An affair to remember

Barbara Lawlor, Nederland.  In September 1997, at a Nederland Board of Trustees meeting, all eyes turned to Henry Wheeler. Wheeler was the seventh voter on the board, the tie-breaker, the person who could make or break a community’s dream come true.


Wheeler is a long-time resident, his wife was a teacher at the Nederland Middle Senior High School, his children grew up in the school system here. It was a time of unrest in Nederland. The liquor store windows were broken every week.


Lawsuits rained on the town, recall elections occurred every six month and not much was getting done.

A center for local teenagers was the last thing on most people’s minds. After setting up shop in the recently purchased Nederland Community Center, the teens demonstrated the need for a place of their own. Located next to the room occupied by the Nederland Area Seniors, everyone agreed that they needed space for their age appropriate activities that weren’t always relished by each group.


Kim Gershon, the director of TEENs Inc., looked at the situation and decided the solution to the space puzzle was that Ned teens should have their own building, should have a voice in their community and become a part of the growth of the town. Her fervor on the idea drew people in, and soon Garry Sanfacon, a local supporter of community change and growth, and Ron Slinger, an expert at fundraising, always finding a way to make something happen, called for volunteers to join the board they and began to make a plan.

It was the impossible dream, people said. The pie in the sky. No way.


Henry Wheeler cast the vote that made the center a reality. The people who packed the town hall jumped to their feet and cheered, clapped, high fives, hugged and cried. It was a moment everyone in the room would always cherish. It was a time that the Nederland community had agreed on something. Now all they had to do was build it.


It was a cold, blustery day when the TEENS Inc. Board of Directors, wearing construction helmets, jammed their gold shovels into the frozen ground at the TEENS Inc. site on Barker Reservoir shores. The teen center ducks were in a row and it was full steam ahead.


In the past 20 years, TEENS Inc. has thrived and succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. Last Saturday, September 23, 2017, TEENS Inc. threw a celebration party, a humdinger of an event, to note two decades of endeavor. It was an amazing dinner, dance and auction with all the money going back into the center.


People from the past and present came from all over the country to participate in the triumphant tribute to those people who got the job done and to the teens who went through the process of finding success with the assistance of TEENS Inc. and Chinook West.


A tent mimicking the white coned spires of DIA glowed against the dark sky on the land next to the teen center. Entering the interior was knowing you weren’t in Kansas anymore. Each table had a centerpiece of small logs standing at various lengths with candles glowing, their light reflecting off the glasses and silverware. Men in suits and ties; women in party dresses. The atmosphere was shimmering, special.


TEENS Inc. puts on a fundraiser every year, but the 20th Annual Celebration topped them all.


The first speaker of the evening was JR Lapierre, managing director of the Lincoln Hills Cares which partners with TEENS Inc. and their youth programs.


This partnership is thriving,” he said. “People in Washington could benefit by seeing what you people here are doing. Last summer, we had 62 kids in the youth program.”


Garry Sanfacon, original member of the board, said he was blown away by the quality of the effort on TEENS Inc.’s part. “We did it. We can do it. We are the only town in Boulder County who has done it.”


He remembered that the building was opened on Y2K and everyone thought it would be doomsday, but he says Kim Gershon’s crystal clear vision and her stubbornness gathered the group of people, each of them offering their own area of expertise.


“We had the right people at the right time on our board. We had the golden touch.”


The night of the vote Garry gave his presentation to the board, knowing all the work would culminate in one moment. The board went yes, no, yes, no, yes, no and then the vote went to Henry. The tie was broken and a new tone of community was set for Ned.”


The TEENS Inc. board was a force creating a momentum. Henry said it wasn’t an easy vote, wasn’t a slam dunk decision. My problem was that everybody else had expressed their opinion and I was trying to figure out what to do. We couldn’t afford the building. I wanted it to work, but was afraid. A person shouldn’t count on luck. I am glad it worked out better than the biofuel building did. Luck trumps skill on some occasions. From a money standpoint, if one kid takes the right direction because of TEENS Inc., it pays for itself.”


The guest speaker for the night was Tommy Caldwell, a rock climbing legend from Estes Park who recently wrote his autobiography, “The Push: A Climber’s Jouney of endurance, Risk and Going Beyond Limits.” The book describes his life-changing moment of pushing an Islamic militant, who had taken him hostage, off a cliff in Kyrgyzstan about 20 years ago. He wrestled with his guilt. It turned out the man didn’t die, but the emotions that Tommy felt stayed with him.


In January of 2015, Tommy completed the first ascent of the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and told the teens that he believes that long, difficult journeys with little chance for success teach him the most.


“This teen program puts Estes Park to shame,” he said. “The way I was raised taught me how I could always push forward. Am I going to raise my kids the way my dad raised me? I think I will wait to let them be the people they are. My dad understood grit. He knew kids learning to ski at Eldora understand grit.”


Stephanie Andelman, of the TEENS Inc. board, then auctioned off the amazing donation items, including cords of wood, a Bronco day and night a vacation to die for.

LeFaiver says, “Thanks to the generosity of five sponsors, 45 in kind supporters and over 210 guests that believe in TEENS, Inc, and the youth we serve, $26,000 was raised during the event. Half of this money will to the Kim Gershon Endowment Fund to help ensure our programs continue to be available to all youth no matter what their family income level is. We are also excited that $13,000 will establish the “We of Me” scholarship award, in honor of Doug Paine, which will help many young people from the Peak to Peak region access secondary education, including trade schools and community college.”

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.