How to Actually Change the World: Mayor of Golden’s 4th Annual Community Awards

If atoms are the building blocks of life, then communities are the building blocks of civilization. In college, students learn everything from calculus to quantum chemistry to the laws of physics. However, in spending four years in an environment such as the School of Mines, there are plenty more lessons to learn than just “simple” science and mathematics. Community service and civic responsibility act as two fundamental pillars to live life as a productive citizen. Golden’s mayor, Marjorie N. Sloan, recently has begun honoring select individuals who consistently work for the betterment of the quality of life in the small town outside of Denver. Now in its fourth year, the 2013 Community Event bestows a handful of prestigious awards on Golden’s local heroes.

The first recipient of the 2013 Community Award was Chuck Baroch. Dr. Baroch is a CSM alumnus, proving that graduates from this rigorous school really do go on and earn great achievements. Baroch served on the Golden City council for 13 years, with six of those years as mayor. Baroch also has 18 years of service in the Golden Civic Foundation.

Ed Dorsey, the second recipient of the community award, has been thoroughly involved in several organizations that provide a variety of services to Golden. Among them include the Downtown Development Authority, the Buffalo Bills Days committee, the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, the Leadership Golden Board, the Visitors Center Board, and the Golden Urban Renewal Authority (GURA).

Preston Driggers, next recipient of the Community Award, remains responsible for the acquisition of both North and South Table Mountains and the programs to keep them open to the public with trail restoration projects. Alongside his travail with the City of Golden to acquire natural real estate, Driggers works on the GURA board and the project on Golden Ridge Road.

CSM students may recognize the next recipient of the Community awards as Dr. Hugh King, Mine’s very own professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Dr. King is the co-founder of Namlo international, a worldwide program dedicated to providing education to countries from Nepal all the way to Nicaragua and even a little in the US. King believes that responsibility lies in community’s schools and that strong education can inspire global neighbors.

The final recipient of the 2013 Community Awards is Dan Thoemke. Thoemke serves the community as a pastor with previous history of serving the Golden Police Department as their chaplain. Upon seeing the isolated religious leaders of Golden across multiple denominations, Thoemke threw together a get-together of sorts to unify pastors which eventually lead to the formation of the “Together Church,” the coalescing of all pastors to fulfill Golden’s needs. On top of that, Thoemke continually runs the Golden Backpack program, which gives local needy children an entire backpack full of food supplies good for a whole weekend.

Following the award ceremony, Jason Roberts, a political activist who accomplishes real change instead of taking part in lengthy bureaucracy, took to the stage to give the night’s keynote speech. Mr. Roberts founded “Team Better Block” whose main purpose is to revitalize blighted city blocks and streets. Mr. Roberts originally started his career as an IT consultant and never dreamed of doing urban development. In fact, he referred to himself as a just a simple, “nerd by day and rock guy at night” for his day job in computers and his heavy involvement in music. After an eye-opening trip across the pond where Mr. Roberts witnessed the magic of European street life in how blocks and their thriving ecosystems have existed for thousands of years, the young and hopeful dreamer returned to his hometown of Dallas, Texas and had big visions on how to make it better. Constantly, Roberts cogitated about, “What is going to be our legacy?”

The area Roberts hailed from in Dallas was rife with bankrupt businesses. Upon examining the city plans, Roberts discovered that all the failed businesses sat along the route of a now defunct streetcar path. While the committee laughed foolishly at Robert’s plan on wanting to bring back the streetcar, Robert, with his background in IT, designed a professional-looking website to propel his plans forward. Overnight, the story made the local news in how Jason Roberts and other founding members of the “Oak Cliff Transportation Organization” had started movement to bring back the streetcar to the small part of Dallas. There were no other “founding members.” Despite this, local community members became ecstatic over the news about how they might get a street car, and while all the bureaucrats told Roberts that the ambitious project was not worth his time or effort. Eventually Roberts secured a federal grant for $43 million to reinstate the streetcar.

Roberts looks at extremely run down blocks and pictures how big of a social community could exist there, basically trying to transport the European pedestrian life into American car culture. Especially in Dallas, where temperatures can rise to as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit, Roberts firmly believed that if there is an atmosphere inviting enough, people will come like moths to a fire. There is a Dutch saying that, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Even though most analysts project that renovating blocks will cost millions of dollars and the planning and tests to perform alone will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Roberts took a handful of his friends and refashioned the streets in a single weekend, thus attracting businesses to come back and open up shop. Following a relatively straightforward three step process, showing up, giving the project a name, and setting a date and publishing it (in a time span of weeks and not months and years or even decades), Roberts was able to transform his community into a lively and safe neighborhood whose production outputs in revenue among other benefits are quantifiable. The secret trick was getting the actual members of the community involved. While the government can pay workers tons of taxpayer money to renovate a street, Roberts was able to rally volunteers and, with the aid of a couple hundred people living in the community, he changed what were once dangerous ghettos into a booming street filled to the brim with people and business. Ultimately, it is best to transfer the ownership to the community themselves so that the responsibility lies within them.

Now, gaining large momentum, the “Build a Better Block” program has caught on like wildfire with projects going on all over the world from Iran to Melbourne, Australia. It is not that complicated to champion change in the world; for one, it does not have to even be that physically big to garnish a truly meaningful impact. Robert’s believed that he was, “not a leader in any capacity, but with any passion, anyone can be a leader.” Something as small as the floor of a residence hall can be altered with an idea from a single person.

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