Employs the power of visual storytelling to transform personal narrative into public meaning and demands the audience to ask what are we doing to support these lives? Through these stories, we’ve shared the passions, sadness, hardships and joy of every single one of the 25 portrait stories. Each is incredibly unique. These stories have no ending however, as the spirit of each one breathes on.

The next chapter for the exhibit is to travel to different locations in the coming year so that the portrait stories can be experienced by many more. Look for them throughout Boulder County. Let the stories keep asking what are we doing to support these lives?

Click here for Debra N. Story


Tom C., age 66

Travel Trainee | RTD Bus Stop 21709
He’s never been a city boy.

PHOTOGRAPHER: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

25-of-25-tom-cTom was the second individual to enroll in Via’s new Travel Training Program in 2003. He even has his own personal bus shelter, Tom’s House, located near the horse stables where he volunteers. Tom’s sister says travel training allowed Tom to begin living his life again.

For many years, Tom lived in the mountain towns of Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek and Silverthorne, climbing trees and cranes to clear tree branches off of utility lines. He loved the mountains and the outdoors and lived life as he chose.

In 2001, Tom suffered a seizure which left him with brain damage and short-term memory impairment. He was moved to a nursing home but his sister and greatest advocate, Terri, quickly knew it wasn’t the right fit. Tom’s desire to live independently was strong but he needed help. As many caregivers do, Terri tried to keep up with Tom’s many needs, but it was overwhelming.

Terri found Tom a volunteer job at the Rocky Mountain Riding Therapy Center in Boulder, where he spends several days a week cleaning stalls and helping riders. Tom continues to take the bus routes he learned during travel training to get to his volunteer job.

I’ve never been a city boy and without the stables, I’d go crazy.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 25 of 25

Steve D., age 55

I’m a blind, middle-aged white guy who likes to play African drums. And be employed.

PHOTOGRAPHER: RACHEL GOMEZ
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

24-of-25-steve-dOn the morning of July 19, 1977, young Steve was a healthy, inquisitive 16-year-old, ready to explore the adventures of his day. Six hours later, a rare and unexplainable build-up of spinal fluid in his brain crushed the optic nerve, leaving him with limited light perception and an inability to see detail or color.

After many years of under-employment, Steve was hired by Longmont’s family-owned Welzig Heating & Air. The company decided to give Steve the opportunity to show what he could do rather than focus on what he couldn’t do. They took a chance on him. His severe vision impairment carries a number of challenges at work. He was offered the full-time job on a Friday and told to report to work the following Monday. That was seven years ago.

Now, Steve’s voice is the first a customer hears at Welzig Heating & Air. There has been a lot of disappointment in Steve’s life before getting this job. He relies on Via to get him to work each day. We are there every morning. We will not disappoint him.

I am contributing because of Via. I am enjoying my community. I am living a full life.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 24 of 25

RICHARD B., AGE 56

I can’t drive. Working is very important to me.

PHOTOGRAPHER: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

23-of-25-richard-bStrong, supportive family ties, a positive work ethic and faith loom large in the life of Richard B.

A tall, slender man with a peaceful countenance, Richard can often be found walking in the open spaces and parks near his home.

He’s moved around a good bit, living in New Jersey, Michigan, Alabama, Illinois and now Colorado. Other than a five-year stint in a group home in Lansing, Michigan, Richard’s always lived with family.

Intellectual challenges make driving an unsafe activity for him, so he relies on Via to get to and from work as a janitor at CU-Boulder. Work is very important to Richard. If asked, this quiet man will readily share that he was Employee of the Year at the plastics manufacturer for whom he worked in Alabama. I want to contribute to my home, community and church. And have a couple bucks in my pocket.

The drivers are great; they are really good listeners say Richard and his sister.

I have great conversations with them.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 23 of 25

Norman T., age 79

I wish that my five grandsons will never know war.

PHOTOGRAPHER: RACHEL GOMEZ
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

Norman is a Boulder icon, traveling through town on Via, or his wheelchair or public transit. I like to get out he says. Partially paralyzed from an accident and an amputee, Norman has been riding Via since 1979, the first year the organization (then known as Special Transit) began operations.

A Boulder native, Norman has lived life large, serving as an aviation mechanic in the Marine Corps right out of high school, mining in Alaska, raising six boys on a 40-acre farm in Fort Collins, running heavy equipment while building highways in Colorado, and owning a hair salon in Boulder.

Norman has no regrets and lives by the advice he gives: thank God for what you’ve got and be sure to give a little bit back. Norman is a monthly donor to Via and whenever his gambling winnings come through, he donates a little more.

Having seen and done it all, Norman at 79, is now content to be loved by all.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 22 of 25

Nieves F., age 80

I am enjoying my life because I’m happy and I can still go around.

PHOTOGRAPHER: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

21-of-25-nieves-fNieves was born in the Philippines in 1936. She remembers that on December 7, 1942, people gathered on and around the long bench outside her father’s store. They were talking. They were afraid. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Everybody was thinking about the Japanese coming and maybe bombing. Nieves was seven years old.

In 1944 the Japanese soldiers were raiding houses and taking all the men. Friends who lived nearby had a dog and a house with an attic. Whenever the dog barked, they got out the wooden ladder, climbed up and hid in the attic. Her father was taken away. She prayed that God would take care of her father and her family.

Nieves married in 1959. Seven years later, she was able to come to the United States, with her husband and daughter. In 1994 Nieves moved to Longmont.

She began using Via in 1995 to get to and from church. My son is working and there is no one to take me.

Wherever I go, I cannot forget Via, because I really love it very much. We just go – it’s very easy to do.

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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 21 of 25

Nick W. 1979-2016

He had the heart of a hero.

PHOTOGRAPHER: UNKNOWN
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

20-of-25-nick-wNick passed away on May 3 at Good Samaritan Hospital, succumbing to complications from his lifelong battle with muscular dystrophy. He was 36 years old.

Nick volunteered with the Lafayette Fire Department for fifteen years, creating computer models that display the layouts of many of the city’s commercial buildings. The diagrams, which firefighters pull up on computers in the fire trucks on the way to emergencies, indicate building layout, including where electrical and water shutoffs are located. These important documents allow firefighters to navigate burning buildings safely. Nick was awarded Lafayette’s Volunteer of the Year award in 2006 and the “9 Who Cares” award for his service to the Lafayette Fire Department.

He loved his Colorado sports teams as much as he loved hot peppers, cold beers, and quality time with friends and family. He was passionate about NASCAR racing and car #88, driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Via will remember him for his sweet, kind soul and his smile. He could make a bad day at work seem great.

Nick never let his disability define who he was and he didn’t let his wheelchair hamper his abilities to serve the community.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 20 of 25

Mercedes L., age 61

Social activist

PHOTOGRAPHER: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

19-of-25-mercedesWhen asked to describe herself, Mercedes said she loves life, loves people, thinks outside the box, cares about nature and environmental justice – and is committed to being a force for change in the world. Oh, and does “woo-woo” stuff, like talks to plants and animals.

She’s also independent, brilliant, hard-working, funny and creative.

Her story is long and convoluted; her background, dark and pain-filled. But she works to rise up, recommitting to a happy, productive life of giving back to others, every day.

The first 40 years of her life were very challenging. Mercedes comes from an abusive background, which led to manifestation of physical disabilities at a young age. She had to go into hiding for her own safety, many years ago. At that time she swore if she survived, she’d do what she could to help others.
Mercedes possess a minister’s license and a degree in physics. She’s also an artist and a psychic/spiritual healer.

All of this – her challenging upbringing, physical disabilities, creative talents, intelligence and desire to be happy, productive and to help others – uniquely position her to empathize with those struggling to overcome abuse and help them get to a safe, productive place in their lives. Her mantra of late has been to put it all together and figure out how to give back.

Mercedes sits on the Board of Directors for Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence and does street outreach for Attention Homes, serving at-risk and homeless youth.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 19 of 25

Lisa M., age 45

Diabetes | Dialysis | Amputee
I always thought dancing would be my life.

PHOTOGRAPHER: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

lisa-m-bw-200x200pxWhat is my life doing right now? Lisa poses the question to the Tarot cards. Lisa started dance lessons at age 3, and has been a choreographer and stage actress. Diagnosed with Type I Diabetes at age 16, Lisa’s body has taken its own path toward multiple health problems, but it has not taken her spirit. In her mind she says you are still a dancer, just because you are in this body, doesn’t mean you can’t feel dance.

Lisa moved to Boulder from California to study herbal medicine, hoping she could have a more natural treatment of her diabetes. Not much is known about Type I Diabetes she says. She’s had so many doctors treating her and feels there have been many health care mistakes. Now she has good communication with her doctors, but the diabetes has assaulted her body. Her vision is impaired, she is on dialysis and recently had her leg amputated.

Many years ago, Lisa’s father had a vision that something tragic would happen to her, but then something good would occur. For a long time, Lisa thought that meant she would recover from her diabetes and she could dance and get all the kudos and her name in the newspaper and all of those things that come along with fame. She realizes now that the good thing her father envisioned must have been about helping others; that is a focus of her life.

Lisa has been a rider for over 10 years. She loves Via drivers Maggie, Charlie and Yoshi. I hope it’s Maggie this morning she says to herself after a traumatic event. She cherishes the relationship with the drivers; they are like family. Lisa is beloved by the Via drivers for her spirit.

I am a dancer. My mind goes there, where my body energy does not.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 18 of 25

Keith S., age 56

Black ice on the freeway; a car accident.

PHOTOGRAPHER: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

keith-bw-200x200pxA patch of black ice. That’s what changed Keith’s life. Following the car accident, Keith was hospitalized for two months. When he came out of the hospital he could, as he puts it, walk really badly, but he could walk. A week later, he broke his leg. Multiple surgeries were required; infections required more surgery.

Now Keith addresses physical, cognitive, speech and memory challenges on a daily basis. But he says he realized, when he was in the hospital recovering from yet another leg surgery, how lucky he is. He met a man in recovery who was in a wheelchair and had just had a stroke. This man couldn’t walk or speak at all. Keith saw how frustrated the man became as he struggled to make himself understood. Keith feels very lucky to be able to walk again, and to be able to communicate verbally.

While he sat for his portrait, Keith talked to our photographer about retiring Executive Director, Lenna Kottke, and about her 25 years of leadership. He very much appreciates having access to Via’s paratransit service. Keith told the photographer that if he could, he’d like to say thanks.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 17 of 25

Kati P., age 89

I felt there’s a little community on this bus that I needed to explore.

PHOTOGRAPHER: RACHEL GOMEZ
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

katie-p-bw-200x200pxAt age 68, Kati had a pulmonary embolism, an event that changed her life in a moment’s time. Unable to drive or even walk to a bus stop any longer, Kati says I felt my life was over. The hospital referred her to an organization now known as Via. I couldn’t bear asking for help, but I had no choice. How was she to get to doctor or physical therapy appointments or get food to feed herself?

I had such strong resistance to being helped and when I got on that Via bus, I would sit in the back feeling sorry for myself. One day, there was another woman riding the bus going to her church choir, who asked if she might practice her song.

While the woman sang, some kind of shift took place in me because I experienced thoughtfulness, kindness and respect. Kati moved from the back of the bus to the front. I felt there’s a little community on this bus that I needed to explore.

Kati has been a rider with Via for 20 years now. I needed help from Via and I got it, but I’ve still felt independent. Every single person at Via cares about my well-being she says. I feel safe. I feel cared for. And I couldn’t live the life I live without Via.

Kati still lives by herself. She is still very independent and part of that independence she says is the blessing of Via.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 16 of 25

June M., age 63

I am here for a reason | I have goals

PHOTOGRAPHER: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

junem-bw-200x200pxAn abusive childhood. A serious, stress-related illness which nearly took her life and left her in a wheelchair. Then marriage to an abusive man.

All of this is in June’s past. Today, she uses her sharp wit and great sense of humor to get through challenging situations. I’m all here she’s fond of saying, as she grins and points to her head. Although some people would beg to differ she finishes the thought with a big laugh.

People tell her she looks just like her mother. She would’ve said she was never that ugly June quips.

She fondly remembers her mother telling her that she’s like an angel; always helping people. She’s taken that to heart and is continuing to help whenever she can. June uses Via to go shopping, to make trips to visit other people living with disabilities, and to volunteer at the Longmont library. She’s considering taking on another volunteer job, either with the police department or at OUR Center. June has been a rider for over 25 years.

You’re responsible for your own happiness. You’re as happy or as miserable as you want to be.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 15 of 25

Judith C., late 50s

Life is about balance.

PHOTOGRAPHER: RACHEL GOMEZ
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

judith-c-bw-200x200pxA very pretty, elegant lady in her late 50s, everything about her, her home and her lifestyle bring to mind words like sophisticated, refined and tasteful.

You would never know that a crushed pelvis, broken hip and constant vertigo, the results of a car accident in 2000, have rendered her unable to get behind the wheel of a vehicle and avoiding activities with too much movement.

Pre-accident, Judith’s life was idyllic. She moved from Chicago to Boulder in the late 1970s, to go to college. Then she married and raised three children. She’s always been very active, enjoying skiing, cycling, golfing, swimming and walking.

Since the accident, her bones have healed but the vertigo remains. She still golfs and swims. And she gets out and walks a bit, but not as much as before.

Today Judith uses Via to get to and from her full-time job as Director of Marketing and Sales at Boulder’s 8 Days a Week Imaging and Copy Center. She relies upon friends and family when she needs transportation to non-work activities. She is fully engaged, active in her community and continues to maintain close friendships and family ties in spite of her mobility challenges.judith-carmichael-3

Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 14 of 25

Jack F., 1920-2004

Rider | Friend | Donor | Board Member | Philanthropist

Photographer: UNKNOWN. CONTRIBUTED BY FAMILY
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

jack-bw-200x200pxOn the morning of November 15, 2004, driver C.J. Fortin arrived at Frasier Meadows Retirement Community to pick up Jack for a ride to Mapleton Pool, a trip that had occurred hundreds of times throughout the years Jack had been a rider and board member. As it turns out, Jack had not scheduled that trip nor had he been able to attend his twice weekly therapeutic swim for several weeks. Complications from the polio he’d overcome as a young man had recently caused multiple health problems in his now aging body. Jack died very early that same November morning at the age of 84. No one knows how the trip showed up on C.J.’s schedule that day. Jean, Jack’s wife of 62 years, explained the mysteriously scheduled trip as simply, Special Transit* came to take Jack home.

Jack’s long career in engineering and community service had a positive influence on the lives of many. An outspoken rider representative and man of vision, he profoundly influenced the policies and direction of Via. A deeply spiritual man, he held a strong belief in the true meaning of philanthropy. Jack’s message to his fellow board members was clear: We share our talents on a proportional basis through proportional giving. There is nothing better to do with your assets than to share them.

In 1998 he was awarded the Boulder Community Foundation’s Stan Black Award for Community Service and the National Philanthropy Day in Colorado Outstanding Volunteer Award.
Jack always called us his Cinderella coach.

The Jack Fuller Memorial Electrical System is engraved on a plaque at the doors of the electric panels in the front lobby of the Via building.

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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 13 of 25
*Special Transit changed its name to Via in 2012.

Feliciana H., age 75

Blind since birth | Multi-instrument musician

Photographer: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

I was a tiny baby.

feliciana-h-bw-200x200pxI never cared about sight. I don’t even know what it is; I can’t miss something I don’t know what it is. I’ve always liked the sound of things, the shape of things, the feel of the sunshine; the smell of the day. I just never cared about sight.

Feliciana’s Dad didn’t want her to go to school because she was blind. He thought she would disrupt the class. Feliciana did not want to go to a special school and live with strangers because she was blind. That’s how it was in the 40s. But her sisters went to school, so she wanted to go, too. I would have given anything just to have gone to school, just for the day.

She was a basically happy kid, with wonderful memories of her childhood on Long Island. Her greatest memory of childhood is of how wonderful the honeysuckle smelled near her home.

Her mom learned Braille, then home-schooled Feliciana, teaching her how to read Braille. Her mom created little primers, which Feliciana enjoyed reading. Feliciana remembers having books in Braille sent to her from the New York Public Library, and recalls how exciting it was when she asked for Swiss Family Robinson, and the mailman delivered ten boxes!

Feliciana plays the piano, harp, tamboura and xylophone.

I love the ethereal sound of the xylophone.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 12 of 25

Elizabeth M., age 102

I was talking to a woman on the phone the other day and when I told her how old I was, the woman exclaimed, Good Lord!

Photographer: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

elizabeth-m-bw-200x200pxIf centenarian Elizabeth’s life is an example, the recipe for healthy longevity consists of lifelong learning and teaching, curiosity about the natural world (especially birds), and taking every opportunity to walk, walk, walk.

Elizabeth was born the year World War 1 began (1914), and has early childhood memories of traveling 22 miles in a horse-drawn buggy to visit her grandparents.

Her love of learning began very early when, at age five, her sister, two years her senior, went off to school, leaving Elizabeth at home with no one to play with. She asked her mother if she could go to school – a little, one-room country school – with her older sister. She was given permission to do so, liked it very much, and was permitted to continue to go to school.

Elizabeth became a teacher and taught all of her life, until retiring at age 67. She and her husband (he passed away in 2005), who was a landscape architect, lived for many years in a 100+year-old stone house on two and half acres of land in north Boulder. Elizabeth audited classes at CU-Boulder until she turned 100.

She’s traveled – and bird-watched – all over the world. Now this lifelong hobby continues, just a little closer to home. Sometimes she’ll watch with binoculars, out her Golden West apartment window; other times she’ll birdwatch while walking outdoors with friends on the Boulder Creek path.

Elizabeth’s advice to today’s youth is to maybe slow down a little bit, maybe enjoy life a little bit more. Live every day. And enjoy it. A day at a time, I think is good. And think positively that things will get better if they aren’t so good now.

And exercise as much as you can.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 11 of 25



Debra N., age 58

Who I am has nothing to do with whether I’m sitting or standing.

Photographer: RACHEL GOMEZ
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

debra-n-bw-200x200pxWhen a three-year-old child discharged an unattended handgun at a friend’s home, the bullet landed in Debbie’s back, severing her spine. Until that accidental shooting on a Friday night in 1991, Debbie was an active, hard-working divorcee raising her two children by herself. She valued her independence above all else.

She quickly adapted to her new mobility limitations. She had to relearn everything, including how to cook, how to drive with hand controls and how to garden. She supported herself, proudly avoiding disability assistance, for years after the shooting. But in 2012, Debbie began having debilitating health problems which eventually led to her being unable to work or drive. She moved from her lifetime home in Pennsylvania to Longmont so she could live with her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter.

Now this 58-year-old stays active in her community. She enjoys drumming and making frequent visits to the local airport, where she likes to eat breakfast from the food truck while she watches planes take off and land, and skydivers float downward. She says the airport’s wide open spaces give her a sense of peace. When she can’t be out and about, she creates handmade cards which she donates to multiple charities.

She continues to fight being defined by her wheelchair.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 10 of 25

David D., age 74

Teacher | Parent | Philanthropist | Advocate

Photographer: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

david-d-bw-200x200pxDavid remembers struggling in school; making excuses to go up to the front of the classroom so he could quickly memorize what had been written on the chalkboard. In the days of David’s youth, to be diagnosed as blind often meant going away to a special school. It wasn’t until his sophomore year in college that he learned he was legally blind.

As luck would have it, he moved to Iowa, which had the best training program for the blind in the country. Once you complete a really good program like that, as David puts it, you’re off and running and you go on with your life. And so he has.

He went on to finish his undergraduate work and receive a master’s degree in public school administration and special education from the University of Iowa. He began his career teaching special education to high school juniors and seniors. David also worked for the Agency for the Blind. This was followed by a year of consulting work in Florida, about which David quips, do you know how quickly you can starve as a consultant? He then went on to work in the office for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.

David’s current career is as founder and executive director of the Audio Information Network of Colorado (AINC). Now in its 26th year, AINC is a volunteer organization that provides audio news and information to the blind, visually-impaired and print-disabled community of Colorado.

David has been a Via rider since March 2013. A loquacious man with a droll wit, David is well-known by the Via drivers. His driver for this morning’s ride to work is Rusty, a retired firefighter from Longmont.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 9 of 25

Danna R., age 53

Automobile accident | Traumatic brain injury | Community Volunteer

Photographer: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

dannar-bw-200x200pxAfter a serious car accident left her unable to speak and with balance-related mobility issues, Danna’s life completely changed.

Danna spent eight months in the hospital. Once released, she lived with her parents in Longmont. Unable to speak, and wrestling with balance-related mobility issues, Danna worked hard to get her active, connected life back. Part of her recovery included going back to Front Range Community College to complete her degree. After this confidence-boosting milestone, and with the help of The Inn Between, she moved into a one-bedroom apartment and began doing administrative work as a volunteer at the OUR Center. Via took her to work and then back home.

Soon she qualified for a St. Vrain Habitat for Humanity home and added another volunteer job – doing administrative work at Habitat as part of her sweat equity requirement as a homeowner.

Today, Danna’s life continues to evolve and change. She’s learned to use her tablet to communicate. This quiet lady with a penchant for gold jewelry, butterflies (a symbol of transformation) and angels keeps pushing ahead.

We don’t know where she may be headed next, but we’ll happily take her there.

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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 8 of 25

Cynda M., age 21

Travel Training Superstar | Just another day at work

Photographer: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

cyndam-bw-200x200pxWe want her to be independent and transportation is a huge part of being independent says Cynda’s mom, Wayla. Yet navigating the public fixed-route system is not easy.

Parents of adult children with intellectual disabilities have often spent much of their son’s or daughter’s life trying to strike the right balance – a balance that teeters between providing their child opportunities to gain independence and learn new skills and the desire to protect this (now adult) child from harm, all while advocating for his or her needs and interests. Deciding whether, when and how to teach an adult child to use the public bus or rail system can be a complicated decision and one that can’t be taken out of context of the other obligations and responsibilities that shape family life.

Cynda and her parents knew getting around on public transportation confidently was essential to Cynda’s evolving independence. Via’s travel training program was the right prescription for Cynda and her family to navigate the transition from high school to job training to employment.

Learning to use public transportation was as much about Cynda’s growing up as it was about her parents learning to let go.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 7 of 25

COLT W., AGE 33

Climbed to the 14,259 foot summit of Longs Peak last summer.

Photographer: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

colt-w-bw-200x200pxColt has had severe hearing and vision losses since birth and has been legally blind since a blood hemorrhage took his remaining sight in 2012.

Colt’s first trip to the Rocky Mountains was in 1991 at age 8. He grew up in a family that loved the outdoors. His early years were full of hiking, camping, hunting and fishing. It was no surprise to those who knew him that he would go on to college to earn a degree in natural resources from Hocking College in Ohio.

Today he’s an independent, outgoing, very physically active young man of 33, living alone – except for new housemate Pete, his guide dog – in Estes Park. He hikes, climbs mountains and works at YMCA of the Rockies in outdoor education. He likes meeting friends for a good meal and a cold beer. I’m a happy guy he says, and has worked hard to have the type of career and enjoy the recreational activities that are so important to his independence and quality of life.

During the summer months, Colt uses the Estes Park shuttle to get around. Once summer ends, Colt relies on Via for work, shopping, medical appointments and entertainment. Via supports my strong sense of independence. I don’t have to ask someone to drive me around.

What did he think about reaching the summit of Longs Peak? It was flipping awesome!

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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 6 of 25

Charlie F., age 72

Driver | Rider | Driver

Photographer: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

charlie-bw-200x200pxAfter several successful careers, Charlie started driving for Via in 2001. He says what drew him to the job, and what keeps him here, is that Via’s values of service and compassion mirror his own.

Charlie experienced a serious rough patch in his own life not too long ago. He had taken a leave of absence from driving to fulfill his dream of traveling throughout his beloved India. While walking in the Himalayan Mountains, he missed a step, fell and broke his femur. Unable to walk, with no one to help and with no services available, it took him three and a half days to get back to Colorado. While recovering from emergency surgery, Charlie contracted MRSA, went into a coma, experienced kidney failure and lived with breathing and feeding tubes for six weeks.

Charlie experienced a serious rough patch in his own life not too long ago. He had taken a leave of absence from driving to fulfill his dream of traveling throughout his beloved India. While walking in the Himalayan Mountains, he missed a step, fell and broke his femur. Unable to walk, with no one to help and with no services available, it took him three and a half days to get back to Colorado. While recovering from emergency surgery, Charlie contracted MRSA, went into a coma, experienced kidney failure and lived with breathing and feeding tubes for six weeks.

Charlie the driver became Charlie the rider. For several months, Via took Charlie to therapy, grocery shopping, social activities – until his body healed enough for him to return to driving. He experienced seeing the other drivers and the service from a different perspective – as the one needing help with mobility.

No other driver has the experience of being a rider. I have a profound appreciation for the truth that we are all just one step away from needing the services Via provides.

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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 5 of 25

Bonnie S., age 75

The core of life is the earth.

Photographer: RACHEL GOMEZ
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

bonnie-s-bw-200x200pxBonnie lived alone in a small cabin without electricity or running water outside of Nederland in the Coal Springs area until a July, 2016 wildfire destroyed everything she owned. Firefighters estimated her cabin reached 1400 degrees. The fire devastated her home and her life, temporarily. She is not sure if she can live in the city, but that may be necessary. She says Via is like family now, and part of her network of help. She feels the same about the trees that surrounded her cabin, before the fire took them.
she says.

She has been an activist, writer and photographer for environmental causes since the 1960s. She made the individual choice to give up her car, let go of her driver’s license and use her vintage turquoise bike or the bus to get around. She lives in an alternative reality, but it is her reality she says.

She says participating in this photojournalism project helped her to restore her relationship to the earth, water, and rock; as well as to help her remember that the fire and all the losses associated with it, do not define her.

She says participating in this photojournalism project helped her to restore her relationship to the earth, water, and rock; as well as to help her remember that the fire and all the losses associated with it, do not define her.

Taking care of the earth is the most important thing we can do as human beings. All other efforts don’t really matter.
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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 4 of 25

Bonnie M., age 43

To me, Via means freedom.

Photographer: SOPHIE KLAFTER
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

bonnie-mbw-200x200pxBonnie is a beautiful, independent woman who wants to live fully in her community. She wants every experience and wants to participate in life as she determines it to be.

Bonnie’s goal for participating in Via’s travel training program was to learn how to independently take public transit to her new job in another city, an idea that terrified her. Navigating the public transit system can be intimidating for many people; for Bonnie, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, the thought of riding the bus alone was overwhelming. She wrestled with her fears about getting off at the right stop or even if the bus would stop, not to mention what seemed like insurmountable barriers such as inaccessible bus stops, missed buses and figuring out new destinations.

Today Bonnie confidently uses the public transit system, and her wheelchair, to go wherever life takes her.

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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 3 of 25

Amanda Q., age 30 | Scott L., age 34

Special Olympics teammates | Oskar Blues co-workers | Good friends

Photographer: RACHEL GOMEZ
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

amanda-scott-bw-200x200pxFriends, co-workers, teammates, neighbors. Amanda is a very active, very busy young woman with many interests and hobbies. Scott’s intellectual challenges stem from an incident in which he suddenly stopped breathing for about 20 minutes when he was 5 months old. He too, is very physically active, with many interests.

They met when both were on the Longmont Special Olympics basketball team. Amanda still enjoys basketball, as well as volleyball, basketball, track & field and, in the summer, softball, which her father and other athletes’ parents play alongside their children. Scott enjoys bowling, gymnastics, swimming in Special Olympics, and is proud of having won a gold medal in bocce ball this summer.

Most weekdays they both go to C.O.R.E./Labor Source*, and from there to activities all over Boulder County. Both work at Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont a couple days each week.

Both Scott’s mom and Amanda’s dad appreciate the paratransit services their children utilize every week, and feel much more at ease being able to put the safety and well-being of their children into the hands of Via drivers rather than utilizing any other transportation options available to them.

*C.O.R.E. /Labor Source is a Day Program and Supported Employment Service Provider with Imagine!, providing a diverse and dynamic range of classes, community outings and activities for adults with developmental disabilities as well as supported employment opportunities.

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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 2 of 25

Alec W., age 24

Goal: Increased travel options
Goal achieved: Yes!

Photographer: Darcy Kiefel
Portraits of Ability
25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

A charming, handsome and very photogenic young man, Alec first enrolled in Via’s travel training program in November 2014. Alec and his family wanted him to learn to take public transit to and from work.

Many factors contribute to a good travel training candidate. There is, however, a factor that must be present for the training experience to be successful. That factor is the trainee’s motivation. Alec’s enthusiasm, willingness to pay attention and fondness for fun made him an ideal travel training candidate.

Just as his training was nearing completion, Alec’s family moved and he switched jobs. Alec’s trainer, Brian, continued on with Alec until he could learn the new bus routes from home to work. Alec successfully completed travel training for a second time in September 2015.

Besides learning how to independently use public transit, Alec’s self-confidence, personal pride and overall quality of life are the intrinsic rewards of his travel training experience. Alec’s curiosity and great sense of humor serve him well as he continues to increase his independence.

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Portraits of Ability 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration
Through December 31, 2016 | Gallery 1 of 25

About Rachael Gomez

You could say art was in her bones all along. Her father was a painter; her grandfather, a photographer. Denver-based Rachel focused her studies on fine art weddings and portraits. Rachel began shooting on film at age nine and somehow knew this was her calling.

I shoot from that place inside of me that has always craved for something more: a legacy documented, a history told, a story that was always bigger than our own two hands. To me, that’s where life unfolds. Those are the memories worth passing on holding each tightly with no fear of forgetting how good life was to us in those moments. I’m incredibly grateful to have made a career out of capturing the moments that matter most in life.

See more of her work at: www.rachelgomez.com
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About Sophie Klafter

Visual storyteller Sophie Klafter is the recipient of the 2014 VSA Emerging Young Artists Award of Excellence from the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts as well as the 2015 Ambassador for the Kennedy Center’s VSA Program. She is a young photographer living and working in New York, New York.

I have my mother’s light eyes, my great grandmother’s round nose, and my grandfather’s gift of gab. From my father, I’ve inherited a neuromuscular disorder called Charcot Marie Tooth disease.

While Sophie’s photography creates portraits of people with disabilities functioning capably in the world, her style also includes intimate involvement in her subject’s life stories. I go into their homes, meet their families, hold their possessions and hear their stories of perseverance. My hope is to truly capture their spirit and what it is like for them to go through life in an atypical body.

Her unique appreciation for individuals living with physical limitations allows her to capture the richer sense of who they are, helping to dismiss persistent myths of disability and age.

See more of her work at: www.sophieklafter.com.

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About Via & VSA Colorado

VSA Colorado Via was established in 1979 as a private, nonprofit organization with the mandate to coordinate an efficient, cost-effective and accessible transportation system for older adults and people with disabilities in Boulder County. Since that time, we have grown from a handful of employees and vehicles to a multi-county, multi-program organization operating on a social enterprise business model.

Our mission is to promote independence and self-sufficiency for people with limited mobility by providing caring, customer-focused transportation options. Via provides accessible on-demand transportation, individual and group travel training, and mobility options information and referral services.
The people we serve are too often invisible, isolated populations. In 2015, Via served more than 3,000 individuals; almost 80% reported living with a disability, chronic disease or illness (e.g. MS, PTSD), developmental, cognitive and other mental health challenges, vision or hearing impairments, severe physical disabilities, head injuries and more. More than 30% were over the age of 80 years.

Our services provide a lifeline and, for many, a bridge to the community. We support resilience, hope and healthy, joyful aging. That is our work.

VSA Colorado/Access Gallery is the state organization on disabilities and the arts. VSA is an inclusive nonprofit organization that engages the community by opening doors to creative and educational opportunities for people with disabilities to access and experience the arts. It is affiliated with the international VSA organization that is now a part of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Founded in 1974 by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, VSA seeks to provide arts and education opportunities for people with disabilities and increase access to the arts for all.

The cornerstone of our work is the Access Gallery. Our exhibits include work by emerging or established artists with disabilities; group shows created by artists representing a particular disability/type of practice; shows exploring the theme of disability culture or how disability is viewed by society; and shows representing the various programs and projects sponsored by VSA Colorado. Located at 909 Santa Fe Drive in Denver, Access Gallery is free and open to the public. www.accessgallery.org


Portraits of Ability – 25 Stories of Independence & Inspiration

PREFACE

The nucleus of this project started around a table, in a brainstorming session on how we might honor retiring executive director Lenna Kottke while advancing Via’s mission through an artistic portal. It seemed simple – 25 stories, a story for each of Lenna’s 25 years of visionary leadership in support of Via’s mission and the people we serve. Using a photojournalistic medium suggested by Damon McLeese of VSA Colorado, this exhibit originally called 25 Stories, soon took on a life of its own.

Portraits of Ability, curated by VSA Colorado, presents 25 portrait-stories of people Via serves functioning capably in their world. Stories are authentic human experiences. They connect us to a larger self and universal truths. Stories can transcend generations, engage us through emotions, and connect us to others. Through stories we share passions, sadness, hardships and joys. We share meaning and purpose. Stories allow us to understand ourselves better and to find our commonality with others.

The exhibit features the distinctive style of portrait artist Sophie Klafter. By fully immersing into her subject’s home, family, possessions, present challenges and life dreams, the photographer is able to capture the spirit of the individual in the final image. Each subject is incredibly unique; however, all share a common theme – that of striving to not be defined by disability or age. Yet paradoxically, by authentically connecting to, rather than denying physical challenges, Sophie and her subjects transcend personal limitations and allow the spirit to ring loud and clear.

Portraits of Ability employs the power of visual storytelling to transform personal narrative into public meaning and demands the audience to ask what are we doing to support these lives?

Via is honored to have been a daily part of these 25; they are our people. There have been thousands of lives supported by Via’s mission during Lenna’s 25 years. Each has a story. They have taught us that the ability to move is a universal human need. Mobility is not a car or a bus, it’s the feeling of freedom that comes from knowing you can move when and where you want. To me, Via is freedom, says Bonnie M.

Every story reinforces the truth that mobility is what gives people the opportunity to live their dreams, have a sense of purpose and find their own unique place in the community.

Mobility is not just part of a day, it is a part of life.