Monday, March 21, 2016

Alyssa Hewitt and the People of Denver

            I probably was considered a city newbie when I first came to Denver. Having lived my entire life in the suburbs outside of Des Moines, Iowa, I had only experienced a city in brief visits. Mostly, I knew cities as places where a lot of people lived and where there were big, tall buildings and higher rates of crime. That all changed when I came to live in Denver, and what changed my perspective was the people of the city.
            When you think of people who live in a city, what comes to mind first? For me, it was businessmen and women and hopeful college grads. Then I actually started walking around in Denver, and I started noticing that there were all sorts of people here, from the homeless person on the corner to the single mom in the grocery store to, yes, even a CEO or two in fancy cars. That opened my eyes. A city, I realized, was not about what you see from the outside. It’s not about the skyscrapers and traffic jams and city parks, it’s about the people. The people are the heart and soul of a city, and I found that Denver has some pretty special ones.
            We have met with a lot of cool people and organizations in our classes out here that are really making a difference in the community. We have been to an indoor farm that sits in the middle of a food desert, selling all natural produce at little cost to families below the poverty line. We have heard from a former homeless man now dedicated to helping those who were in his same situation. We have learned of advocacy groups fighting to get more affordable housing and those who are fighting to make the city more sustainable. These are the people that have inspired me.
            Picturing a city now, I see business people who are in the business of helping other people, the people who dedicate their lives to non-profits and advocacy work just because they know it is the right thing to do. If anyone ever knew that one kid from high school that was really passionate about a certain topic in all the class debates, but that you lost touch with after graduation, I think I know where they went. They went to a city, where they don’t see the crowded streets as an annoyance so much as a resource for making a difference.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Olivia Jansen Talks Healthy Habits in Denver

Since coming to Colorado, I’ve realized the culture here is very different. And no, I’m not talking about legal marijuana. I’m talking about the active lifestyle that most people living here choose to have. Not saying people in Iowa aren’t active or healthy, but people here seem to take it to another level.

On my first hike, I felt like I was getting a good workout just walking up the trail. I was amazed to find that people were running past us! And this wasn’t a flat trail. There were rocks, uneven ground and even some ice, but everyone just flew past us like it was nothing. When I visited Red Rocks with my family this past weekend, I was again surprised to see so many people working out on the steps. I knew people ran them but some people were doing squat jumps all the way up and even doing handstand pushups from the top step to the bottom.

And the parks here are always packed on a nice day. There’s people playing volleyball, tossing a Frisbee and the occasional group of people doing partner-yoga. It’s something that I don’t think is very common where I come from. On a nice day, I can’t say I’ve heard a lot of people suggest taking a trip to the park. But there’s two parts of a healthy lifestyle and a lot of people here seem to be dedicated to their nutrition too. There’s so many organic grocery stores here! Of course they’re in the Midwest too, but here there seem to be more concentrated in certain areas. Even in the normal grocery stores, each aisle has an organic section and they often have a healthy living section, with things like protein and quinoa.

Being surrounded by such dedicated people is kind of inspiring and makes you want to start living a little healthier, at least in my case. So no, it’s not the most obvious culture difference that people associate with Colorado. But I think it’s an equally important quality that makes the state of Colorado unique.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Olivia Hughes Relfects on Denver: The Good, The Bad, The Homeless

            I was performing a needs and risks assessment with a participant the other day at my internship.  When I asked how many months she had been homeless she stated four years, so I calculated and kept going. At first it was alarming to hear a number like that, but after further reflection I realized that I had heard even worse numbers than that so I did not think twice about it. Reflecting back on it makes me realize how the scope of homelessness to me has changed.
Moving to Denver was so exciting! Visiting a few times before assured me of the beauty and wonder in the surrounding landscape. However, even years ago when I first came through Denver, I could not help but notice the level of homelessness visible within the city. It was difficult to see and to understand how such a seemingly well off city with rapid growth could have this. I guess that is the problem.
            While working at The Empowerment Program I have been able to meet women from all backgrounds more often than not struggling with housing. Instability is a major contributor to addiction and illegal activities for the women at Empowerment, and stable housing is often a struggle they have. Every time I do the application I feel blessed that I get to help them in any way I can, however it could take months to hear back if at all. Seeing their faces when I mention it could take two months to even hear back is heartbreaking considering that’s another two months that she will be on the street and there’s only so much I can do to help. The sobering truth is that there is just not enough affordable housing so service providers have to do their best for their clients who just want a place to sleep without being worried about others invading their sleeping space. I have learned a lot so far but I feel as though it is just the tip of the housing iceberg in such a complicated system.