish and Italian.

After retiring from professional singing, Cathryn found her way to Salida, where a friend asked her to teach her son piano. One student became many, and she’s still at it today.

 

Cathryn’s philosophy is to be a safe space for her students. Once a week, for 30 minutes, they know they have her undivided attention. And as they enter their pre-teen years, they sometimes come with pretty heavy feelings. “This is when they are the most vulnerable,” she tells me, “and shame doesn’t work to teach. 

People learn from doing things that build confidence and things that help them keep trying.” So, she doesn’t really worry if they haven’t practiced. “Oh, so you have a life,” she says to her students. “So, let’s take a look at what we can do today and what’s doable for this week.

 

And if those big feelings are getting in the way, Cathryn asks them to put the feelings into poetry. She asks them how they might hear that poem musically. “And then we’ll put in some chord progressions,” she continues, “and I teach them how to play their own music. It’s a way to get the feelings from internal, to external. Because, these kids, they have a lot of other things putting pressure on them, and the last thing they need is to come to me with a feeling of guilt for having not practiced. I don’t want them to walk through the door and feel stressed.”

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