Everyone has a story. It’s something that unites us. Earlier in the summer our team at Bucket List Community Cafe fanned out at events across Denver to meet folks and tell our story. We handed out 1000 refrigerator magnets and shared that we’re an online community journalism site for Denver that builds community by telling our stories. Over and over we got a similar response. “I love that! That’s so cool.” The best part is that we have built this together. Because you supported us, Bucket List Community Cafe is on the road to sustainability.
Together we’re also mentoring the next generation of storytellers and news entrepreneurs. College students from the University of Colorado’s College of Media, Communications and Information come to Bucket List Community Café for internships. They serve their community and learn the skills and hard work it takes to report, engage, and be brand ambassadors for a news start up. It’s a bootcamp for aspiring journalists and when I took a vacation this summer our interns kept the train on track. The articles kept coming and social media stayed lively. Because you’ve supported us, we didn’t miss a beat.
You were generous with us during the 2021 holiday season when we received a $5000 matching grant from Colorado Media Project. To continue to grow we need to keep raising money so it’s Christmas in July!Between July 10 and July 24 are asking you to help support us again. No contribution is too small. During our last drive we received a $3 gift. We were grateful. No amount is too big. We also received a $1000 contribution. It was an eye-popping amount. We have big plans to make Bucket List Community Cafe an even better experience for you, to reach more of our neighbors in Denver, and to continue being your online home for information, inspiration, and interaction. Everyone who donates will receive one of our Bucket List Community Café refrigerator magnets. We all have refrigerators, right? That’s another thing that unites us. Let’s see them pop up on refrigerators all over Denver. All you have to do to contribute is go to this link or hover your phone over the scan code in the photo below.
Bucket List Community Café is unique in the Denver news ecosystem. We are getting by solely on grants, small business sponsorships, and your contributions. There are no advertisements, no paywalls, no memberships, and no subscriptions. It may seem like a crazy business model, but you know what? It’s working. You are helping create something that has a unique niche at the intersection of journalism and community. You are proving that community journalism can be community inspired and supported. I promise you that your contribution will be used wisely to make Bucket List Community Café the best experience possible for you. Please give generously to Bucket List Community Cafe during this Christmas in July.
My name is Morgan Jenkins and I want to introduce you to “Naomi” (not her real name/not her real photos.) “Naomi” is younger than most of my clients at Maintain Me, which helps older adults make confident decisions in the aging process. She is sharp, independent, intelligent and a planner, among other admirable qualities.
We came to know one another through her physical therapist, who she had been seeing for some time due to a “Parkinsons-like” syndrome. Her situation is particularly frustrating because there is no definitive diagnosis, there is no certain treatment, and there are no projections for the disease course. Can you imagine? It takes a strong person to stare this is the face, manage the challenges that come with the syndrome and still have the gusto to work, volunteer, and be active in her Jewish Community.
“Naomi” reached out because she wanted me to assess her living situation and have recommendations on ways she might improve the environment to be more adaptable for her mobility. This service falls under Maintain Me’s Consulting Program. For a reasonable one-time fee, we spend about two hours with our clients assessing their current situation and making recommendations based on our extensive professional experience. We look for ways to find more support, engagement, or care should it be needed, and we help identify the need if it is not realized. These are not easy conversations, however, avoiding them makes the situation worse! We must plan for our lives after the age of 65 or “retirement”. We are living easily into our 80’s now, and one must know what they would like that to look like and make a plan for it. That plan must also include saving money to live off of well beyond “retirement”.
My first visit with “Naomi” was in March 2021. We had all been through a full year of COVID suffering, isolation and the unknown. I remember it well because I had only recently started going back into client’s homes after doing virtual assessments. I was nervous, not for myself, but for my clients who were high risk or fearful themselves. I remember asking her if she wanted me to come in person, and she replied with an emphatic YES! We both craved social interaction.
I was instantly fond of her. The apartment was thoughtfully adorned with interesting art. My favorite piece was strips of raw fabric in brilliant colors that had been laid vertically, still on the bolt, transformed into art. It was her idea that she had commissioned. Creative and stylish! It took us a couple minutes to relax and settle into our meeting, and once we did the rest just flowed.
We moved through her apartment, I suggested grab-bars in the bathroom and then inquired how she was able to exit the apartment. (I was curious because it was no easy task to get up there to meet her!) Having no front door to the building per se, all residents went in and out through a secure garage. Seems good in theory, but in order to do things like pick up to-go food or go to the work out room in the adjacent building, she had to drive her car because walking that distance was far too taxing. Especially in poor weather, to me, this seemed like a hazard and completely inconvenient! This building design did not have older adults in mind or anyone with mobility limitations.
“Naomi” realized I had her best interests in mind and we dug right in. She has a syndrome that is progressively worse, and taking into consideration the hoops she must jump through to access the outside, plus the isolation she was feeling, I suggested Independent Living or a “55+” community. The benefits were obvious to her: security, social life, restaurant dining for the days she was tired from work and didn’t feel like cooking. However, thinking about moving was overwhelming. With that, we wrapped up our meeting with a summary, places to purchase grab bars, and how to connect with her building managers to be sure they were installed appropriately. But something else happened that day. “Naomi” now had a “friend in the business” so-to-speak. She had someone she connected with, that she felt comfortable having “these” conversations with.
“Naomi” is like the over 15.2 million people aged 55 and older that are childless, one in six older adults, in the United States. This statistic calls into question what other arrangements one must make for their care if they don’t have a child to provide it. Now, Naomi, like me, does not have children. Nor would either of us assume that just because we had children, they would be obligated to provide that care. No, Naomi knew her arrangements were on her to decide and facilitate, and she decided to take action.
We took the next steps into Maintain Me’s offerings with ourTransition Program. This is where we help the individual with the exploratory process of finding the right community. We make tour arrangements, focusing on communities that are value based, with good reputations based on experience. Next we go hand in hand on the journey of finding the “right place”, educating our clients to become informed consumers. The fees associated with the Transition Program are paid by the community that the client ultimately chooses. There is no fee charged to the client for this service.
A month after our initial meeting, we decided to take our first tour together. One tour was quickly six, and of those six places, we saw two of them multiple times! That is 12 tours over 15 months. I will add that she had a “wish list” of non-negotiables. Honestly, that was over 15 items long. Let me name a few and see if you can relate, because I sure could. Here are examples: Washer and dryer in the unit, full kitchen with a stove, covered parking, outside private deck or patio, a den or other similar space because she was still working, an exercise room, robust community engagement, and the list goes on. Really though, are these not all things you and I would want too? You can see from what I have shared, “Naomi” had put an incredible amount of thought into her decision, and my greatest joy was to support her on her journey. No matter what that meant, we were going to find her the place she felt excited about. The place that made her want to run home and pack her things and get settled.
I think the difference between this success story and others is the number of times we visited her top communities. I was there with her for each one, taking notes, asking probing questions based on previous visits, and helping “Naomi” set up visits with current residents and staff to hear their perspectives as well. It is imperative to have a well rounded view, not just the one from the sales person.
We had lunch on various tours, and we got to know one another. Her sister came out and we all toured together, and this helped “Naomi” finally decide. I was the person providing the information, “Naomi” had to choose her favorite based on factual and concrete information, and the feeling she got when she was at the community. You really do “just have a feeling” in this.
I am so pleased to report that “Naomi” has settled into her amazing new two bedroom apartment. She said it went so smoothly, and she is quite pleased. She is enjoying the feeling of having control over her own life, and making a thoughtful decision about her own future. I am thrilled to have been able to join her on her journey. I can’t wait to go visit her in her new community!
Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, who spent her childhood in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, began working vigilantly in 2020 to provide solutions for the area’s food scarcity problem because she wanted her constituents to have easier access to fresh food than she did growing up. During the turbulent months of the pandemic, CdeBaca’s efforts, along with a resilient community, resulted in the formation of several groups to address the neighborhood’s lack of access to healthy food.
The Elyria-Swansea neighborhood is one of the oldest food deserts in Denver, meaning that at least 33% of residents struggle to find access to fresh, healthy food – something we all deserve. The Noir MarketCo-op, run by the father-daughter duo of Shabasa and Anjanet Sayers, is a biweekly Saturday pop-up market located on East 48th and Vine Street. The outdoor market will soon move into the corner building on 48th to become Elyria-Swansea’s first grocery store since the 1960s.
“We couldn’t wait for nonprofits to solve our problems, or private-sector grocers to get to the right populations,” Councilwoman CdeBaca said in an interview.
This mindset sparked the creation of several food desert solutions, including the East Denver Food Hub, which is now Noir Market’s primary produce vendor. Founded by David Demerling and Roberto Meza, it serves as a distributor for local farmers who want to bring their produce into food deserts. Not only does it provide easier access to fresh food for the whole community, but the East Denver Food Hub also helps support local farmers and makes their businesses more profitable.
“The idea is that we aggregate local produce for farmers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to come to markets. Sometimes coming to markets requires vendor fees, traveling and setting up which can be cost prohibitive for smaller, local farmers. We’re trying to help them be viable and profitable by selling and distributing their produce for them,” says Al, who is Noir Market’s distributor for East Denver Food Hub.
Within a few short months after opening, the East Denver Food Hub began participating in events that gave customers the option to “pay-how-they-can.” These events truly made a difference for those who were struggling during a time of scarcity. Shabasa and Anjanet Sayers, used this same business model to form the Montbello Community Market, previously located in the East Denver Foodhub Warehouse.
When the market wasn’t bringing in as much traffic as they had hoped, Shabasa and Anjanet were able to connect with Councilwoman CdeBaca and bring resources from the East Denver Food Hub into the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood and opened Noir Market.
“Councilwoman Candi had seen our market and thought it was an amazing idea. But she told us, ‘Let’s take it somewhere where there is a food desert,” Anjanet said.
Along with giving the community access to healthy food, Noir Market also offers a wide variety of eclectic products from local farmers, chefs, designers, and artisans. Most of all, the market helps cultivate a vibrant and hopeful environment for shoppers and business owners in the area.
Noir Market is lined with around twenty vendor tents, with products ranging from fresh produce and upcycled purses to decorative cupcakes and one-of-a-kind jewelry. Anjanet Sayers is a small business owner herself, running a hand-crafted soap and candle company called Emunah Soaps.
“We’re still going through those growing pains right now, but we are definitely growing,” Anjanet said. “As the coalition is growing, we are encouraging more members of the community to join our co-op, be a part of our decision making, and just build this community up. We want to increase our resources as much as we can. Also, one of my main specialties is helping small businesses grow, getting the word out about them, getting them exposure, and organizing events.”
If someone cannot afford something at Noir Market, Anjanet says, “We will take care of it. When we were doing a market for East Denver Food Hub at Lost City, I got the concept for this market. When we first started, people would spend a few dollars and take a whole lot of what they needed. But, as the season went on, people would literally come back and just throw extra money to show their love…and I believe that that’s what we as people are here to do. God is my savior, my everything, and He ultimately pushed me to do this. I believe we’re called to help our people.”
Individuality and passion spills from each tent and table at Noir Market. Lashay, who makes one of a kind, hand-crafted upcycled fashion pieces, runs a booth at Noir Market with her brother, who also owns his own non-profit called Save Our Street.
“My business is called Redesign by Lashay, and I’ve been doing this for over thirty years. I redesign shoes, clothes, and handbags. I’ve been doing this a long, long time. It is a passion of mine. I started when I was 19, and since then I’ve had three different stores,” Lashay said.
Latisha, who is a certified business coach, nutritionist, and fitness expert, has been a Noir Market vendor since the beginning, and the market has provided her with far more than just a successful business. During her second week, she discovered that a few of the other vendors were her long lost cousins. Her story captures the essence of Noir Market; it operates like a family. At her booth you can find her homemade, cold pressed juices that contain natural healing properties.
“I’ve been in the coaching business since 2013, when I first went on my weight loss journey,” Latisha said. “That’s why I got into coaching, because I know that there are other people out there like me that don’t have anybody who believes in them, but I want to be the one to push them and encourage them.”
Noir Market’s future includes much more than its new grocery store location. According to Anjanet, her family recently purchased land that will eventually become Noir Farms.
Noir Farms, which will be completely open to the public, will offer horseback riding, fishing ponds, and an outdoor kitchen that allows visitors to cook their own fish on site, or have it cut and scaled to take home.
“Our passion is taking fresh food, fresh from the farm and getting it straight to people’s tables. We’re basically just here to feed the people good food,” Anjanet said.
Many people are wondering if real estate values have topped out in the Denver metro area and whether it is still a good time to purchase residential real estate. We certainly believe that real estate is always a good investment in metro Denver; it is just that sometimes you only need to hold a property for a couple of years to see a gain, where other times you need to hold on for longer. According to the home price index which is put out by The Federal Housing Finance Authority, based on purchase price the metro area has only seen 5 years out of the last 30 from 1992-2021; where property values went down rather than up. Yes, that is only 5 out of the last 30 years! Since 2012 we have been in a 10-year uptick:
2012 ~ 11.4%
2013 ~ 9.9%
2014 ~ 10.5%
2015 ~ 12.2%
2016 ~ 11.0%
2017 ~ 10.0%
2018 ~ 6.0%
2019 ~ 5.8%
2021 ~ a whopping 17.4% which was fueled by an astounding demand due in part to the pandemic, combined with continued low interest rates & very low supply.
Metro Denver is a place that people want to live which is negative and positive. On the negative side it means more demand than supply which has fueled the large increases in value the past couple of years. On a positive note, values are apt to hold steadier even as the market cools down a bit because many people still want to live here. We are not expecting a large decrease in values because there is too much demand for housing in our city. We also have many different types of industries fueling our economy. It is not likely that one or two struggling industries will take down the entire housing market.
Yes, interest rates have gone up by 2% give or take, and that has changed buying power, but this also means that the double-digit value increases are likely to get back to a more normal 3-6% year over year rate of increase. This will help buyers with the ability to make a full price offer on a house rather than bidding it up way over list price. In some cases, they may even be able to pay a little bit less than list price. We are seeing one or two offers on a listing now where two months ago it would have been 20+ offers. The condition of the property and the neighborhood still have a lot to do with it but we are hopeful to get some people into houses that can afford to purchase at list price, but not afford to throw a bunch more cash at a property.
The housing market itself is in much better health today that it was in 2007-2008 according to CNBC. Total mortgage debt in the United States is just 43% of current home values, which is the lowest on record. Negative equity, which is when a borrower owes more on their home than it is worth, is virtually non-existent. Just 2.5% of borrowers nationwide have less than 10% of equity in their homes. Should home prices go down in the metro area; this will provide a nice cushion for homeowners.
Appreciation is of course one of the main objectives when purchasing residential real estate; but there are many other great reasons to do so:
Tax benefits ~ You can deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage and your property taxes. Some of the costs involved with buying a home can also be deducted in the year you purchase the property.
Equity ~ Mortgage payments let you build up equity in your home whereas rent you pay is money that you will never see again.
Savings ~ Building equity in your home is a forced savings plan. Plus, when you sell, in most cases, you can take up to $250,000 individually or $500,000 for a married couple as a gain without owing any federal income tax.
Predictability ~ Your fixed rate mortgage payments do not rise over time (unlike rent); therefore, as your income rises your housing costs become a smaller portion of your expenses. You do need to keep in mind that the property taxes and insurance costs will likely increase.
Freedom ~ You can update and decorate your property to your hearts desire because it is yours!
Stability ~ Setting down roots in one neighborhood and remaining there for several years allows you and your family to build relationships with neighbors and the community. It can also offer children the benefit of educational and social continuity.
To conclude we believe that residential real estate has always been and will continue to be a good investment. Stop waiting for the “right” time to enter the market, or you will continue to miss out on all of the benefits of being a homeowner.
You say you’re a storyteller. Why is storytelling essential to building community?
When stories are well told, they help us understand complicated issues. They also help us learn about changes coming to our schools, neighborhoods and cities. Stories can be impactful and help keep us safe. I love to look at stats and turn those numbers into a story that helps people grasp what a bunch of data means.
How has your background shaped the person you’ve become?
I grew up in the South Texas heat in a home that had no air conditioning. My father did not graduate from high school. My grandfather walked from Mexico to Texas. My uncle, who helped raise me, drove a trash truck on which I spent countless hours. My dad and uncles all served in the military. One of my uncles was involved in D Day. They all taught me how important it is to work hard and study. They always told me I could have ANYTHING I wanted, as long as I worked for it. I was raised in a community of people of German, Czech and Polish backgrounds. Many of them still spoke their native languages. They taught me so much about other cultures. It was like my own little United Nations in a town of 2,000 people.
Hispanic journalists have faced some challenges in Denver. How has being Hispanic helped or hurt your career in news?
I consider my Brown skin and my ability to speak two languages my super powers. What makes me different has helped me tremendously. I look at my ethnicity as a huge asset as a story teller where more and more of our communities are increasingly diversified. Growing up in a challenged neighborhood, next to public housing, I saw a man killed when I was about 13 years old. I saw so many things happening around me. It’s those experiences that help me go into all kinds of neighborhoods. I feel a special connection to people who are going through the worst of times. Growing up Hispanic continues to help me become a better story teller everyday.
You live in the Athmar Park neighborhood. What are your favorite places to go near there and around town?
One of my favorite restaurants is Saigon Bowl at Federal and Alameda. I love going to Lake Huston in my neighborhood. Going to the movies is a big part of my life. I LOVE the IMAX screen at the Regal at I 25 and Colorado. The Molly Brown House is a favorite. I always recommend that to guests. I also love Mexican food. Torres Restaurant on South Federal. Patzcuaro’s in the Highlands.
What do you enjoy most about spending a holiday weekend in Denver?
Denver ALWAYS has so much to do during the holidays. This is such a diverse city, there is always tons going on. And the fireworks on July 4 are UNBELIEVABLE. I always tell people there are so many things to do here, no matter what time of year. I”ll probably ride my bike this July 4th and maybe take in a hike. The weather here is fantastic (most of the time)!
I’ve always gotten up early Friday morning to get the Cherry Creeks Arts Festival . As artists set up their tents and unpack, the serious buyers are already out scouting the best of the best. It seems to me more transactions are conducted in the first couple of hours of the festival than at any other time. It’s time to whip out the gold cards and buy the exceptional pieces. I don’t have a gold card but I do enjoy this art buying spectacle. I’ll look for smaller original pieces.
A jury has to select artists to show at Cherry Creek. For those artists who get in it’s like Christmas in July. Denver has a reputation for being a good city for art sales. Some artists will sell out and regret they didn’t bring more of their works. The festival features the work of 250 national and international artists and more than 350,000 people attend the free event. It is one of the best art shows in the country.
I like to talk to the artists and pepper them with questions about how they created their art. They are happy to oblige and talk about the process. In some cases it’s very intricate and involved. Suddenly, I find myself with a whole new appreciation of what I’m looking at.
Over the years you get to know some of the artists. Jennifer Cavan, who is at this year’s festival, is a favorite of mine. Her bright colored New Mexico scenes are prominently displayed in my home. Jennifer used to spend all winter in Angel Fire, New Mexico creating pieces for the summer when she and her husband travel the country displaying her works at art shows. She has become more known, and now lives in Santa Fe. While slight in stature you can easy spot Jennifer by her bright red hair, almost as bright as the colors of her works.
These traveling artists are all quite accomplished nomads carrying their works in trailers and vans as they travel the country. Premier art festivals limit the number of artists and a jury has to pick you to be in a festival. It’s very competitive and can determine who can make a living with their art and who will be a so-called starving artist.
These artists all have interesting stories. I’ve met rocket scientists, accountants and other professionals who exited prosperous careers to create art. They feel free from the 9 to 5 grind and those who find a market for their creations are among the happiest people I’ve ever met.
Whether you buy art at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival or not attending the festival is an opportunity to educate yourself about art and meet some awesome people who have made art their livelihood. The Cherry Creek Arts Festival is back from July 1-3 in Cherry Creek North this year after it’s Covid hiatus in 2020 and then scaled down version in 2021. Hydrate and wear sunscreen and enjoy first class art appreciation.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools and educators into a frenzy when students could no longer attend in-person classes. Now, over two years later, Denver teachers are reflecting on how the pandemic affected them and their students.
Madelyn Percy, a teacher at Noel Community Arts School, and Patrick Jiner, a teacher at Lake Middle School, not only had to try and maintain their lesson plans, but also help their students navigate uncharted waters.
Jiner said that the pandemic created a sense of uncertainty at Lake Middle School, although the strong leadership that the school had in place allowed for educators to feel open to adapting.
“We’re going into a territory, an area where we don’t really know what’s going on, but we have decent leadership and teachers at Lake, we’re used to rolling with the punches. We’re not trying to get too stuck in our way. We’re open to change,” he said. “It was definitely a culture change and culture shift.”
Teachers had to learn how to manage their students through a computer screen. At first, both Percy and Jiner said that they had extended spring breaks which allowed all school staff to learn online technologies like Google Meet and Google Classroom.
“As teachers, we were still contractually obligated to be working that whole time. But, you know, the kids who were on spring break, they weren’t showing up,” Percy said. “The district’s technology partners pulled together professional development and, you know, taught everybody how to use Google Meets and stuff like that. And so, as educators, we got a crash course in okay, this is what online teaching is going to look like.”
Being online, Jiner said that maintaining a typical in-person routine was exceedingly difficult to replicate because he could not be with his students physically like he was used to.
“As a teacher when you don’t have a classroom and you can’t physically move and talk to the young people like you would normally want to. So that was probably the biggest challenge that we had as teachers,” he said.
The 2019-2020 school year finished completely asynchronous, meaning that there were no live online classes and students could login to complete their assignments whenever they wanted. When the 2020-2021 school year came around, schools began to adapt a hybrid version of teaching that did not work very well.
“Students were coming in and groups and so we were teaching in this hybrid model where some students would be in the classroom and some students were online,” Percy said. “It was a mess.”
According to Percy, the hybrid model was an incredible challenge for teachers because they had to not only give their attention to students who were online, but also students who felt comfortable enough to come to class in-person.
As schools began to transition back to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year, Percy said that it was a huge relief to finally be back in the classroom.
“Honestly, if we had remained hybrid, I would have left teaching,” said Percy. “It was horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible. So being back in the classroom, you know, that’s my jam.”
As in-person classes continued, teachers noticed regressions from students academically that may have been attributed to learning online for so long. For Percy, her physics classes seemed to show that students’ math abilities had declined.
“They hadn’t even gotten through half of the curriculum and that’s pretty standard across the district,” Percy said. “And it’s not because the teacher, it truly was just learning math online is really difficult, and they weren’t getting a chance to practice as much because everything had to be online.”
After returning to in-person learning, it became clear that students were struggling with more than just their schoolwork. With the boredom created by staying isolated inside, students also regressed in terms of maturity.
“They’re seeing their friends. So they’re playing really rough and they’re not listening to directions when they’re being self-directed,” Jiner said. “So they’re just still trying to figure that out with two years of, you know, social and emotional disconnect and things of that nature.”
Percy noticed a similar trend with her students, suggesting that being online caused students to miss out on almost two years of social and emotional growth, which may have caused the behavioral changes that teachers were noticing.
“My 11th graders were showing behaviors like ninth graders, my 10th graders were behaving like middle schoolers. They figured it out pretty quickly, most of them did, but they just, they were behind. It was was really interesting; I saw behaviors that I’ve never seen before, in all of my years of teaching just because kids were immature.”
With school concluding at the end of May, teachers now have time this summer to reflect on what the last two years have been like. For Madelyn Percy and Patrick Jiner, they hope to continue guiding their students’ success in the coming years!
There’s something about a wagging tail and a smile that never fails to lift up people’s spirits, and in a space that can be as stressful as an office, a happy dog can be the best part of your day.
June 24th is Take Your Dog to Work Day, and the corporate staff of Denver’s CorePower Yoga would highly recommend taking advantage of this holiday. They reap the rewards of having a dog in the office almost every single day because Robin August, CorePower’s Operations Communications Manager, brings her dog Paloma to work on a regular basis.
Paloma, a Maltese-Terrier rescue dog, has become an office celebrity who lights up every room she enters. August’s desk has two plaques on it: one with her name, and another with Paloma’s. People stop by during the workday just to say hello to their favorite coworker, who will give them a comforting snuggle in return. This sort of morale boost can do a lot for an office environment. Life in an office isn’t always as zen as a yoga studio, and a dog in the vicinity can help tremendously with that.
“She is adorable with a big personality, always looking for a treat and constantly guarding the operations department,” said Adrienne Lowry, a fan of Paloma’s and CorePower Yoga’s New Studio Opening Operations Manager. “When I need to de-stress, I’ll visit Robin and Paloma to take what I like to call a ‘Paloma break’. It’s a quick break where I sit on the floor and pet Paloma while she licks my hands.”
Paloma has become a staple friendly face in the CorePower world, and August’s coworkers notice when Paloma isn’t around.
“If we’re in a conference room for a meeting, Paloma will usually go around the table to greet everyone with a lick and then curl up under the table for the duration of the meeting. We’re able to conduct a meeting with minimal disruption,” she said. “It adds some levity regardless of the meeting agenda.”
August and Paloma have made going to work together part of their daily routine ever since they started working at CorePower over a year ago. August grabs her work bag, car keys, and Paloma’s leash on the way out of the house. They’re even able to make a midday walk part of their routine. “It’s just easy,” August said.
Some pets can certainly be more of a hindrance than an aid to office life. If they bark frequently, or don’t like interacting with other humans, then it’s probably best to leave them at home. But August recommends that anyone who has the opportunity to bring their well-behaved pet to the office should try it, of course making sure they bring enough water and treats.
“When pets are as well-behaved as Paloma, they are a necessary addition to the office,” Lowry said. “They are great to help us de-stress, remind us to stop, take a break, and go outside for five minutes instead of being glued to our desks all day.”
If Paloma reminds you of your own furry friend at home, consider bringing them to the office on June 24th. It might turn into a great new routine for the whole team!
This weekend, tens of thousands of people visited the Juneteenth Music Festival in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver. Every year on Juneteenth weekend, Welton Street turns into a sea of people, with crowds spilling over into side streets to watch performers or browse vendor merchandise. The festival honors Five Points’ history, and will continue to keep alive its cultural traditions for many years to come.
Deeply rooted in Black History, the Five Points neighborhood has held Juneteenth festivals that date back to the early 1950s. But this year, the neighborhood celebrates Juneteenth and its rich musical history with an extra touch of Black magic–Friday, June 17th, marked the first time Five Points celebrated Juneteenth as a legitimized federal and state holiday.
31-year-old Annika Nwachuku, Five Points resident and visitor of the music festival, stayed toward the back of a large crowd while she half-listened to Sammy Mayfield pluck his guitar and half-observed the crowd in front of her with overwhelming content. This year’s festival is unlike any of the seventy ones before it, and the electrifying energy of the crowd gives this away.
Five Points has a unique background unlike other historical subdivisions in Denver. According to Nwachuku, “Five Points became one of the first neighborhoods to develop outside of Denver. It was originally a neighborhood designed to be culturally diverse, but by the 1920s, discriminatory housing policies and red-lining kept the vast majority of Denver’s black population in Five Points.”
Redlining was sneakily used to segregate people and reinforce the gap between Black and white people from the 1920s to the 1960s. Terry Gentry is a board member of the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center and her great grandfather was one of the first Black men to live in Five Points. In an interview, Gentry explained redlining as something that goes “way, way back, and is part of a process that perpetuates segregation.”
During this time, entire neighborhoods of Black Americans were crossed out by politicians in red ink on city maps, then given to banks with instructions to not loan money to the people residing there.
Practically stuck in Five Points, the predominantly Black community formed a strong sense of culture that centered around artistic expression. By the 1950s, Five Points was no longer just a redlined pocket of Denver that Black people could not escape–it was a mecca for the arts, and particularly jazz music at the time. The music-infused streets of Five Points created such waves in the world of jazz that musical legends such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald all ventured to the area to perform at the historical Rossonian Hotel, which still operates on the corner of Welton Street to this day.
“From the 20s to the 60s, Five Points was considered the Harlem of the West because of the jazz music, shops and shopkeepers that lined the Welton street corridor,” Gentry said.
The annual Juneteenth festival captures the essence of this jazzy era, despite the fact that it hosts an array of different music genres. More importantly, the celebration serves as a yearly opportunity for people to reflect on the progress Denver has made, despite being one of the most gentrified cities in the United States.
“For me, I think Juneteenth probably feels the same way that white people view Independence Day,” Nwachuku said.“I’ve celebrated Juneteenth my whole life, but when it became a state holiday last year, it felt so validating, like my home state was starting to care about the most important part of my history, too.”
When COVID-19 forced the world to isolate indoors, many Denver residents yearned for live, outdoor entertainment. That is when Chocolatina, Queen of the Dessert came to the rescue with her precise culinary skill and passion for drag. When she is out of character, she is Denver-based pastry chef Martin Howard.
Howard grew up in Columbia, Maryland. When he was young, he spent countless hours learning and practicing how to cook with his mother.
“Well, I grew up baking with my mother and actually, my grandfather was a chef, and my grandmother on my father’s side, she used to bake pies for the local diner in Pennsylvania,” he said. “It was something fun to do with my mother.”
In high school, Howard took a few cake decorating classes to learn the technique and began working at a local restaurant.
“My parents were like it’s a viable profession if you want to go into that,” he said. “But then, my uncle suggested I go to the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, New York.”
At that time, you were required to have two years of experience and a recommendation from an alum of the institute. Howard didn’t check either of those boxes, so he spent about two and a half years working at a restaurant under an executive chef who was an alumnus, and finally got himself in.
After graduation, his career as a pastry chef ignited. He did an apprenticeship with a former White House pastry chef and spent over 25 years working as a chef in New York. He was the Executive Pastry Chef at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room and spent time at Brasserie 8 ½ in Manhattan.
Chocolatina began her journey at a New York tasting event in 1996.
“So, the birth of Chocolatina was at an event in New York called ‘For the Love of Chocolate,’” he said. “My table was themed after Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. So, that’s when I became Chocolatina, Queen of the Dessert, as a take on that!”
While working at a restaurant in New York, Howard met a friend that was a Miss America Pageant coach and the two teamed up to refine Chocolatina’s look by perfecting her make up and costume.
After mastering the perfect look, Chocolatina entered the Miss Stonewall competition, a drag show celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
“I was kind of like a little miss sunshine coming in there, I was like alright well, we’ll just do it, and we’ll have a good time,” he said. “And then, I ended up winning!”
Chocolatina, Queen of the Dessert became the first Miss Stonewall and in following years was given the opportunity to judge the competition a few times.
Persuaded by a friend who had done the same, Howard decided to move to Denver five years ago. He began working as a pastry chef at Epicurean Group, one of the leading catering companies in the U.S.
“Then COVID hit and there were no parties,” he said. “By the time we hit July, I thought maybe I should try and make some money.”
Howard made a pie one day that he planned to bring to a dinner party. Before leaving for the party, he decided to snap a quick picture of the pie and post it on Facebook.
“By the time I got to their house, it had kind of blown up,” he said. “That night I came home, made a quick page on Facebook, to see if it would get any interest. And lo and behold there was interest.”
After receiving good press about his pies, Howard’s artistry blossomed, and he decided to pursue his pie-making dream using Epicurean’s space to craft his desserts.
“During COVID, people were hungry for pie and live entertainment,” he said. “I probably do about 50 to 60 pies a week right now.”
Howard not only made pies, but he would also give each delivery a performance in his drag persona Chocolatina, Queen of the Dessert. He offered party packages, including two 6-inch pies, two quiches, and a live singing performance.
This June being Pride Month, Howard said that there is still an immense amount of improvement that needs to happen regarding acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community.
“There was a campaign started a few years back saying it gets better. I say it gets a little better,” he said. “I mean as far as we’ve come, it’s just shocking that we haven’t come further.”
Howard said drag is different for everyone, but it is one way he can express his identity and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.
“I mean, drag is different for everyone. It’s a different thing for different people, you just have to find where you fit in,” he said. “Yeah, it’s definitely a way to celebrate. This year I’m actually very involved with Pride. I’m going all out this year.”
Chocolatina now delivers pies herself three days a week. To check out her weekly pie selections, visit her website, thepiequeen.co. You can also check out her Instagram (@thepiequeenofdenver) or her Facebook page.