When I was a kid, my mom always told me a story about a person walking along a beach full of starfish stranded by the tide. The person bent down, picked up a starfish and threw it back in the ocean, effectively saving its life, and continued repeating this action over and over. Another person came along and said “there are starfish all over this beach, why are you wasting your time? You’ll never make a difference.” The first person bent down, picked up and threw back another starfish and said, “I just made a difference to that one.”

My mom was a teacher, so you can imagine why this story meant so much to her as she worked student by student teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in rural Colorado. But she might be surprised to hear how much this story formed my own path in life.

The work we do at Denver Peak Academy is essentially giving a bunch of people the tools and inspiration to throw back starfish – or if you are not a person who enjoys metaphors – make a difference one small change at a time.

Before I came through Denver Peak Academy in 2014, I was already well into my life as a starfish thrower. When I worked at Elitch Gardens, I took on the amusement park’s community outreach efforts, organizing staff participation in volunteer opportunities like a build day with Habitat for Humanity or decorating the Salvation Army Family Shelter for Christmas. Then, as the first-ever Community Relations Manager for the Town of Frederick, I worked to connect the community to government services and to each other with programs like the Community BBQ Tour.

But it wasn’t until I came through Black Belt that I realized change was possible on a much larger scale, and that you could change current crappy systems instead of creating new things all the time. That’s when my starfish-throwing reached new levels. I started working on processes and systems that had been messy for years that no one had ever dared to change. Step by step, starfish by starfish, we chipped away at inefficiencies and inequities in our quickly growing community. I also took on a new goal of getting more women into leadership to ultimately change local government and started a conference that we hope to expand nationally in 2022. Impossible is just an opinion when you have a full toolbox to identify and eliminate problems.

I am honored and amazed that I now get to be the next director of a program that changed my life. I stand on the shoulders of true giants who came before me: Brian Elms and Melissa Wiley. They were the first ones through the wall and got very bloody to build a nationally-recognized program. You both have my word that I will not let you down, and we will keep going through new walls.

I have a three-year-old, so we’re reading a lot of children’s books right now and one of my absolute favorites is Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beatty. It’s the story of a girl whose grandfather gets hurt on a pile of trash, so Sofia makes it her mission to turn that pile of trash into a community park for her town, Blue River Creek. She engages city hall, her neighbors and her second-grade class to make it happen. On the last page of the book is my favorite line, “They all built that park. That’s how it got done – with the hard work OF, BY and FOR everyone. But it began with the dream of one person – just one – who laced up her shoes and then led the way to help Blue River Creek get a new place to play.”

Since I’m a person who LOVES metaphors, I’ll end with this. If you’re ready to lace up your shoes, or throw a starfish, Peak Academy can’t wait to meet you.

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