[Editor's note: our SD card for our camera fried just before we were able to upload photos for this post, so the only photos available were from my iPhone. We apologize for the lack of imagery]
Hello from Denver, Colorado!
We left Lawrence, Kansas after a goodbye to Megan and Bobby that included them gifting us a large bag of granola bars and other goodies and a couple of super long hugs. Our next destination was Lincoln, Nebraska where one of my good family friends Stefanie, her husband Gary and adorable nugget of an infant, Jaxson live. They had a nice home-made dinner waiting for us and before we crashed in their guest room, Stefanie told us about the daycare where Jackson attends a few times a week and how we could help out a bit.
RAK # 12:
Jackson's daycare, Dimensions First-Plymouth Early Education Program, is a program under the nonprofit Dimensions Educational Research Foundation. The nonprofit's mission is to inspire children, families and educators to connect more deeply with the world around them and they believe in a hands-on, experimental approach to learning. We thought that the nonprofit's concept of teaching daycare was really interesting and in depth for those teaching, which is why it was disheartening to hear that Stefanie had received a letter explaining that due to a lack of funds for the program, instructors at the daycare would not be receiving bonuses this year. She let us know that the Foundation was having a Christmas party and that she was going to get gift cards for the daycare instructors so that they could at least have something to show that their hard work is appreciated, so we contributed $25.00 to go towards a gift card.
The next morning we woke up, said goodbye to Stefanie and thanked her for her hospitality and then headed over to Target to pick up a few more items to complete our next RAK.
RAK # 13:
You see, that day was Veterans Day, which hits close to home for both of us. Dan's brother, Tim, is a former Marine and veteran who served in Iraq. I have a few family members who are veterans and also a handful of friends who are currently enlisted. Not only that, but we both think that anyone who commits themselves to serving others and put their lives on the line to do so deserve respect and acknowledgement. So, we plotted to do something nice for veterans to show in a small way that their service is appreciated.
After a trip to Target we were loaded up with magazines (Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, GQ, etc.) and 30 thank you cards. We also stopped there for breakfast at Starbucks because we had a $15 giftcard. After our transaction we had $3 left on the card so I passed it to the woman in line behind us to use towards her meal. (RAK #14)
Post-Target, I wrote notes in all 30 of those cards, we purchased 30 $1 scratch off lotto tickets from the nearest gas station, stuffed each card with a lotto ticket and drove over to the VA hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska. We dropped off the magazines and thank you notes at the office with the request they be passed out to Veterans to enjoy - hopefully a few hit it big with those scratch offs! Dan also delivered a card to a home that we passed on our way that was covered with banners celebrating the homecoming of veterans, and honoring POW's. Dan ran up to their door and left a card and scratch-off for them as well.
We then trekked to Denver, Colorado where we stayed with Dan's good friend Kevin and his adorable girlfriend Katie. They were graciously putting us up for two nights while we started to RAK Colorado. We got to their place Monday night, played a couple games of Dutch Blitz and Settlers of Catan and then went to a local dive bar to listen to their friend Alex crank out some Blues music (which was fantastic!). After we showed our support to Alex we hopped over to an Arcade Bar named The 1UP, which was a brilliant name decision on their part. We had a blast playing some four-player Pacman, Tetris, Skeeball... we played just about every arcade game worth playing.
|1UP Arcade Bar!|
|View from the park across from their home|
The next morning I went on a run in a nice park across from their house while Dan and Kevin went on a long board ride with Kevin and Katie's dogs, Jasper and Ringo. They're both rescue dogs and are a bundle of fun. Once we had our exercise in for the day, we hit up a local disc golf course and then stopped over at one of Kevin's places of work, a local long board warehouse called KOTA. They custom make some really smooth riding boards that Dan was drooling over.
|Source: KOTA Longboards|
Post-tour we met up with Katie. She and Kevin took us to a "really awesome sandwich place"...which ended up being the same place that Macaila took us in Chicago! We thought that was pretty hilarious, but we were totally fine with it since the sandwiches were friggin' amazing. Once our bellies were full of delicious sandwich goodness (ugh seriously so good), we stopped for the few last minute items needed for our next RAK.
Katie works at Excelsior Youth Center, a young women's shelter for 10-18 year old girls who have struggled with social or emotional problems. Unlike other women's shelters, Excelsior is more of a last stop sort of place, since they do not kick out girls for behaviors that other places would consider worthy of termination. At times the staff has a handful with these young ladies; one recently punched through a window, some try to escape, attack others, and self harm is a common worry. Excelsior is able to handle these situations by their superior management and supervision of these girls. Katie, who is short and thin, has had to "physically manage" girls a handful of times...even one of the girls who is 6'1" at age 13. Katie supervises the 10-13 year old girls who have struggled with some extreme situations, from incest-related abuse to suicide attempts.
Katie mentioned that many of these girls do not have families that visit them and that some have no family at all, so they do not receive many gifts. So, I put on my thinking cap and brainstormed what I would have liked at age 10-13. The answer: makeup and hair supplies. After going over what was acceptable to gift these girls (No metal, nail polish or mirrors), we hit up some stores and stocked them up with the works: foundation, eye shadow, mascara, eyeliner, lip balm, head bands, hair ties, nail stickers, bracelets and cute polka dot bags to hold all of the swag. You can see me putting together these bags in this post.
|Look, we're on the schedule!|
We arrived at the center around 7pm and were greeted by one of the girls in Katie's group who acted as our unofficial tour guide. She also asked a lot of questions and let us know that she was a spectacular Uno player (but she told us the secret to her success, so we're set). We reached Katie's cabin of girls and Katie and the other staff had them sit down so we could fill them in our journey and what we were up to, which Dan explained perfectly. The girls then had a chance to introduce themselves and tell one thing about themselves that they thought was cool. Katie's cabin of girls has quite a few sports stars, dancers, and one girl who claimed that she was really great at eating pie. Once we had finished introductions, we passed out our goodies and then stepped back to watch the bliss that is only produced by 10-13 year olds receiving a bunch of makeup. The staff has a method of motivating the girls with perks earned through good behavior and progress in therapy. Perks range from things as simple as a cookie at snack time in place of yogurt, to being allowed outside, and even off-campus excursions with staff. Anyone who has an incident or outburst is designated as below "level" and must complete tasks and therapy to regain their perks, one of which is the use of makeup. We heard several of the girls who were not level make remarks of how they were going to make sure to work hard to get there so they could use their gifts, which was great to hear since we'd hoped to help Katie and her coworkers motivate them to make progress.
We chatted with the girls as they were going through their goodies and got to see firsthand how appreciative they were to have someone reach out and show that they care and think that they deserve some nice things. One of the girls even commented that the items she received were "her entire Christmas list." I sang along with one of the girls as she performed "The Cup Song" and then we headed out to meet up with some of Kevin and Katie's friends.
I should also mention that we headed out to meet up with their friends at a fun outing called "Drag Queen Bingo." It is probably exactly what you're thinking, but just in case you don't fully grasp the concept, it was a night out where we played a couple games of bingo hosted by two hilarious and foul mouthed drag queens. Yes it was fantastic and yes, we would absolutely go again.
This morning we woke up and rode our bikes to another of Kevin's places of work, a cafe called Gaia, for breakfast, which was mouthwateringly delicious. We all split a peanut butter, banana and honey crepe (Yep. That's a real thing.) and then enjoyed our own wonderful meals. We then said a sad goodbye to Katie, Kevin, Jasper and Ringo and headed out of Denver.
We have some fun things planned for Boulder, CO, which is our next stop. I cannot wait to tell you all about them, but I will let you know that one of them we did ahead of time RAK #16: a $150 donation to the United Ways of Chicago Flood Recovery Fund in Boulder. If you're not up to date about the tragic flooding that recently occurred in Denver, leaving many residents out of a home and also out of luck since Flood Insurance seemed like an unnecessary thing to purchase while living in Colorado, you can read more about it right here.
You can donate to the RAK Roadtrip here