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Barb Gross, 2019 Citizen of the Year, Encourages Community to Give Back

By Julia Caulfield

Barb Gross (center left) with her husband and daughters

Barb Gross (center left) with her husband and daughters

It was a chance encounter that brought Barb Gross to Telluride, and thank goodness for that.

She moved to Telluride in 1984 after meeting the person who would become her husband.

“I was on vacation, getting ready to move back to the east coast, and I was on vacation in Hawaii.”

She met her future husband on the beach.

“I said ‘hey, if you get to San Diego in the next couple days, come look me up’.”

And he did. Gary, that’s Gross’ husband, visited her in California and asked her if she’d give him a ride back to Colorado. To Telluride. The rest you could say is history. Gross did spend a few months on the east coast, but quickly moved back to town.

Gross raised her children here, worked and volunteered, and earlier this summer she was named the 2019 Citizen of the Year by the Telluride Foundation.

“I actually had to sit with it for a couple days to actually process it. I had no idea I was even nominated. I feel really honored. I feel really honored.”

According to the Foundation, the purpose of the citizen of the year award is to “honor individuals who unselfishly make extraordinary contributions to the region’s quality of life.”

Gross has been serving the community for over 35 years. Although her education is in geriatric social work, she began working in Telluride at the Rainbow Preschool.

“We literally competed to who could have the best idea that day, for the kids. It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of work. But I loved every moment of it.”

Elaine Schroedl nominated Gross for the award. They met when their kids were at Rainbow together in the 1980’s and have known each other ever since.

Schroedl points to all the hours Gross has spent volunteering for the community as her reason for the nomination.

“She’s just and extraordinary person. When you hear about people having won the award, or whatever, for years I thought ‘Barb deserves that’. I don’t know anyone more deserving than Barb.”

In the years since leaving Rainbow Preschool, Gross has taken up the role as head of the Angel Basket’s Food Bank in Telluride. In that role, as a volunteer herself, she manages 25 volunteers to staff the food bank, coordinate deliveries with local businesses, and distribute food each week.

But despite all her work, Gross make sure to note that the award really recognizes all the people who work to make the food bank possible.

“I was unloading a truck and there were two people who sometimes come to the food bank, and I said ‘hey can you help me unload this?’ Boom. Stop. Do it right away. So it recognizes a lot of people.”

And at the root of it all, Gross just wants people to take time to volunteer in the community.

“Give back, if you can. Give back to this community and you will get back into your own life. You will feel more involved in the fabric of the community, and you’ll truly – in any way you volunteer – you’ll truly be helping.”

As part of the award for Citizen of the Year, Gross gets $5,000 to donate to an organization of her choice.

There will be a celebration in honor of Barb Gross at the Ah Haa School for the Arts on September 18th.

Colorado State Representative Makes a Bid for the U.S. House

By Julia Caulfield

State Rep. Donald Valdez

State Rep. Donald Valdez

Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District has a history of flipping between Republican and Democratic representation – the seat is currently held by Republican Representative Scott Tipton. But Colorado State Representative Donald Valdez is hoping to move it back to the Democrats. He is one of two Democrats currently running in a primary to challenge the Republican candidate. Valdez currently serves as the Representative for District 62 in the Colorado State House of Representatives, and spent a few days in Telluride this week to talk with voters. He sat down with KOTO News to talk about his campaign and why he’s running.

Julia Caulfield (JC): Thanks for being here and chatting with us today. First question, hopefully an easy one, why are you running for Congress?

Donald Valdez (DV): Well, thank you, Julia. You know, here in rural Colorado we need a voice now more than ever – for rural education, for infrastructure, broadband, but also more importantly is our water. Our water’s precious – all the way from the top peaks on the continental divide, all the way down into our communities and to the agriculture industry. Water is essential. It’s our life blood, not only to us, but also the next generation.

JC: You’re currently serving in the Colorado State House. You were first elected in 2016, and re-elected in 2018. Why are you now making the jump to go from the state legislature to the federal House of Representatives?

DV: You are correct. I am the state representative for House District 62 which covers eight counties … this is essential to get out and voice for rural Colorado, because each and every one of our communities has uniqueness, but also the culture, the history, and the home for so many – whether it be our veterans who we need to advocate for each and every single day. Healthcare needs from young to the very young, and the elderly and the wisdom that they have, we need to gain that and pass it on to the next generation now and engage the next generation to be leaders in our community.

JC: The 3rd Congressional District is very large, running from the very northern parts of the state to the southern parts of the state. If you are elected, how do you balance the needs of folks who are living across a very wide range of land?

DV: My current district I cover eight counties and the 3rd Congressional District covers 29 counties from Craig, Steamboat all the way south into Cortez, and Towaoc, and Ignacio, and the dynamics are interesting but we all have the same issues. Economic development is a key issue to continue growth in our communities. With that we need quality and quantity of our water, make sure our soils are healthy, so we continue to grow our food and the agriculture aspect, knowing where our food comes from. Agriculture is a huge, leading industry in the state and the 3rd Congressional District does cover more than half the state of Colorado – but the beauty of the 3rd Congressional District is heaven. The beauty of the majestic mountains, the dynamics of the people, the heritage, the culture, and that’s one of the reasons that I’m running – because we need a voice for rural Colorado. One of the major issues that is affecting our communities is addiction. The heroine, the meth, and the opioids have taken almost two generations, and it’s sad and we need to stand up, enough is enough. We need to get more prevention and education and treatment for those who are battling.

JC: You’ve mentioned agriculture and water as being some of the issues that are really important to you – also education, support for veterans, affordable healthcare, and economic development. These are big issues, some of them are going to be more bipartisan than others, but none of them are small, easy issues to find an answer for. How do you start addressing those issues if you’re elected?

DV: Well, you address those issues one at a time. They’re all issues that affect our communities and affect each one of us, especially healthcare. Healthcare, the cost of healthcare, the cost of prescription drugs, the cost of visiting a doctor, whether you decide to put food on your table or pay for a procedure or surgery that you desperately need to continue to engage and be that persona that you need to work or your livelihood.

JC: Before we leave, I’ll ask a more fun or easier question. I assume you’ve been traveling all over the 3rd Congressional District, and we’ve mentioned that it’s large, when you’ve been traveling in the car or on flights has there been any music that’s really been speaking to you?

DV: The music of the mountains. The mountains keep calling me. And On the Road Again with Willie Nelson, every single day.

Summer Work Visa Brings Students to Telluride Each Winter

By Julia Caulfield

PC: Zanny Espinoza

PC: Zanny Espinoza

Zanny Espinoza is a smiling 18-year-old. She has dark brown curls, and wears bright red lipstick. She is one of the many young people to come to Telluride for the winter. But unlike many of the people who come from across the country to spend their winter skiing and snowboarding, Espinoza came from her home in Peru on a summer work travel visa.

She’s a sociology student at Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, a private university in her hometown of Lima, Peru’s capital. In many ways, Lima couldn’t be more different from Telluride.

“Lima is a mix of a lot of things. First, you know South America was conquered by the Spaniards, so we speak Spanish. We have a lot of Spanish influence. Then, people from different parts of Peru started migrating, so it’s a very big city; ten million people in a very small place, and it’s a mix of tradition and a mix of other cultures…and the food, it’s so amazing in my country,” says Espinoza.

So how did she end up in Telluride?

Espinoza is here on a J1 Visa. The visa allows her to work and travel in the U.S. during her summer vacation—Peru’s summer is Colorado’s winter.

She worked with an agency in Peru, and another in U.S. that helps to connect students with employer sponsors. Espinoza is one of ten J1 Visa holders to get a job at Clark’s Market in Telluride for the winter season.

Mike Jackman, manager at Clark’s Market, says Clark’s has been a J1 Visa employment sponsor for about a decade. In that time, the Market has employed J1 Visa holders from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Peru, and China. He says the program is a great way to increase staff during the busy season.

“The resort location and the seasonal nature of a business in Telluride – of course South American countries it’s their summer, so a lot of the students are off for their summer semester – and they come and work here for exactly the three months we need them the most,” says Jackman.

Students with J1 Visas are often placed in resort towns, or areas with a lot of seasonal work.

Originally Espinoza was hoping to work at the Clark’s Market in Aspen. But the all the positions there were full, so she ended up in Telluride. In the end she said she’s happy she came here.

“I really like the mountain, it’s so beautiful,” she says. “Once I went to San Sophia station, the first station on the Gondola, and the views were breathtaking. I was really in love with that.”

She’s met a lot of great people, and she’s enjoyed her work, but that doesn’t mean everything’s been easy. According to the State Department website, one of the ideas behind the J1 Visa is for students to be able to travel. But because Telluride is isolated, and expensive, Espinoza says she hasn’t been able to see as much of the country as she would like.

One of Espinoza’s big goals was to see the Grand Canyon, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

“I wanted to go to Vegas and take a trip from there, but it’s very expensive, so I’m not sure,” she adds. 

She says it’s frustrating, almost like she was promised something she didn’t get.

Despite all that, Espinoza says being in Telluride has been a good experience.

“I feel so independent now. In my country I have three brothers – they are younger than me – my mom and dad. And also with my, you know, South America we live with cousins, we live with all the people; like twenty people in one house, it’s like that. So, I live with a lot of people. And here I’m just living on my own, or with my friends. And also, I think that my parents trust me more because they know that I can do this, I can live alone here. I feel really good. I feel like I’m a bit more mature now,” says Espinoza.

Espinoza says she’s interested in participating in another work travel visa program in the future, maybe to Australia.

In March, Espinoza will head back to Peru. But before too long, a new group of students from China will be at Clark’s Market in Telluride for the summer to work and explore through the J1 Visa program.