Mail Bag: A letter to Citizens Project

Dear Citizens Project;

I have been remiss in not writing to you sooner to thank you for the outstanding contributions you make to all citizens of our community.  When one reaches their “golden years” and has worked to make a difference their entire lives, it becomes even more of a passion because of the passing of time.  

FamilyI appreciate what you do from both a personal and professional standpoint.  I have been employed as a speech-language pathologist for thirty-eight years, thirty-five of those in Colorado Springs School District 11.  Over the course of my career I have had the opportunity to work with all populations and age groups from infants through the geriatric population.  I have been an advocate for what is right for those who have challenges, for their families, caregivers, and those that support them in a therapeutic setting. While we have come far in what we recognize as “fair” by the Americans with a Disability Act, at times I see agencies doing things to avoid a lawsuit versus making a difference for another person.  What you do as an agency is treat others as you would hope you, your family member, and friends would be treated.  My mother used to say “The gift without the giver is bare.”  Working in the schools has been an eye-opener and working in schools where the children have significant economic and cultural challenges has made me even more aware of the disparity between those that have and those that wish they could have just a little.  The students in lower income schools should certainly have the same aesthetic, up-to-date, and up-to-code environment in which to learn as others who come from middle to upper class communities.  Quite often people that I meet socially will say that “it takes a special person” to do what I do.  My answer is always “no” because working with the population I do is where my heart has always been.  My personal belief is that we will only achieve peace “one person at a time” and therefore we must not let an opportunity pass when we can help another.

I look at the state of our city with many different viewpoints.  While my work has certainly influenced me, so have many other factors.  I am Jewish and I can’t begin to tell you how often I have heard anti-Semitic comments while living in Colorado Springs.  At times I think we have come so far as a city, a state, and a nation and then I hear not only comments about those of the Jewish faith, but about other minority groups.  What will we have to pass on to our children?  Who will they see as everyday heroes?  Thank you for bringing these issues to the forefront for our leaders.  I was able to take your seminar last year about religion in the public schools and although I knew the spirit of the law I did not know the specifics that must be followed. The Citizens’ Religious Freedom Institute deepened my understanding of these issues.

You may wonder how I became passionate about the work that you do.  While the story may be long, its history is remarkable. I grew up in a city project in New York.  My mother and father were liberals beyond their time.  They taught their daughters that people were like gifts, the wrapping didn’t matter it was what was inside that counted.  My father lost his sight in one eye at nine and the other at twenty-two and met my mother shortly after that.  My father went to Columbia University, graduating magna cum laude’ with his undergraduate and graduate degrees.  He worked in New York and then we moved to Denver where he took the bus each day to work in the downtown area.  He remains the only person who was blind to become an adjudicator for Social Security Disability. He went on to become a supervisor and training officer for that agency.  He traveled to other agencies around the country to speak about the accommodations and modifications made for him to be successful in his job.  My mother was a wonderful role model for equality.  Not only was she the kindest of people, but at twenty-two took a leap of faith to marry someone who was blind, who would never see her, their children, or the changing world. My sister and I were never allowed to describe somebody by the way they looked.  I never realized that bigotry and anti-Semitism existed until we moved to Denver when I was young.  As a six year old I didn’t understand it and I remember looking at my hand and wondering why some people didn’t like others because their hands were a different color.  Ahh…the innocence of youth.

multi-ethnic-handsI have also worn another hat. Teaching children about acts of kindness (not just random ones) were what I taught my now thirty year old son when he was young.  He remembered those and has continued to follow that path.  He remembers how many kind things people did for us when his father and I divorced when he was a seven year old.  I have never remarried and so I’ve walked the talk of a single woman as well.  How fortunate that my parents made sure my sister and I valued education and a strong work ethic or where would I be now?  My son followed that path and received his MBA from DU at twenty-one, is a project estimator for a large commercial construction company in Denver, is married to his college sweetheart, and has the most wonderful ten month old daughter, Carlynn who is a delight!

Turning 60 two years ago made me realize that soon there would be other types of issues to contend with that have to do with our seniors. It’s been an interesting journey and one that has given me a perspective few have had.  I am indebted to you and all of those that volunteer who are vested in making sure that each citizen is respected, that every citizen counts, and that there is an agency that takes these issues to heart. Thank you for being the voice for all of us.

With sincere regards,

Jeanne Williams

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