-There's nothing like a good find.
Unearthing a forgotten or buried treasure (whether it was hidden months or decades ago) is a thrill. I know you know what I mean. So do antique shops, who take pride in their people traveling miles for a coveted candy dish. Swap meets, flea markets, and garage sales bank on the good finds, too. They count on the theory that "One man's trash is another man's treasure." My own Aunt Fran makes her living by it, mining nuggets of genealogy for curious folks who are eager to know whether their ancestors are heroes, villains, or just plain folk like us. (You're reading one of her edits today, in fact. She's just that good.)
I'm taking a page out of Aunt Fran's book this week and going on my own historical treasure hunt. It's my adventure and privilege to unearth the good finds around Conifer, Colorado. It's a little piece of heaven nestled in the foothills about 15 miles southwest of Denver going West up Highway 285. Conifer has a long history of treasure seekers, being first used as plentiful hunting grounds by the Arapaho, Ute and Cheyenne tribes, and then sheltering miners, trappers, and a plethora of pioneering souls who happened upon the place.
There is so much rich history, in fact, that several Historical Societies were formed in the area to keep it alive and relevant. You can check out the Conifer Historical Society on the "education" and "about" pages found here. I did, and what gems they are! In fact, Conifer is presenting "The North Fork Historic District" on Sunday, July 16th at 1 PM. It's all about the buildings in and around Buffalo Creek. Local historians Gail King and Shelly Means will present. They'll be at the Little White Schoolhouse on 26951 Barkley Road in Conifer and would love to see you!
I'd say the Conifer, Park County, and Shawnee Historical Societies have things in fine order, and have been a fun source to dive into, but I didn't want to stop there. Because if there's one thing I've learned from my dear Aunt Fran, it's "History's being made every day. Be a part of it." Sometimes in looking back, we miss the extraordinary people, events, and places in front of us today.
Now I'm not saying don't look back. Please understand me on this. I love learning about amazing events and people that made the history museum spotlight. In fact, it's crucial to look at our past, because it's how we learn and grow for the future. Those inspiring, innovative, and sometimes sad events are our heritage and should be honored.
This week, however, my treasure hunt took more of a modern spin. (Think early Kodak Polaroid instead of Black and White photographs.) The locals in Conifer coughed up some pretty inspiring tales about people and organizations of just the last few years that others will someday look back on and say, "I wish I would have been there in the beginning!" I was lucky enough to sample some of the treasure as I hiked around Conifer, savoring the views, the community, and its wealth of service and dedication.
What I unearthed during my time in Conifer was a care-driven community vibe. I know, I know. Every city and town probably has service centers and programs. And if you are reading this far, you've probably been a part of them yourself at some point or another. What makes this city unique is the sheer solidarity that permeates the community. In fact, service seemed to be the rich feeder vein that runs from restaurant to adventure park to service industry. And as I followed the vein, it led to the motherlode: Assistance. Education. Advocacy. These hills are chock full of it.
This is more than an attitude, people. It's a lifestyle that glitters throughout the area. It utilizes causes of "can-do" for those who can't currently do for themselves. And we've all been there. At some point in life, we've needed to reach outside our own lives for help when our ideas - or our resources - have run dry.
Now imagine what could be accomplished if there were a community who took it all in stride and as a community, just pulled up their bootstraps and went to work, supporting and loving you in your time of need? Imagine a community where you were raised, not to stay out of people's business, but to dive right into the hard stuff and get it solved!
I saw this a lot in my own hometown, but there were some holes, simply because people were busy and we couldn't possibly address all the need out there. That was the loophole. Not so in Conifer, from what I've seen. Their history of service seems to be a vision ingrained deeply in each person I met. From the young attendant who passionately ran Destination Disc, the Disc Golf course at Beaver Ranch on the hills surrounding the town, to Tony, the owner/busboy/cook who hustled happily at Buccelli's JJ Madwell's Italian Restaurant and Bar on Highway 285, it was an unassuming attitude of assistance that seeped into my day.
Yes, these two examples are in the service industry. And maybe they "had" to be nice because there was a tip involved. But I sense that it was much more than that. It felt like a simple pride that came from taking part in the whole community vision. That same feeling of deep commitment happened when I learned about Angela Bassano, a member of the Rotary Club of Conifer and one of the first home-based business owners to be officially licensed in Conifer, back in the 70's. (How's that for a polaroid timeframe?) It's joked that she's the "unofficial Mayor of Conifer" because she knows everyone.
I can believe it.
I got the same vibe when I veered away from my pocketbook and dug into the education industry. One of my favorite chats came from Denise Patrick, a realtor at Deer Creek Realty (scroll on down the page). She is a strong supporter of Peaceworks, Inc., formed in 1986, and is a former Chairman of their Executive Board and an active advocate in the women's shelter/domestic violence non-profit organization serving the entire Foothills. Her involvement helped create a thrift store, Platte Canyon Community Partnership (PCCP for short) that brings in revenue for various causes around the town, as well as scholarships for the local school. She's also involved in the Pleasant Park Grange historic school house, as she used to be a teacher herself. As if that didn't keep her hopping, she works with the Historical Societies AND has been the president of the Conifer area Chamber of Commerce!
When I asked her what story comes to mind of other service-minded persons she may know in the area, she spoke immediately of Barbara Behl, her boss. She relates, "Oh Barbara, for sure is making a difference here. There was a crisis in 2006. A hostage situation at the high school propelled her into forming the 'I Love U Guys' Foundation', which is now a program of safety protocol taught all around the world. Emily Keyes, one of the high school students, was killed in the hostage crisis, and it was the last thing she texted her dad. That is how the foundation was named. Barbara was instrumental in creating that foundation and is still very deeply involved in that. Emily's father, John-Michael Keyes, is a dynamic speaker who presents to school districts all over the world on Standard Response Protocol (SRP) and Standard Reunification Method (SRM), which is how schools should proceed in a hostage situation and how to do lockdown drills." She went on to direct me to plenty of examples of the care-driven members of Conifer.
Her last quote sums up her philosophy perfectly: "Although we're spread out, we connect with each other over our various causes and interests. It pays back, always. It's THAT kind of community."
To round out my trip, I ran across the folks from Mountain Resource Center, an organization whose mission statement is "We strengthen our community with services that empower people." I was blown away at the services they provide daily to simply lift people up so the community is stronger.
Programs like Parents as Teachers and Veterans Support Services. I met Deborah, a representative of the MRC, at Bailey Day not too long ago. She and her daughter were handing out flyers, goodies, and information happily. Her dedication to the community was evident. While chatting with them, Deborah said, "We just go by the vision: Neighbors helping neighbors achieve their potential." And that was that. She was making history every day as she dedicated her time to the programs of the MRC. The more I looked into the program, the more I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the volunteers.
These people and organizations are making history as we speak, changing the course of hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of people's lives. You don't have to wait for decades to pass in order to read about them, let alone partake of the riches that come from a service-minded community.
Check out their links. Visit in person and experience those causes that seep into your soul and speak to your heart. Those are the treasures you'll fall in love with. Get involved because the community-driven attitude doesn't need to stop at the boundary lines of Conifer. These folk are welcoming you in to push those lines and include you in their good find family. It's THAT kind of community.
Now that's a treasure worth traveling for.