My mom adventures in Fort Collins


I just love my pool

In my childhood, nearly every pool that I swam in was indoors. I took lessons indoors, and  any “pool parties” took place at the local high school. The occasional trip to a hotel was made that much more fun by the exciting prospect of swimming in an indoor pool. Outdoor swimming? You did that kind of stuff in a lake, not a swimming pool. The Wisconsin of my youth was not the place for outdoor pools.

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This girl can get awfully brave at the pool!

Now, I’m living in Colorado, where summer is the season of nearly interminable sun. Neighborhood pools are commonplace and outdoor swimming is, for many, expected of a summer sun-bum.

I love it. We basically live at The Collindale Pool during the summer.

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In her “Puddle Jumper”–a lovely resource for the chronically sinking child

Don’t get me wrong. I hate living in my swimming suit, and I can’t stand schlepping our wagon full of supplies and snacks back and forth through the neighborhood. My laundry room is full of various stages of wet bathing suits and towels. However, this is a small price to pay for the exciting squeals when I say, “Whaddya think? You guys wanna go to the pool this afternoon?”

We didn’t join our neighborhood pool for the first two summers that we lived in our neighborhood. I had heard great things, but I was nervous that I couldn’t handle both kids by myself (that whole kids-can-drown-thing). Once we joined the pool (the kids were 5 & 2), it was great. It provided this welcome refuge from the heat, and a source of family fun-time. Suddenly, things started clicking for my older daughter and she was able to play, have fun and finally synthesize the many lessons that she had taken. My younger daughter is the lounger of the bunch, and it’s doubtful that she’ll ever request to leave her floaties at home. For every potty-training mom that thinks her daughter will attend the prom in her pull-ups, I’ve discovered the swimming equivalent: I fear my daughter will go on Spring Break as a college freshman wearing her beloved Puddle Jumper.

Our pool is private; you need to purchase a membership to swim. The membership is not cheap, but for us it is a convenient summertime activity and well worth the investment. Like anything of this nature–the more you go, the more cost-efficient the membership seems to be. I’m at an advantage, since the pool is walking distance from our home. In fact, the HOA we belong to owns the pool, though they do not financially support it (membership fees make up the bulk of the budget). This year, our HOA meeting was later than usual and in the notice letter were the words, “Show up at this meeting or we’ll fill this pool with pea gravel” or something like that. (Okay, maybe I didn’t get the wording quite right, but that’s what it might as well have said.) Turns out, my beloved pool had fallen on hard times and needed a bunch of concerned community members to bring it back to the thriving, vibrant place that it once was. There is a “Recreation Board” that had been working for years to run the pool, process memberships, pay the bills and market the pool to the public. These folks worked tirelessly (for free) and ran up against many challenges.

Ahem… Did someone say you needed a Volunteer for the Collindale Recreation Board? Although I never say to myself, “Gee, I would like to work for free any ol’ day of the week!” it does seem like I do. This is in my blood. And for a pool that I love and my kids love? I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE.

When they're not in the water, they're lounging poolside

When they’re not in the water, they’re lounging poolside

While Katniss Everdeen’s words might ring in your head, it is actually the words of Margaret Mead that this whole situation brings to mind:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

I began my journey as a volunteer with the Collindale Recreation Board about two months ago. There is much to do, and I’m happy to learn. I’m a bit out of my depth, especially when it comes to marketing skills. I can’t market “Pick Up Your Room” to two children, so I could not fathom trying to convince people to join our neighborhood pool. This has been an adventure for me–along with several other amazing volunteers. I have met some truly lovely neighbors through this process, further proof that people of substance walk with us everyday. Together, we have beefed up our website, hand-delivered membership packets to all the residents of the Collindale neighborhood, started to use social media, hosted an “Open House” event, and reached out to our own networks to get the word out. Another volunteer has worked on handyman jobs like plumbing and painting and he even streamlined our parking situation (painting parking-lines in his free time!). We have a laundry list of things we’d love to do for the pool–plant flowers, purchase new chairs, save for a “rainy day” (or a supplemental boiler, as the case may be), but in order to do this, we need our financial situation to improve.

As one of the long-term board members put it, “I’ve got one goal: Keep the doors open.” For me, I can fall back on my old non-profit experience where I’d happily ask anyone anywhere to volunteer or give us money. (What’s the worst that could happen? They tell you “no,” and you move on.) I’m a chatty gal, and I’ll talk to anyone about this pool. I feel very confident that if the Collindale Pool is a good fit for folks, they will purchase a membership. I’m taking an If You Build It, They Will Come-Approach; however, I could certainly benefit from some expertise.

Do you have a story about a community entity that was brought back from the brink? Do you have marketing suggestions that might help? Words of encouragement?

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One night in Santa Fe

I always envisioned raising my children with a sense of a bigger world. I want them to be philanthropic and service-oriented, volunteering their time and energy for those less fortunate. I want to instill in them a sense of social justice and what the Jesuits call, a “Preferential Option for the Poor.” I see in my daughters an open-minded, welcoming attitude that I want to nourish and encourage. I don’t want them to grow cynical the way that many of us do.

This idea of cultivating kind, equality-minded children is nothing new, but I think it is one of those parenting ideas that falls into the category of “Be Careful What You Wish For.”

Last week, we visited Santa Fe on our way back from a family vacation in Arizona. We checked into a hotel downtown around dinner-time, and set off to find pizza. Within four steps of leaving the hotel’s property, we were approached by a woman. The woman could have been 40-years-old or she could have been 65-years-old. She was petite in stature and had the rough skin of a person who has spent a great deal of time in the sun. Her blond hair was stringy and graying, and the gaze behind her filthy glasses appeared tired yet persistent.

“Excuse me, sir.” My husband and I shared a knowing glance.

In a rehearsed cadence she said, “I am sorry to bother you, but I am homeless. I need $20 to stay at the Motel 6. Could you spare some change?” She crossed the street with us in order to deliver her message.

Down the block, we heard a man holler back, “I’ve got it!” The woman didn’t appear to notice this, and we simply said that we don’t carry cash. She then proceeded to the next man traveling down the sidewalk and we overheard a similar exchange. Meanwhile, the man on the end of the block kept yelling back to her, “I’ve got it! I already got it!” The woman crossed the street and traveled in the same general direction as us. At the corner, the man who had been yelling at her all this time appears agitated, and I noticed he seemed years younger than the woman. He spoke loudly in her face, “I kept trying to tell you that we already got it!”

We tried to maintain our original trajectory: head to the pizza joint on the third floor of a building a mere block away from our hotel. However, my kind, sensitive six-year-old was absolutely overrun with emotion. She said repeatedly, with a lilt in her voice, “That woman didn’t have any home?” It was beyond her comprehension that someone could be wholly without a home. She was visibly distressed by this whole exchange.

Now, this incident could have happened here in Fort Collins, and it could have happened in any one of the communities where we have traveled. In fact, I’m certain that Scout has seen homeless folks before, she just may not have been approached directly by a person asking for money.

After we arrived at the pizza place, I needed to determine what, if anything, I could do to help. One thing was certain, she felt sad and helpless. Someone in this world didn’t have a place to sleep tonight and she felt awful. I said, “Honey, do you want to go back out there and find that woman and give her some money?” She looked confused, “BUT I DON’T HAVE ANY MONEY, MOM!” And I said, “Well, I do, and Dad does, and maybe we could figure something out. How much money would you like to give this woman?” She thought for a second and said, “I think three dollars would be good.” I dug to the bottom of my purse, the exact thing I purposely avoided on the street when the lady asked for money, and I found my change purse with $11 cash in it. I handed Scout my single, and I suggested that her dad might have more. We found an additional two dollars and set out to find the homeless woman.

All this time, I did not acknowledge that homelessness is a complicated issue. I never said, “I don’t think we’ll be able to find her.” I didn’t try to diminish her quest by pointing out that I overheard her working with another guy and I suspected that they came up with whatever money they needed. I never apologized for the fact that I didn’t give the woman money when she originally asked, and Cory & I spoke after the fact that Scout must have realized that her parents had lied. In this earnest attempt to find this woman and allow my little girl a chance to contribute to a safe place for her to sleep, all I hoped for was to return to the restaurant $3 lighter. This was not about setting us free from the drama of a bereft six-year-old, this was just about making the attempt. Trying.

When we left the restaurant, we looked up and down the streets in every direction. We walked up to the corner, and, unfortunately, we never did find the original woman that set this entire story in motion. Across the street, I noticed a few folks sitting on benches in a small plaza. I had to give this a shot, and I figured if we could connect with someone–anyone–who needed the money, maybe my dear girl would be satisfied. I offered to approach this group of people and ask if they might know the woman. Scout pointed out that these people were strangers and she felt shy approaching them. I asked, “What do you want to do?” She looked downhearted and disappointed, and finally said, “Let’s go back to the restaurant.” I wasn’t thrilled with that option, and I felt that we could certainly find some reason to give somebody that $3.

Just then, I observed a man take the lid off a public trashcan and dig through the garbage. I assumed he was looking for food. I quietly said to Scout, “Did you see that? I just saw that man dig through the garbage. I think he is hungry. Why don’t we give him our money?” She nodded. “I guess that would be okay.”

I said, “Excuse me, sir.” He turned around, and I said, “Are you hungry?” He was scraped up,  and his skin was dry and red on his cheeks and nose. He said, “Almost always.”

To this man, who introduced himself as Chad, I explained our situation. “My daughter saw a woman on the street asking for money for a place to stay, and we tried to find her but we couldn’t. We saw you and thought you might like some money to buy some food.” He seemed genuinely touched, and he took the money from Scout and he took her hands in his hands, the same hands that were just digging through the garbage. Chad, this man that we met by happenstance after he quietly dug through a refuse bin, thanked Scout and said that he would never forget this.

We said goodbye to Chad and we crossed the street back to the restaurant. Scout was still fairly disoriented by what had just happened, and in her typical private manner, she did not want to discuss the events at the dinner table. At dinner that night, Cory suggested finding a volunteer opportunity for her.

Walking around downtown Santa Fe

Walking around downtown Santa Fe

Even the next day, she was upset when I brought it up. She caught me relaying part of this story over the phone to her grandmother, and she left the room because it was so concerning for her to hear all of these details again.

Since that night in Santa Fe, it still breaks her heart to think of the woman who didn’t have a home. We continue to talk about homelessness and hunger. I don’t quite know that I have the right words or suggestions. I have tried to explain to her that there are organizations that try to help people like the woman we saw on the street that evening. I told her that our family supports different organizations, though maybe we could do more. I said to her that even though she is young, there are ways to make a difference in the lives of others.

It’s a difficult chapter we’ve just begun. I want to encourage her spirit of caring for others, but allow her to see that homelessness is complicated and homeless people are a diverse bunch. There is no one way to expose your child to these worldly issues, but this feels like a very organic starting point.

What about you, reader? Can you relate to this story about my daughter’s first encounter with a homeless person? Do you have a story of your own? I’d love to thoughts on how to translate a child’s concerns into a positive contribution to the community.