What is your background and how did your journey lead you to become the Executive Director of Book Give?
I’ve done everything from teaching Tai Chi to counting the number of Alnus incana in a 3 foot square section of upstate New York forest. I came to BookGive circuitously after starting three small businesses post grad school. I have a Master of Nonprofit Management from BookGive’s big neighbor to the north, Regis University. We’re right across the street from the university in the old Regis 66 station at 49th and Lowell.
How satisfying is it to give books to the community and why is it important?
Best feeling ever! Handing someone a book – free – and they look at you like, “I get to keep it?” Book ownership correlates with higher graduation rates, lower crime rates, better mental and physical health, less stress. It’s important that everyone has access to books in their homes.
These have been challenging times. What has Book Give taught you about the community over these last two plus years?
BookGive was essentially an experiment. Did our community need a free book resource? In two years, we’ve donated over 120,000 books. We claim that as a great big YES! The community does need free books as well as a place to donate books, a place that will do everything possible to keep those books out of the waste stream and in the hands of readers. We’re here to stay until every household (and those who don’t have a home) in Denver metro has all the books they need to succeed.
Book Give wants to spark a love of reading. What books did you love in your life and why?
I’m a fiction fan. For me, it’s about the characters. I have to care about them, and a good author makes characters come alive, like friends I can keep with me for a while. I accept all book recommendations (our volunteers always have good ideas) and give them all a try.
Summer is here and it’s a great time to read. What books do you recommend?
Recent reads that I loved:
A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
Less, Andrew Sean Greer
Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother and her Daughters, María José Silveira
The possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned became very real – inevitable, some would say – after three conservative justices were appointed to the Supreme Court during the Trump administration. Still, seeing a leaked majority opinion draft by Justice Samuel Alito that more than likely confirms the end of Roe has been a jarring call to action for Colorado reproductive rights organizations. Now, activists are navigating the balancing act of ramping up their efforts while still finding the time to take care of themselves.
“It still was a shock to see it in writing,” said Neta Meltzer, who is the regional director of communications and marketing at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. “Then the next morning I heard folks saying they woke up feeling energized and ready to continue fighting to ensure that we can serve as many people as possible.”
Since Texas passed a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in September – a timeframe during which many people don’t yet know they’re pregnant – there has been a 1000% increase in patients with a Texas zipcode seeking abortion care in Colorado. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains is already beginning to see an even bigger wave as the result of new, more restrictive bans that are taking effect.
“We just saw Oklahoma pass their total ban, and a significant portion of Texas patients were heading up to Oklahoma,” Meltzer said. “More of those ripple effects are coming our way.”
At the May 14th “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally hosted by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains at the Denver Capitol Building, a common sentiment expressed among the sea of handmade signs was exhausted disbelief, especially for those who are experiencing unwelcome déjà vu.
Kathy Garrett, 67, and Debbie Zalman, 64, attended their first rallies of this kind in 1973. They haven’t been to too many since, simply because they haven’t had to.
“It’s just kind of surreal. We were young in ’73 and it was an era of freedom,” Garrett said. “To see all of this get reversed is heartbreaking.”
Charissa Afshar, 63, also attended her first protest in the ‘70s, shortly after Roe v. Wade passed. She was counter protesting against those who had come out to show their opposition.
“I’m not gonna let it go down that easy. Before I leave this planet, I want to say that I was on the right side of history,” she said. “At least I tried.”
One activist who spoke passionately to the uproarious crowd was Lauren Smith, director of policy and advocacy for “a fiercely faith-based, Black women-led racial justice organization” called Soul2Soul Sisters and Elephant Circle, a non-profit that does advocacy and education on all aspects of pregnancy, from conception to lactation.
“Its name is inspired by elephants, who give birth within a circle of support. We envision a world in which all people have a circle of support for the entire perinatal period,” she said.
Smith spoke from the top of the Capitol Steps, surrounded by protestors in pink Planned Parenthood t-shirts. “As organizations for birth justice, we know that overturning Roe goes far beyond banning access to abortion. It is another attempt to strip us of our reproductive freedom and strip us of our humanity.”
According to Smith, the overturning of Roe v. Wade is a step backwards, but it isn’t a drastic change for BIPOC women in this country, who already face disparities in reproductive healthcare access and quality.
“We recognize that this fight is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s been carried by generations before us. It will be carried on by our children and our grandchildren,” she said, “and that liberated world can’t exist without rest.”
Aside from voter engagement and affecting political change, Soul2Soul Sisters’ mission is to enable “Black women’s health, healing and joy,” and that requires activists to do something that doesn’t come very naturally during moments of upheaval. They must take care of themselves.
“We take naps together, we take baths, we engage in spiritual practices – we do all kinds of things to nourish our souls, not just in moments of burnout but continuously,” Smith said. “There’s so much collective and generational trauma that’s really held within the Black community, and so we have to build that in.”
According to Aurea Bolanos Perea, who is the strategic communications manager at Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), being open about the toll that this turn of events is taking on her mental health is key to staying in the fight.
“That vulnerability is powerful. Many of us are in a group chat saying like, damn, I can’t believe what I’m living right now. But I couldn’t be doing this without you,” she said. “Colorado is kind of like an island right now for repro rights and repro care.”
On April 4th, Governor Jared Polis signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which ensures that “every pregnant individual has a fundamental right to continue the pregnancy and give birth or to have an abortion.” The bill also declares that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws of the state.” Colorado is now an oasis surrounded by states where abortion rights could dry up.
From a logistical standpoint, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains plans to handle this influx by any means necessary to ensure the easiest access for the most patients. According to Metlzer, “all options are on the table,” including bringing on additional providers and expanding telehealth services.
On a smaller scale, Meltzer says that she and her fellow staff members are making efforts to spend more time with family and pour themselves into focused activities like cooking to give their minds a break from work.
“The thing that gets me through – and I hear this from a lot of my colleagues – is just knowing that everyone who works at Planned Parenthood is there for a reason,” she said. “We know that so many folks in our community really believe in what we do, and that support means a lot in this moment too.”
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s a time to deepen our understanding of mental health and behavioral issues, to acknowledge that many of us struggle at times, and to reduce the stigma so those who have difficulties can seek help and come out of the shadows. These last years have been tough. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing isolation, and other worldwide tensions causing suffering and grief, people have recently struggled to manage their mental health.
At Cognitive Behavior Therapy Associates of Denver, virtual reality therapy is used to treat anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, it can help to enhance relaxation and mindfulness. VR treatments also called virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET), allow patients to be fitted with a headset and headphones, enabling therapists to coach them through fearful or uncomfortable situations such as fear of needles, fear of flying, fear of driving, insomnia, and mood disorders.
“Virtual reality is an immersive 3-D experience,’ said Mary Heekin, co-founder of CBT Denver which is located at 600 S Cherry St. “The patient, when wearing the goggles, is having a first-person experience. So, if they are sitting on an airplane they can look right and left and see whoever is sitting next to them. They can look above them and below them.”
Heekin has over 17 years of experience and has worked at the University of Colorado within the Department of Psychiatry and at the University of Denver as an adjunct professor in their School of Social Work. She is focused on evidenced-based practice for a several mood and anxiety disorders. Those include depression, bipolar disorder, trauma, generalized anxiety, perinatal and postpartum depression/anxiety and panic disorder.
Heekin said that she initially began to get into virtual reality treatment when she worked at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She said they did studies with returning combat veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
“The combat veterans were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And the study was on the use of virtual reality exposure therapy for combat PTSD. So that was my first experience and understanding of what virtual reality was,” Heekin said. “The human brain does not need the experience to be identical to real life in order for habituation to take place,” she adds.. “Our brains can basically fill in the gaps between the computer world and the real world. We tend to generate the same level, or close to the same level, of anxiety when immersed in a virtual world as we do in the real world.”
Patients can see and hear in a virtual, three-dimensional world during these treatments which are similar to video games. This technology gives therapists the ability to manipulate and titrate the experience to gradually help their patients alleviate their mental health challenges.
Heekin said that virtual reality exposure therapy is different than EMDR treatments which have been widely used for PTSD and trauma intervention.
“EMDR does use technology in a way, but it is not an immersive three-dimensional computer world. It’s simply the use of a light bar or sound or hand buzzers to create a bilateral stimulus across the body,” Heekin said. “VR is, is an exposure tool.
Heekin said that VR therapy is under the large cognitive behavioral therapy umbrella, as many forms of exposure therapy are used to treat different mental health challenges.
“So, if you imagine a big umbrella, the big part of the umbrella is cognitive behavioral therapy. And under that umbrella, you have exposure therapy. And as part of exposure therapy, you have virtual reality exposure therapy,” Heekin said. “The premise behind exposure therapy is that you are therapeutically having patients confront what they fear in increments that help them habituate to their fear over time, and then hopefully, they can function much better in their life because the fear is not as big of a deal.”
She said that this type of exposure therapy allows therapists to create levels to help improve their patients’ fears. For example, if someone is afraid of heights, Heekin said they would create lists that would allow their patients to start by experiencing a height of one floor above the ground and work up to a height of a Manhattan skyscraper.
With improvements to the technology and more accessibility, they have been able to start using it at CBT Denver.
“The technology was pretty expensive, and hard to come by. But in the last decade, VR has become much more clinically available to practices like ours, which aren’t giant, robust research centers,” she said. “So, it’s more available. And cost effective. And you know, we license the software, and we offer it to our patients.”
Now, what about the results? Heekin said that she has seen significant improvements in her patients after using VR treatments, but the progress does take time.
“They improve dramatically. The results aren’t immediate, but they are profound, and you just feel a little worse before you feel better,” she said. “We have seen patients overcome a wide variety of struggles. I would say the most common thing we treat is probably a fear of flying. But we have also treated our fair share of needle phobia, claustrophobia, fear of driving, and fear of public speaking.”
Heekin did say that if you have access to a virtual reality system, using it on your own could help to alleviate some day-to-day stress.
“Mindfulness components for sure,” she said. “I mean, I think that I think that it doesn’t take a therapeutic intervention to figure out how to get a hold of the VR headset and do something like diaphragmatic breathing or body scan.”
Several VR platforms and applications can help alleviate more mild mental health challenges. For example, the Oculus Go headset can use the Liminal and Happy Place applications to improve mood and anxiety and reduce stress. The Oculus Go headset can be purchased for under $300.
Mental health challenges do not heal overnight. It takes time and energy to get your mind to a place where you feel happy and confident. If you are struggling with your mental health, instead of living with your fears, consider conquering them with the help of VR therapy.
As the cold rush of winter finally subsides, many Coloradans will be looking to get out of the house and into the abundant outdoor beauty our state provides. A very popular pastime among those looking to get some exercise and enjoy the warmer weather is running. One looking to get into the sport or new to the Denver area has access to one of the best cities in America for scenic runs.
The sprawling picturesque landscape to the Northwest of the Denver area provides incredible trails for those looking for a more rugged and mountainous run. There also is an excellent system of city running paths and parks that dot the North Denver urban areas that are easily accessed from Denver neighborhoods.
This substantial variety makes Denver and the North Denver communities such a unique place for runners. The access to world class trails only half an hour away from the neighborhoods that dot North Denver gives those looking to jog, run, or just take a walk an endless array of paths to choose from. You can get steep uphill climbs or you can go for a more relaxing jog around a lakeside park.
“Denver is great partly because there are miles of runnable bike paths like Platte River and Cherry Creek,” said Philip Snyder, shop manager of Berkeley Park Running Company in Wheat Ridge. “We have one of the top park systems in the country.”
Those looking for a run through the heart of downtown Denver can try out the Cherry Creek Trail. The trail runs throughout a large swath of the Denver area, a whole 40 miles in fact. While conquering the entire trail may be unrealistic for most, the ability to pick this trail up in numerous locations around the city makes the Cherry Creek trail very accessible.
The South Platte River trail is a similar trail for runners looking to get a more metro jaunt. This 20-mile trail is popular among bikers and runners alike and those who may be looking for a break from the busy bustle of the city streets. These city spanning routes are very popular for those living in the downtown neighborhoods and those wanting a quick break from running in the concrete cityscape.
Some other great running trails that are easily accessible in the North Denver areas are Sloan’s Lake and Crown Hill. Both trails can be reached by going down West Colfax. Sloan’s Lake provides those looking for a lakeside run with a beautiful view of the mile high city skyline. Sloan’s Lake Loop is the popular trail here. A little over two miles, this is a great trail choice for those new to running or just looking for a relaxing jog.
The Crown Hill Lake Loop is another great location in North Denver for those looking for a quaint lakeside run. Not as long as Sloan’s Lake, Crown hill is only a 1.2-mile loop with great views of the mountains and even the Flatirons towards the northwest.
“Crown Hill still feels a bit more wild than some other North Denver parks,” Snyder said. “My first time running through there I opened up the gate to the nature preserve and a baby deer popped out like I was on a Disney set.”
Those looking to see more wildlife like this could head out of the North Denver neighborhoods and get into some of the trails in the mountains close to Denver. Snyder, who is known at his Wheat Ridge running shop as a trail guru, recommends going out to the North Golden and Morrison area, where one can find endless miles of terrain.
“There are some gems in the Golden and Morrison area: Centennial Cone, White Ranch, and North and South Table Mountain,” Snyder said.
Snyder and different running groups he is familiar with often link into other trails or tackle multiple trails in one run. “It’s fun to get creative with it,” Snyder said. “Basically, any trail you can hike, you can trail run; that’s the beautiful thing about it.”
Those planning to go on longer runs should always check the forecast before venturing out onto the trails. The Colorado weather is known to be unpredictable and can be completely different from when you started the trail run to when you come back down the trailhead.
It is also crucial to respect the trails that you are running on. The public must retain responsibility for keeping the wonderful trail system free from trash.
“I can’t tell you the amount of plastic bottles I’ve found out there because someone finished their water bottle and got tired of carrying it, or it fell out of their hands, and they couldn’t be bothered to pick it up,” Snyder said.
The influx of newcomers to the state leaves many runners from other states having to deal with the new drastic change in altitude. The effects of the altitude can be felt relatively quickly and could overtake even the most experienced runners who thrive at sea level. Go the extra mile to ensure that you are sufficiently hydrated and running at your own pace, even when going with a group. Enjoy the gorgeous mountain trails and park systems North Denver offers.
One of the group fitness studios where I teach dedicated this entire week of classes to Mental Health Awareness. As instructors, we were encouraged to focus on breath work, community, teamwork, positivity, and other mentally beneficial cues. This concept, moving your body to improve your mental health, has become incredibly significant in my life.
My relationship with myself; mind, body and spirit; has not been an easy journey. I was a competitive ice dancer for many years. I started skating at age 3, and spent my childhood at the rink before and after school. My identity has always been centered around being an athlete, and with that, I’ve always put a fair amount of my worth in my accomplishments, my body, and how coaches and judges perceive me.
I started getting more serious about the sport at age 13. My worth became dependent on my success, how far I could push my body, and how proud I could make my coaches. Like dance, gymnastics, and artistic swimming, figure skating is an aesthetic sport. Not only did our bodies need to be strong, quick, coordinated, balanced, and graceful, we also had to be thin and lean with long lines. At 14, I became dedicated to conditioning classes and giving my 110% to every on ice session so I could be constantly improving my athleticism, stamina and speed. However, I did not fit the ideal skater’s body image and when I realized I would not have success until I did, I took matters into my own hands.
Sophomore year of high school as a female is not the easiest. Social media was becoming louder and louder and I would find myself spending hours scrolling on instagram, looking at other girls’ bodies, how many friends they had, and how happy they looked. I would stalk girls I competed against and wonder how they were able to stay so small. Eventually, I’d pull myself out of that screen and get out of bed only to look in the mirror and feel my stomach drop. I looked so different from everyone I was constantly studying on my tiny little screen.
It happened fast. At first I was just subbing grilled chicken sandwiches for hamburgers; and then suddenly, the aimless scrolling turned into hours of research on pinterest and google: “How to drop 10 pounds FAST”, “Low calorie foods that keep you fuller longer”, “Burn 500 calories with this 30 minute workout!”, “What is My Fitness Pal” … Download My Fitness Pal. I was shrinking quickly, self-harming regularly, losing myself to this disorder but I was getting the validation I craved. I was proving to my competitors, judges, coaches, and followers that I would do whatever it takes to be worthy and successful. People noticed and many, including judges and other skaters, complimented me.
I wish they knew what it looked like behind the scenes. They would have seen the 6:00 a.m. wake up calls on days before school that we didn’t have practice where I would sneak down to the basement and do a 1000 burpee challenge or run three miles. This sneaking around resulted in MyFitnessPal allowing me 300 more calories that I would never even let myself think of consuming. I wish they could have seen me ruin every relationship I had because I had lost myself to this evil voice in my head. I wish they would have noticed that I never smiled or laughed the same way I always had. The way depression was eating me alive. All they see is the exterior. The physical image. Just like social media.
When I quit skating it was mostly because I could not keep going down the same road with the same demons and dark clouds over my head. My biggest fear for so long was getting injured and having to quit skating. I never thought it would be something I chose. Quitting skating meant I would no longer be an athlete, which meant I would lose my identity, my worth and everything I had worked so hard for.
But at 18 years old, I realized I had to get out and I had to start over. I had to discover who I am and who I want to be without this sport. I had to learn how to find worth in other things and not validation from others. Four years later, I am still learning these things.
My eating disorder recovery became much easier once I quit skating. It became easier when I started college. Even with some relapses due to comparison and being new to alcohol, it was still much easier than trying to recover while still skating. My relationship with exercise had some tough stretches and then some better ones. I was learning how to ride the waves of life and finding who I was beyond my sport. I’ve been on this journey to heal the parts of myself that found value in my body and the success it led me to, as well as learning how to live for myself and not for the approval of others.
I have this theory that our mental battles all stem from the same root cause. It seems to me that anxiety and OCD really just come from fear. Depression comes from feeling unworthy. Insecurity comes from comparison. It’s not always the same for everyone, but I’ve found there are many commonalities among people who are fighting battles in their heads.
For me, the best thing I have done in my recovery – for all mental illnesses I have faced – is addressing the root cause head on. When my anxiety starts to overwhelm me and I feel like I can’t breathe I ask myself, “What are you scared of?” For me, most of my mental battles come back to a similar theme: I am scared of not being good enough. I am scared no one thinks I am worthy . This realization has helped me more than anything else to calm myself down.
Another huge healer for me is movement. I think the best thing I did for my relationship with movement was to become a fitness instructor. I know you must think that is counterintuitive. The summer before I started teaching fitness, I fell in love with spin classes. My favorite part of skating was always the music and moving my body to a beat. I’ve also always been a sucker for performing. With spin, I felt what it was like to workout because itfelt good. I could close my eyes and get lost in a song in that dark room with a community of people who were moving their bodies for the same reason. I found instructors who inspired me and brought light into my life. I wanted to make others see this too.
My mission as a fitness instructor is to make people fall in love with movement and from this, fall in love with themselves. This week of mental health themed classes has shown me that this has been my method of teaching all along, teaching people to move their body because it feels good. Asking people why they are increasing their running speeds and if it comes from the right place. Getting people to check in with their relationships with their mind, body and spirit.
I found a brand new way to identify my worth. For so long it was what my body looked like, how people viewed me and my body, and how I could use my body to succeed in the eyes of others. Now, I find my worth in how I can use my body to feel good about myself in a positive way. I can listen to what my body is asking and use my mind and my spirit to tend to that. I find worth in helping others move for their full selves instead of just because they feel as though they should exercise. My healing came from creating unity in my mind, body and spirit.
In May, the Bug Theater in Highland hosted the “Casting Forward” event, a documentary series premiere about women in fly fishing. Ms. Mayhem, an online publication which presents a fresh perspective on feminism, put together the multimedia project. With a special focus on gear, safety, conservation and education, and the lack of visibility for women in marginalized communities, the project showed the surprising issues within the sport, and told the stories of the women who are casting forward to the future.
Madison Lauterbach is an angler. Fly fishing is a sport in which she found a deep connection, whether it was the relaxing peace that she found on the river, the exciting rush of pulling in a fish, or the way that it helped her connect with the two most important men in her life, her dad and her partner. A little over a year ago, Lauterbach started to notice the discrepancies for woman in the sport. It was difficult to get male counterparts to take her seriously and it was nearly impossible to find gear from large companies.
“I just got really frustrated that someone with a really average build like me couldn’t wear this company’s gear. So I started looking into other companies (like Miss Mayfly and Sarabella) that might be doing things better, specifically women-owned companies,” she said.
Lauterbach started looking closely, and found a tight knit community of female anglers who shared her struggles in such a male-dominated sport. As the founder and editor of Ms. Mayhem, she saw this as a perfect opportunity to tell the stories of women who feel unheard and under-appreciated within their passion.
One of those women is Jeanine Blair who finds her inner peace while on the water. She is passionate about the wilderness and connecting with it via fly fishing. But as a woman of color, she doesn’t always feel comfortable within the mostly white male sport. She was never welcomed into the sport, which is why she founded Fishanistas, an organization which seeks to inspire more women to fish. The organization is now thriving, and young Black girls have a role model to look up to and welcome them into the sport.
Blair’s story is one of many which Lauterbach tells in “Casting Forward.” The completed project is five 15-minute videos, which will be posted to the Ms. Mayhem website with a few in-depth written stories to accompany on June 8th.
The first focus of the project was gear. In fly fishing, one is meant to stand in the water to cast. Waders are a special type of overalls which keep the angler dry and warm, even if the water is rushing and cold. The issue here is that most companies do not carry women’s sizes for waders, and if they do, the sizes are abysmally too small and don’t fit a typical woman’s body shape.
“Dudes have been doing it wrong. They think about optimizing everything, but it’s not always thinking about the people, it’s more for the sport,” Nicholas Clements, one of the audience members, said. “It gives a better perspective on what needs to be done.”
Secondly, the documentary videos focused on the safety of female anglers. Anglers have to be aware of the river that they’re in, the weather conditions, and any potential hazards that come with being in the wilderness. Women have additional safety concerns, like protecting themselves from other people on the water. Several women in the documentary shared the sentiment that they would be on extra alert if they were ever alone while fishing. Women of color specifically agreed that they would be afraid to be spotted by a white man on the water.
Another potentially dangerous place for women in the sport is online. Social media can be a great place for female anglers to connect with one another, but it is also a place where people can voice their hatred for women participating in a “man’s sport”.
The documentary also highlighted conservation and education. By teaching young people the beauty of the wilderness, they create a desire to preserve the world that we have. The fly fishing community actively participates in this conservation.
The next piece focused on the struggles specific to women of color in the industry. As is with the rest of society, it is difficult to feel welcome in a space where there is no one else with the same background, gender, or race. The effects of societal racism do not exclude the fly fishing community.
Esteban Fernandez, a videographer and assistant producer on the project, said he noticed how even in something as small as the fly fishing community, it is easy to see parallels to society as a whole.
“It was interesting seeing how systemic forces play out in such a small microbubble. There weren’t any cartoon depictions of racism. Instead it was more insidious and more subtle. That was one of the big lessons in this project, is just how deeply woven and baked into everything it is.”
The documentary made it clear, although anglers are typically not outwardly racist or sexist, the environment that they create can still be exclusionary toward people of color, and toward women.
With the “Casting Forward” project, Ms. Mayhem is starting this conversation in the world of angling. The “Casting Forward” project gave Jeanine Blair a voice to tell her story and, hopefully, to make the world of fly fishing more inclusive. “I am absolutely speechless that a platform was set to allow us to share and speak freely, said Blair. “It was raw, and my emotions were high.”
Lauterbach fly fishes to explore the outdoors and connect with loved ones, but today it’s also about building community.
“Throughout this project I got to meet a lot of really incredible women that I still have contact with that want to go fly fishing together. They want to spend that meaningful time with me, and that to me is the best part,” she said. “Through doing these stories, I was able to find community. That’s what this project is all about.”
Nothing quite sums up a mother’s love like hand-rolled lasagna and sugar-dusted creme puffs. The bigger the dish, the bigger the love, and no other restaurant captures this sentiment quite like Grammy’s Goodies in Wheatridge, CO. Located on a street corner and wrapped in a white picket fence, the cozy, red, checkered table-clothed restaurant tells a story of familial love.
The story begins in a vibrant coastal town on the Southern border of Italy.
Abruzzo, Italy, known for its lush green plains, scenic views and decadent cuisine, is where Lucille Acierno, AKA “Grammy” was born. Lucille learned the art of cooking from her mother, who learned from her mother, and so on. By the time she was twelve, Lucille migrated to the United States and brought her love for cooking with her.
As a devout Roman Catholic, Lucille was faithfully devoted to her church. She was the head of the Altar and Rosary Society, prepared all the meals for the organization, and her outstanding cooking soon earned her a reputation. According to her great-granddaughter Joeylyn and co-owner of Grammy’s Goodies, “She was the shit, pretty much. I don’t know how to put it any other way. I always joke about how she taught me to make our waffle cookies when I was five or six. When I was little, she used to teach me to say hail Mary in between making each cookie. Now, I make hundreds of dozens of cookies and I still say “Hail Mary” between each one.”
With tears in her eyes, Joeylyn says, “I still get choked up thinking about her while making them. All of our recipes come from Grammy, and although we put our own twist on them, you can still taste her cooking in everything we make.”
As Lucille grew older, her diagnosis of arthritis left her hands unable to work the same way they used to. Jocelyn says “She taught my mother, Vickie, everything she knew about cooking and baking, and soon my mom became her new set of hands.”
Just like her grandmother, Vickie fell in love with cooking, and ended up meeting her husband, Jeff, in a restaurant where they worked. They had two children, Joeylyn and George. Jeff was a truck driver, and Vickie was a stay at home mother who followed in her grandmother’s footsteps and became known for her ridiculously good cooking skills. In 2005, a friend who was more than familiar with Vickie’s infamously addictive Italian Christmas cookies, asked her to share his booth at the Festival Italiano in Lakewood, Colorado. Vickie tirelessly baked each cookie by hand, teaching her kids how to make them along the way. Her cookies sold out within a few short hours, thus setting the outdoor, farmers’ market style of “Grammy’s Goodies” into motion.
Vickie and Jeff found great success once they Americanized Grammy’s recipes, making the cookies as big as plates and pizzas as big as tires. Huge portion sizes became a consistent theme for Grammy’s Goodies. The successful business put both Joeylyn and George through college at Colorado State University. During the siblings’ time in college, Grammy’s Goodies was growing as an outdoor food business. “My brother and I would come home on the weekends with his fraternity brothers and my friends to help work the food stands,” says Joeylyn. “By my sophomore year, we were participating in over seventy-five festivals around Colorado. But, in 2015, my mom saw this open lot go for sale. When you do outdoor events you have to have all sorts of licenses, so we thought it would be a good spot to park all of our trailers.”
About a year after purchasing the lot, Grammy’s Goodies opened as a restaurant. Joeylyn says, it kind of “blew up from there.” The inside is decorated with photos of Grammy and her husband, as well as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren who run the restaurant. People quickly fell in love with Grammy’s cozy atmosphere, decadent pizzas, pastas, buttery garlic knots (you get them free the first time you visit) and authentic Italian pastries.
In 2019, just before the pandemic, Grammy’s Goodies received a mysterious email that at first, Joeylyn says, “we thought was a scam.”
The email informed them that some of their customers from the past few weeks had been working for Guy Fieri’s famous TV show, “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” According to Joeylyn, “They began to call all hours of the night, asking for recipes and photos until they let us know we had been picked to do the show. My mom and Guy really hit it off. But like I said, none of us are professionally trained as chefs. We all just learned from Grammy. It’s kind of funny because if you watch the episode you’ll see our section is very homestyle with my mom and Guy just having a good old time, and then you see how at the next restaurant, he’s talking to like, a professional chef. We’re just not that. We’re a family.”
The show propelled the restaurant during a difficult time for small businesses, and Joeylyn says that “without the airing of that show, we might not have made it through the pandemic. We are forever grateful for that experience.”
Aside from the home cooking and cozy-quaint atmosphere, what makes Grammy’s Goodies so special is the family’s commitment to working with each other and keeping Grammy alive through her recipes.. Vickie, Jeff, Joeylyn, George, and George’s wife, Kylie, work at the restaurant every single day.
“I’m very blessed that I get to be with my family every day,” says Joeylyn. “I feel like whether you work with family, friends, or strangers you are going to have ups and downs. But when it comes to working with family, when the good days are good, they are really good. When the bad days are bad, I’m fighting with my brother as soon as we walk in, ready to beat him up.”
Joeylyn goes on to say, “my brother and I chose this for a reason. My brother got a degree in HR management, and I got a degree in interior design, but we chose here. And the reason we chose here is because of family.”
Nonetheless, she says, “I think what makes us special is that no matter what, we’re always here, everyday. You can come in tomorrow, we’re all here. If you come in next week, we’ll be here. My sister even brings her two kids here every single day. It’s never strangers running the business, it’s family, and it all started with Grammy.”
Between now and the end of the summer you’ll be seeing our team at Bucket List Community Café in your neighborhoods and at your festivals. Come up and talk to us. We’ll have this real tasteful refrigerator magnet to give you. We want to tell you about our online community journalism site that serves North Denver. I know when we meet you will have questions.
I get asked all the time, where is Bucket List Community Café? Ugh! When I explain that there is no brick and mortar location the next question is why did you name it Bucket List Community Café if it’s not a café? I wish I knew then what I know now, but as I’ve considered changing the name (it’s trademarked and that was a pain) I always come back to NO. This perfectly describes the purpose of our community journalism site.
A bucket list is things to accomplish before time runs out. It was on my bucket list to open a cafe/photo gallery/book store. A place that brings community together. I figured I’d do it after I retired from my career in television but when I moved to North Denver from the suburbs several years ago, I found so much of interest, I created it online. I imagined it as a place to get to know each other and what’s going on around our community. A place of information, inspiration and interaction. A place where we tell our stories.
Look at these photos. Don’t you want to know their stories? Or what stories they were telling to one another? Two women sharing intimacies on a bus. A bartender and a customer talking across the bar in RINO. What do they have in common to spark a connection? The dancer at Cinco de Mayo looks so proud celebrating her immigrant story. Bob looks so proud sharing his classic car. Doesn’t it make you want to know more?
That’s what we do at Bucket List Community Café. We cover news, issues, culture, events, arts, and places to eat and play in the unique neighborhoods of North Denver. Most important, your neighbors tell their stories and how they fit into what’s going on around us today. We like to say we are journalism by walking around because we are so close to the neighborhoods.
We are building this together. Bucket List Community Cafe is community inspired and supported. Help us envision what community journalism can look like by taking our survey. I know. Surveys. Blah! We only send them out once a year and it really helps guide us to make the experience better for everyone. We collaborate with residential neighborhood organizations, non-profits and small businesses. Share us with your friends and neighbors too.
Finally, you can contribute to help support Bucket List Community Café. We do not have ads and paywalls and memberships and subscriptions. We want everyone to have access to Bucket List Community Café. If you like what we’re doing, please click here to contribute and help us grow. Help us find sponsors for our social media, newsletter and website. Contribute during our fundraiser in July.
In the meantime, we will be seeing you at the following events. Tell us your stories. We build community by telling our stories.
5/6 First Friday on Tennyson Street
5/7 Regis Horseshoe Market
5/7 Cinco De Mayo
5/28 Denver Arts Festival
6/4 Park Hill Art Festival
6/4 Urban Market
Leaning on quotes inspires storytelling. In her book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Maya Angelou writes “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Telling our stories can make Denver a better place. Let’s get to know one another. If you have stories you want us to know about and suggestions on how we can collaborate reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. See you online and around North Denver.
Growth often kick starts change and development. In 1929 Denver first opened as a small municipal airport and eventually Stapleton airport helped put Denver on the map. Some of the airlines that flew into it are long gone. Remember Braniff, Western, Continental? Today the old tower is one of the few remnants left of the airport. But what’s old is new again as an aviation themed brewing company gets ready to land in the shadow of the old tower this summer. But first a nod to history.
The old Stapleton Neighborhood in Denver and it’s namesake airport, were named after former Denver Mayor Benjamin Stapleton after World War II. It was renamed to Central Park after the Stapleton Master Community Association voted in favor of the name change in June of 2020 because of Mayor Stapleton’s connection to the Ku Klux Klan. But for 65 years it was Stapleton Airport and people have memories (albeit noisy ones) of watching the planes land only three miles from downtown.
Gregg Looker, who previously worked at the Stapleton Airport and was a long time resident of the area, said that he got his start at the airport when his job working for the city and county of Denver ended.
“My position was being abolished and the day it was going to be abolished, a person in the mayor’s office decided to create a temporary position for me to do a new accounting system for public works,” Looker said. “Stapleton used to be a division of public works, so I jumped at the chance.”
He started on November 1, 1982. He began implementing a large word processing network that eventually evolved into the first local area network in the city and county of Denver.
Looker worked at the Stapleton Airport until it closed and then moved to Denver International Airport (DIA) when it opened in 1995. He said his favorite part during his time working at Stapleton airport was watching the expansion and growth.
Looker joyfully recalled a story about a fourth-floor bar that was a part of the Stapleton Airport and how it became a closing-time hub for airport employees.
“I remember that there was a portion of the terminal on the fourth floor that had a bar that was run by the maintenance center employees. After Friday was done, they go kick back in their own bar,” he said laughingly. “On city property!”
The proximity to downtown made Stapleton International Airport extremely popular, but as Denver expanded, the city was forced to relocate the airport to the east. Some wish that the airport was still the same distance from downtown, but Looker said that relocation was inevitable.
“It never was a problem for me. I knew that the airport needed to move. I was living, for 22 years, at 16th and Adams so every 30 seconds I would see a plane landing on 26th Avenue,” Looker said. “So, the airport needed to be built.”
Today, the original airport buildings are gone, except for the control tower which has become a relic in Central Park. Looker said he enjoys being able to see the control tower still and it allows him to reminisce.
“Well, you know, when I worked in Stapleton, you’d walk past the FAA front door when you went into work. And that was the control tower. The FAA building was the base of the control tower,” he said. “I just loved it. It’s two blocks away from me to walk to, I like the lights that they use to light it up now.”
FlyteCO Brewing, a local aviation themed brewery, recently acquired the property that stands on the old airport grounds right next to the control tower and they plan to open their second location there this summer.
FlyteCO Brewing was started in 2008 when owners Eric Serani and Jason Slingsby were engineering students at the University of Colorado Boulder. They were both drawn to the science and process that it takes to make beer. In 2013, Morgan O’Sullivan moved in next door to Jason. Their shared passion for beer led to Morgan joining the two Buffs and helping to establish FlyteCO.
In the beginning, before FlyteCO was established, the trio hosted backyard barbeques to showcase their brewing expertise. Their barbeques quickly escalated into hundred person tastings.
“I said, hey, this beer is pretty good. We should invite some people over and try it. And so, we did. We would just have, you know, get togethers we would have everybody over in the backyard. We would make all the beer. We’d make all the food, didn’t charge anybody anything. Just wanted to, you know, throw the most epic summer barbecue we possibly could,” said O’Sullivan. “And it started to grow. I mean, it went from 20 people to I think at its peak, we had about 200 people in the backyard.”
After having a ton of backyard success, the trio created a business plan in 2014. After roughly five years of planning and fundraising, FlyteCO Brewing was created. Their first location, which is located at 4499 W 38th Avenue in Denver, is solely a brewery. After acquiring space at the old Stapleton Airport, they will be expanding to serve food too.
“I thought this was such a unique opportunity, because we are an aviation brand and to have the opportunity to take over a building that already suited our existing brand, it was just an interesting take” said O’Sullivan.
Central Park is now estimated to be home to over 30,000 residents. The residents are responsible for creating a tight-knit and lively feeling to the community. Farmers markets, concerts, and a variety of small businesses populate the landscape.FlyteCO will be joining other local businesses and hopes to capture the attention of both Central Park and Denver residents.
“We’ll have a full arcade inside, darts, giant Scrabble, all of those fun things. It really allows us to express the experiential side of our brand that has always been there, but just taking it to a new level.”
Looker said that Central Park is full of references that remind him of the old Stapleton Airport. He said that FlyteCO’s theme and location at the old control tower should become a hot spot for north Denver residents.
I am a television producer because I like to work in the background. That said, one of the realities of publishing a community journalism site is you have to let people know what you’re doing. With the encouragement of Stephanie Snyder at LION Publishers, I am posting our press release to let you know how Bucket List Community Cafe is putting University of Colorado journalism and marketing students through a real world bootcamp. Reach out if you’d like to know more and if you want to help shape how community journalism can look please take our survey. Thanks for your support and contributions. With gratitude, Vicky Collins
Contact: VICKY COLLINS NAME BUCKET LIST COMMUNITY CAFÉ
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
COMMUNITY JOURNALISM SITE BECOMES A BOOT CAMP FOR
ASPIRING YOUNG JOURNALISTS
Bucket List Community Café provides mentorship to journalists as they wrap up
their college journey
DENVER, April 12, 2022 – In starting up her own community journalism site, Bucket List Community Café, veteran television producer Vicky Collins never envisioned that her site would double as an incubator for the next generation of ground-breaking journalists.
Bucket List Community Café is an online community journalism site that Collins launched when she moved from the Denver suburbs to the Sunnyside and then Berkeley neighborhoods. It gets its name because a “bucket list” item for Collins was to build community by having a coffee shop/book store/art gallery. Rather than a brick and mortar location, in 2019 she built the space online and it now covers the neighborhoods, small businesses, non-profits and people of North Denver.
“We build community by telling our stories,” says Collins. “We stay close to the grassroots and the neighborhoods. “We call it journalism by walking around.”
As the site grew in popularity and reach, help was needed but, on a start-up budget, Bucket List Community Café turned, as many small businesses do, to interns to help shoulder the load.
Working with students from the University of Colorado’s College of Media, Communication and Information and CU Denver, Collins was not only able to find journalistic talent but to also realize that the real-life experience is priceless for these up-and-coming reporters and strategic communicators.
Recent stories covered by the students include how Afghan refugees are adjusting to day to day life in the Denver area, a small Ukranian church concerned for those fighting and fleeing in their homeland, and the return of the high school musical at Denver School of the Arts (after COVID derailed the program for two years).
The students go out in the field, write and are also responsible for photography and videos.
Marin Fallon, is a senior who will graduate in May. She has worked on the engagement side and believes she is now well prepared for what comes next.
“The six months that I’ve spent working with Bucket List Community Cafe have been extremely beneficial to both my current and future work. I’ve learned a lot throughout my college career and Bucket List allows me to put my skills to the test. I am grateful for the opportunity to be working so closely with such a talented team of students, along with our mentor.”
Noah Anderson, a junior on the journalism side, has been writing for Bucket List Community Café since the fall of 2021. This summer he signed up again for a 3-credit internship. He’s noticed his writing transform.
“While working with Vicky at Bucket List Community Cafe, I have gained valuable, real world reporting skills. I have connected with sources and have developed strategies for writing efficiently to meet deadlines. Meeting impactful individuals in the community has been inspiring and has allowed me to write meaningful stories.”
“Mentoring is an important part of our values. I was mentored as a young journalist and I think it’s very important to help bring up the next generation,” says Collins. “Community journalism is part of the news ecosystem and we’re putting our soon to be graduates through a journalism boot camp.”
ABOUT BUCKET LIST COMMUNITY CAFÉ:
Bucket List Community Café is an entrepreneurial venture and is looking for partnerships to scale, collaborations, and sponsorships. In 2021 it was one of 26 Colorado community news organizations that was selected to receive a $5000 matching grant from the Colorado Media Project. To learn more about Bucket List Community Café visit our website or contact Vicky Collins at email@example.com.