By Jill Carstens
“Who is that pretty blond woman sitting at the small kitchen desk, telephone positioned under her chin and phonebook cradled in her arms like a newborn? That was my mother in the early 1970s exercising her call to civic duty. Tethered to the kitchen phone for hours, she wore out her dialing finger as she informed citizens about various community reforms and ballot issues.
“My brother and I spent reluctant summer days walking door to door with her, clipboard in hand, seeking to register people to vote. The smell of coffee and crayons forever reminds me of the Sunday school room in a church where once a month Mom met with the Lakewood Chapter of the League of Women Voters.
“Later in life I would unearth a yellowed brochure from 1972, put together by the organization Plan JeffCo. My mother was an active member. Their efforts saved great swaths of our foothills from development by creating JeffCo Open Space.”
The preceding paragraphs are excerpted from my recently published memoir, in which I attempted to honor many icons of my past, including my mother and her selfless endeavors. From her, I learned some of the avenues where we as citizens can affect positive changes in our local communities.
These days I am constantly frustrated by the apathetic complaints I hear from peers when they say things like, “Well, there’s nothing you can do about it.” In my view, there is always something we can do about it. And change will certainly never come if we do nothing; better yet, let’s include our children in ways that we can be proactive in our communities.
Humans are social beings that have evolved to exist within communities where we can thrive. The quality of a community is often dictated by the degree of engagement and happiness individuals can draw from interacting.
A recent example of a local, grassroots community effort comes from longtime North Denver resident and business owner Niya Gingerich. She ran the popular Local 46 bar at Tennyson and West 46th Avenue for about a decade. Being a renter of that building, Local 46 didn’t survive the purchase and subsequent demolition of the historic, prohibition-era structure. But Gingerich empowered her future by purchasing another old and beloved business, Edgewater Inn. In purchasing this 75-year-old icon of a business she has also preserved some of the historic character of our rapidly changing North Denver area.
During her tenure at Local 46, Gingerich was active in her community, hosting school fundraisers and sponsoring events for local causes. Now at Edgewater Inn, she felt a call to serve after witnessing so many migrant families camped out in North Denver recently. She ran a fundraiser at the Inn, where each pizza sold was matched as a pizza donation to feed migrant families. At last check, they had made and distributed 700 pizzas.
A mom herself, Gingerich felt pangs of empathy in observing these families and wanting their children to be safe and supported. She called on the North Denver group the Highland Mommies to meet up at the corner of West 27th Avenue and Alcott Street to help pass out food and donated clothing. She has been showing up there every Wednesday.
I share the stories of these two women because they used their own time and resources to affect change. It’s really not that hard.
When we feel helpless about a difficult situation, thinking of accessible ways we as individuals can help can be tremendously effective. The positivity of these actions can spread widely, provoking others to do the same. The effects are a win-win. Participating in local, proactive efforts supports the community as a whole and, in turn, makes us better, happier and more socially aware individuals.
According to a HelpGuide.org February 2023 article, when we seek to take action to solve problems in our neighborhoods, we can make friends, discover new passions and learn new skills, resulting in feeling more connected to where we live.
We all have ways we can contribute, whether it be formally through organizations like the League of Women Voters, or simply through your own business, friends and neighborhood resources.
Here’s a suggestion, sit down with your kids and pick a cause together. It could be as simple as organizing a neighborhood trash pick-up or collecting canned goods. Older kids could participate in your Registered Neighborhood Organization (RNO) to help make bigger decisions about municipal actions in the area.
Maybe a goal for this New Year can be less complaining about “the way things are” and more doing something about it.
Jill Carstens taught for 30 years and now enjoys writing for this publication. You can view more of her writing on Instagram @lettersfrommissjill. Email her with comments or story ideas at email@example.com.