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A Challenging, Fun Ride – WRPD’s 50 Years

By Mike McKibbin

In half a century, the Wheat Ridge Police Department has gone from hiring off-duty Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies to one with more than 80 trained officers and a solid reputation.

The department was formed after voters approved incorporation on June 24, 1969. Today, it has 82 officers and 56 vehicles to serve a 9.5-square-mile community of 31,000 people.

Several former chiefs and officers told stories at a Jan. 9 panel discussion to kick off the city’s 50th anniversary year.

Howard Jaquay joined the department in May 1970 and served as a sergeant and lieutenant. He was the city’s second police chief from 1982-89.

Three weeks after graduation from the county sheriff department recruit class, Jaquay was hired by Wheat Ridge.

“It was a fairly casual field officer training program at the time,” he recalled. “I spent a few weeks with senior officer Fred Girk. Our shift started at 6 a.m., but one day no one else showed up. So I got in a car and told dispatch I was in service. Nothing terrible happened, though.”

Kent Higgins, who trained to become a reserve officer in 1970, said in an interview that before incorporation and the police department, the area had a volunteer Merchant’s Patrol that checked the doors of businesses to help deter break-ins.

Then-sheriff Harold Bray held one of the state’s first law enforcement training academies and Higgins was one of around eight participants.

“When Wheat Ridge and Lakewood both incorporated, the county was going to lose about two-thirds of its tax base,” Higgins stated. “(Bray) realized the deputies he was training were going to work for those departments and not his department.”

Joe Cassa started at the department in December 1972 as a dispatcher, then moved up to officer, sergeant, lieutenant, commander and division chief. He also served four, one-year stints as interim police chief and retired in 2015 after 43 years, the longest-tenured department member.

“I was lucky enough to get to do every kind of assignment a department handles, except animal control,” Cassa said in an interview. “And I supervised that, too.”

Cassa said when he joined the department, “They had a very slim patrol force and (emergency) dispatching group. It was really more of a call-to-call department. There were times when we had an east car and a west car and a supervisor and that was it.”

In 1970, 13 officers, a paid chief, administrative employees and one vehicle was in place, thanks to a one percent sales tax. Higgins recalled more officers were needed, so a reserve officer program was started.

“We rode with officers on night shifts, helped on special events, football games, Carnation Festivals to provide protection without harming regular patrols,” Higgins said.

Higgins also developed officer job descriptions, based on those of surrounding police departments.

Current chief Dan Brennan, the fourth person to hold the position by 2005, said after he applied for the job, his background as a commander with the rival Lakewood Police Department was brought home.

“At an open house with all five finalists, two city employees asked me if I got the job, ‘you’re not going to Lakewood-ize us, are you?’,” he recalled. “I had never heard Lakewood used as a verb and I said ‘I don't think I will, but I will certainly bring what I think worked there to this organization’.”

Appearance important

Those who served under the first chief, Ed Pinson, called him a stickler for details and following regulations.

Cassa recalled making a traffic stop and was puzzled when the driver laughed at his appearance.

“Just then, Chief Pinson and the city manager drove by on their way to lunch. They slowed down and kept looking at me,” Cassa said. “I asked the lady what she was laughing at and she said ‘your hat’s on backward.’ I told her ‘well, I can’t give you a ticket now.’ Thirty seconds after I cleared the call, I had a message to see Chief Pinson.”

When Cassa arrived, Pinson explained the proper way to wear a hat.

“I said something like ‘if we didn't have to wear these silly hats, we wouldn't have this problem.’,” Cassa said. “He dismissed me from his office and said ‘we don't need to be doing that anymore’.”

Higgins recalled a day he carried a box of cameras as evidence while wearing bell-bottom jeans.

“I got read the riot act,” Higgins said.

Pinson also required officers to wear black polished Wellington boots. Higgins was finishing his master’s thesis at the county’s youth detention center.

“Stupid me showed up one time to do interviews wearing those black boots,” Higgins recalled. “Everybody clammed up, they shut up when they heard me walking down the corridor because they realized he isn’t who he says he is. He’s a cop.”

Jaquay recalled a dispatch center had no air conditioning and strangers would often show up, leading to security and safety concerns. Overnight dispatchers were allowed to bring a gun to work and Jaquay said he nearly shot an undercover agent through a window.

The first patrol cars lacked standard equipment, too.

“We asked if we could all buy those AM transistor radios” since none of the cars had radios, Cassa recalled. “We had to make sure they had straps so we could attach them to the spotlight control lever or they’d slide off the dashboard.”

The cars also lacked plexiglass shields between the front and back seats.

“So we either put someone in the front passenger seat or the right side back seat,” Cassa said. “One officer put an arrestee in the back seat and he managed to get his feet up and kicked the officer in the back of his head. The officer lost consciousness but woke up in time to keep the car on the road. So we certainly had our safety issues.”

Cassa said he was fortunate to have patrolled in unit 1, the department’s first patrol car. The ‘69 Ford was purchased locally. The department has kept it and started refurbishing it last March. It is planned to be “parade-worthy” in time for this year’s Carnation Festival and other events.

Deserving community

If a community gets the level of law enforcement it deserves, Wheat Ridge must be a very deserving community, Jaquay said. After leaving the department, Jaquay worked with a multi-jurisdictional agency of federal, state, county and municipal officers.

“The level of acknowledgment this agency always got was a very heartening thing to me,” he said. “There’s a great deal of pride over having been associated with it.”

“I really loved Wheat Ridge as a family-type of department,” Cassa added. “It was — and still is — a small- to a medium-sized department and we always knew everyone in the department by their first names. We learned how to communicate and solve problems on our own.” During Brennan’s tenure, the size of the department went up and down based on the local economy and city budget ebbs and flows.

“It’s been a challenging, fun ride,” Brennan said. “Today, I think Wheat Ridge is recognized as a premier law enforcement agency. We’ve come a long way in that 50 years … .”

David Kueter: ‘Everybody’s Voice Is Worth Hearing’

By Elisabeth Monaghan

Before he was appointed to fill the city council vacancy for District 1, David Kueter already had been attending council meetings.

“I’m something of a policy geek, so I enjoyed going to the meetings to watch what was going on,” explains Kueter. He also had considered running for city council in the past and discussed his potential run with existing members of, and candidates running for the council.

An avid cyclist, Kueter is a leading member of the Wheat Ridge Transport Advisory Team and has established himself as an active member of the community. So, when Monica Duran declared her candidacy for state representative, Kueter’s name was among those considered to take her spot.

Asked how he felt about being tapped for the position, Kueter refers back to his experience as an attendee at council meetings.

“I left the meetings with the realization that not only could I do this, but I also found that even after being in the audience during four-hour-long council meetings, I was still fascinated by the discussions.”

The realization bolstered Kueter’s confidence in his qualifications for the position. It also showed him he had the level of interest necessary to remain engaged in the process.

  Growing up in Denver, Kueter was familiar with Wheat Ridge and its charm, but it wasn’t until he and his wife were looking at houses, he discovered that the burgeoning city just west of Denver also was affordable. The Kueters purchased a farmhouse built in 1908 that sits on about one-third of an acre.

Since moving to the area, one of the many positive aspects Kueter points out about Wheat Ridge is that it is “smack-dab in the middle of everything that’s going on the West Side, but it’s still small enough that any resident can get involved in the city and have a meaningful voice in significant regional and local issues.”

Describing the challenges that the Wheat Ridge City Council currently is addressing, Kueter explains that many of them aren’t unique to the city.

“When it comes to issues like affordable housing, they don’t stop at the municipal border,” says Kueter. “All of the entities need to be communicating with each other and working together about issues such as transit and accessibility. As a bicyclist, I don’t know of anyone who rides down a trail in Wheat Ridge and thinks, ‘Oh, I’m about to cross into Lakewood, so that’s the end of my ride.”

He emphasizes the importance of municipalities working together to realize there are some issues that need regional actions or solutions.

In the three months since he began his work as a councilperson, Kueter has spent much of his time getting up to speed on the various issues. That means he is just beginning to extend himself more to the community, but his sense after working with active residents, like those on the Wheat Ridge Transportation Advisory Team, is that people want to have these conversations about the issues affecting so many and to figure out how to work together.

One of Kueter’s goals is to find more opportunities to get Wheat Ridge residents taking an interest in their community.

“Not everybody has the time to invest in attending council meetings on a Monday night, and not everyone is passionate about getting involved, but I do firmly believe that everybody’s voice is worth hearing, and I want people to recognize that we genuinely value it when they contact us or get involved in the overall process,” he says.

Kueter also believes that the more input he and his fellow councilmembers receive from their constituents about the issues that matter most to them, the better a job the council can do in making decisions on their behalf.

When it comes to performing his duties for city council, Kueter’s keen interest in the work has come in handy, but his experience as a lawyer also has provided tools that allow him to listen more attentively. Kueter says that often during a trial, it is not always the subject of the trial that has people upset – so he works with the involved parties to get to the root of the problem.

According to Kueter, “Most people really want to find a solution. It may not please everybody, but by working together, they can figure out something that benefits the majority.”

Kueter’s ability to listen, observe and help all parties come to a solution has proven valuable in his first few months as a city councilman. He hopes they will allow him to continue his work as a public servant. In November of this year, when he has fulfilled his appointment to cover the last of former Councilwoman Duran’s term, Kueter plans to become an official candidate for the office. In the meantime, he wants to make sure his constituents and other Wheat Ridge residents throughout the city reach out to him with their concerns or suggestions because he sincerely wants to listen.

Councilman David Kueter can be reached on his mobile at 720-244-1751, or via email at dkueter@ci.wheatridge.co.us.

A City Mapped On A Ping-Pong Table Turns 50

By Mike McKibbin

Five decades ago, a petition to have what is now the City of Lakewood become part of Denver was actually an effort to see the city formed.

That’s according to a 1969 local newspaper report, after residents overwhelmingly approved incorporation of what was first called Jefferson City. A few months later – after strong opposition to the name – what was then the third largest city in Colorado was renamed Lakewood.

Copies of the Jefferson Sentinel – now the Lakewood Sentinel – from the spring of 1969 in the county archivist office included an April 17 story about the Denver City Council rejecting the annexation of a 27-square-mile area that would have included what became Lakewood. The story noted resident Pauline LeBlanc had proposed the annexation through a petition signed by 204 people.

Then, on June 26 (two days after the incorporation vote), front page headlines of the renamed Jefferson City Sentinel read: “Welcome To The Big City” and “Landslide Creates New Municipality.” The issue passed, 8,476 to 3,371.

A small boxed story reported LeBlanc was pleased and had started the annexation issue to get Jefferson City formed.

“When we asked Denver to annex us, we made the area so large that it could never afford to take us in,” LeBlanc was quoted. “But it got people thinking and they finally took action. We were just playing for incorporation. This is just wonderful. I’m very happy.”

“It is impossible to pinpoint any special reason for this landslide,” the paper’s editorial read. “Basically, people finally came to the conclusion that the area can’t continue as it is. There was a certain fear of Denver, a desire to keep the R-1 school system intact, and growing discontent with county government dispensed from Golden. It all added up to Jefferson City.”

Why incorporate a mystery

Whether or not fear of annexation – which would have included adding Jefferson County School District R-1 to Denver Public Schools – court-ordered busing to desegregate Denver schools or other factors spurred incorporation to remain in question 50 years later.

Local historian Kristen Autobee, the former curator and administrator of Lakewood’s Heritage Center, authored two books on the city’s history with her late husband, Robert Autobee.

While she does not believe racism was a deciding factor in the 1969 effort, “I’ve been working on this question for about 20 years and still don’t have an honest answer,” Autobee said.

Autobee agreed some incorporation backers were motivated by not wanting to become residents of Denver. A crime wave could have been another factor, she added.

“My gut feeling is there was no one reason people voted to incorporate in ‘69,” Autobee said. “There was just a lot going on.”

In a March 2, 2010, Lakewood history video, Betty Miller, the first woman city council member (served from 1969-75) and now deceased, said when she and her husband bought an area house, “the Realtor said ‘don’t worry, you’re going to be annexed by Denver in the next few years.’ So I moved here thinking I wanted to be in Denver.”

Miller believed Denver’s desegregation battles were a factor for incorporation.

“That was a terribly big issue,” she said “…I think an awful lot of it was due to the school situation.”

Dick Hilker, then the editor and general manager of the Sentinel, recalled two main issues – inadequate law enforcement by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and opposition to annexation – were reasons for incorporation.

“No one really wanted to form another big government, but we wanted a police department,” Hilker said in an interview. “I’m sure some people moved to Jefferson County to avoid busing. But our schools had a great reputation at the time, too, and we didn’t want to see any changes to our school district.”

Business-wise, Hilker said keeping a local identity was important.

“There were no big chain stores at the time, it was all locally owned businesses,” he noted. “So the (East Jefferson) chamber of commerce had a lot of influence and supported incorporation to maintain that local identity.”

The Lakewood Heritage Center website noted June 24 was the incorporation election, Aug. 28 saw the first municipal officers sworn in, Nov. 4 was the advisory vote on the name of the city, and Nov. 6 was when city council passed a resolution to change the name to Lakewood.

A city website said the name Lakewood was given to a subdivision that William Loveland, owner of the Colorado Central Railroad, established in 1889 near West Colfax Avenue and Harlan Street. Loveland had lived in or near the township of Lakewood, New Jersey, Hilker said.

Jefferson City was chosen to “try to appease everyone,” he added. “They didn’t want to antagonize any area by calling it some other area.”

In the June 26 Sentinel editorial, the paper stated, “Probably the most understated thing about Jefferson City is its name. We agree with many citizens who have complained that a much better moniker could have been selected.

“We think a more suitable name could be found. We urge the election commission to include a name referendum on the ballot for city council and mayor. The commission should ask for suggested names and select two or three that are appropriate and include them with Jefferson City on the ballot.”

An attorney, Elias Candall, led the effort to change the name.

“He was always active in some cause or another and just really disliked the name,” Hilker said.

‘A scary experience’

Jefferson City’s boundaries were drawn on a basement ping-pong table in the home of James Jeff “Jim” Richey, chairman of the incorporation group. Richey was also the city’s first mayor, serving almost nine years, from 1969-77, and was often referred to as the Father of Lakewood. He later ran unsuccessfully for governor and passed away Nov. 29, 2014.

Richey talked about the incorporation in two Lakewood history videos, dated Feb. 9, 2007, and June 22, 2012.

Richey noted annexation and “very little protection from the sheriff’s department” were issues, along with the loss of local schools if the area were annexed. Richey recalled a so-called “garage gorilla” or “garage rapist” was active and the sheriff’s department had just three cars to patrol the area.

Richey said the incorporation might have been the largest one in history at the time.

“Waking up one morning after an election and having almost 100,000 people as a new city and not having any employees, any ordinances, any rolling stock, was a little bit of a scary experience,” he said.

Officials in Denver weren’t too happy with Jefferson City’s incorporation, he noted.

“They thought this was a territory that was going to be theirs,” Richey said. “They put roadblocks in front of each thing we tried to do.”

The first election after incorporation featured 113 candidates for 13 offices, including seven candidates for mayor. Richey said the idea of running for mayor grew out of the June 24 incorporation election night, “When someone yelled ‘there’s the mayor’.”

Richey added he and other officials wanted to “soften the image” of the new police department.

“We hired the police chief before the city administrator,” Richey stated. “If I had that to do over, it would be the other way around. And we hired the wrong chief. Everyone in the metro area disliked (our) police.”

City officers were also required to have a college degree and to wear blue blazers and gray slacks.

“And we called them ‘agents,’ instead of officers,” Richey added.

Soon, however, they realized that went too far, so more traditional titles and uniforms were used, he said.

“I don’t think I would have had near the fun running an organized city as it was putting a city together,” Richey stated. “But I’m not sure you could draw a city map on a ping-pong table today.”

Swallow Hill Music Programs Blossom In The Highlands

By Ken Lutes

Spring-like weather is a sure sign of new growth. Not only will burgeoning buds and bulbs soon fill the air and please the eye with their fragrance and colors, so will strains of many musical genres float on the air in Denver’s West Highland neighborhood. Music instruction classes for all ages are held at Swallow Hill Music’s satellite school at Highlands United Methodist Church, 3131 Osceola St. Now is a good time to sign up.

The spring session is underway, but “we have rolling admission for lots of our programming,” said Barry Osborne, Swallow Hill’s associate marketing director. “For group classes, folks can enroll until the end of the third week, which for this session is Sunday, March 24.”

In its fifth summer at the West Highland satellite school, Swallow Hill’s enrollment has grown to 70 group class students and 50 private lesson hours. In addition, about 40 Little Swallow students are presently enrolled, with room to grow.

Geared for tots from six months to six years, Little Swallows classes “weave together sing-a-longs, storytelling, finger games, circle dances, rhythm instruments, and traditional, world and popular songs into a fun learning experience for each child and parent/caregiver,” states Swallow Hill’s online course description.

According to research, Osborne says, engaging children in music education before age six helps the child to speak more clearly, develop a larger vocabulary and strengthen his or her social and emotional skills. Involvement in early childhood music programs is the first step on the path to helping students advance skills such as collaboration, creative thinking, personal expression and self-direction. Exposure to music in early childhood promotes literacy, gross and fine motor skills and prepares students for success in kindergarten by introducing them to basic classroom skills.

Older kids and adults can take advantage of Swallow Hill’s more traditional offerings.

“We are often thought of as a folk music school, and while there is plenty of folk music happening at all of our locations, we teach many genres including rock and roll, classical, pop, jazz, country, Celtic, bluegrass, and beyond,” Osborne said. “The longer our students stick around, the more they come to realize how interrelated all these genres are.”

Swallow Hill’s music school employs an “experiential” teaching method, that is, teaching music through popular and familiar songs – “hands on” learning, says Osborne, who believes learning music should be a fun and engaging experience.

“In many of our classes we hope to have students playing a song by the end of their first class. We feel this outlook works for all of our students, whether they are very young children in our Little Swallows classes or adult learners.

“Reading music is often part of how we teach, but different instruments and different genres require different skill sets. An old-time folk music class might use tablature, while music for violin or cello might require more traditional note reading.”

Swallow Hill also provides a wide range of Outreach programs, from music therapy, to after school programs, to extra sensory concerts, to students who receive music instruction through its scholarship programs.

“Our greatest Outreach efforts in recent years have centered on our Little Swallows Early Childhood Education Classes, which provide high quality music instruction to underserved schools in our community,” Osborne said.

Swallow Hill’s CEO Paul Lhevine has said, “We know that families are struggling across our community. We know they’re trying to make ends meet. Our Little Swallows Early Education program is providing formal music training for kids that wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity, and we know that’s critical for their future development.

“Formal music education really doesn’t exist in early childhood education settings. And even if there are programs, funding is hard to come by.

“We believe in music education because music drives language and math skills. It promotes the appreciation of low pitch and high pitch, fast and slow pace, socialization and collaboration and so much more.”

Most Little Swallows classes are taught in Denver Public Schools, but Swallow Hill is expanding their programs into other public and private school settings.

Swallow Hill Music was founded in 1979 as an outgrowth of the Denver Folklore Center, which was begun in 1962 by Harry Tuft. The Folklore Center offered instrument sales and repairs, music lessons and concerts. Among the performers there in the 1960s and ‘70s were Joan Baez, Doc Watson, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal. When Tuft wanted to focus the Folklore Center on the instrument side of things, according to Osborne, some of his employees, volunteers, and the community around the Folklore Center created Swallow Hill as a nonprofit to hold concerts and teach music lessons.

Osborne said that Swallow Hill got its name from the neighborhood that many Denverites now know as Uptown, where the Denver Folklore Center was initially situated.

“That neighborhood was originally developed in the late 1800s by a developer named George Swallow. Even though we’ve embraced the bird as our logo, Swallow Hill really has nothing to do with birds.”

Swallow Hill Music is celebrating its 40th Anniversary throughout 2019. Over the years, Swallow Hill has moved from Uptown to South Broadway to South Pearl Street and has been at its current headquarters at 71 East Yale Ave. in Denver since 1999.

Late spring sessions start April 29 at the West Highland satellite, and a summer session starts July 8.

Get class and concert information at swallowhillmusic.org or call 303-777-1003.

Coming Alongside Kids In Need

By Laurie Dunklee

Every young person is one relationship away from changing their life,” says Russel Dains, CEO of Save Our Youth, a 25-year-old mentoring organization in the Sloan’s Lake neighborhood. “For an at-risk kid who is behind in school and being raised by a working single parent, a positive relationship with another adult can be a big fix.”

Save Our Youth matches struggling kids one-on-one with long-term mentors, who provide support with life skills and school pressures. “The bottom line is that kids who are lonely and failing in school need hope. So, we come alongside them,” said Trudy Swain, associate director, who co-founded Save Our Youth in 1994.

Save Our Youth occupies a corner building at 3443 West 23rd Ave. that was formerly the Sun Ray Super Market. The building was transformed into offices and meeting rooms using volunteer labor and donated materials.

Swain and Luis Villarreal, a licensed clinical social worker, started the organization in response to Denver’s infamous 1993 Summer of Violence. That summer left 74 dead from gang-related violence and people were frightened, especially by random drive-by shootings. Then-governor Roy Romer said of the violence, “It’s not just the number of acts … It’s the increased awareness that these are very young people who have no code of conduct, no moral framework that teaches them to respect life.”

Swain and Villarreal were compelled to act.

“We started making phone calls to social workers and pastors, asking ‘What can we do?’” Swain said. “The kids were from broken families and most had no father in their lives. They were lonely and looking for a family, so some turned to gangs. Even kids who were not in gangs were affected by gang violence in their communities.”

Now is not so different, she said. “Gangs are still here, though they are less visible. Kids suffer from domestic violence and neighborhoods are being broken up because of gentrification. Kids need the same support as when we started.”

Many low-income families have moved out of northwest Denver because of gentrification, so Save Our Youth has expanded its area to include Edgewater, Aurora, Littleton, Lakewood and Adams County.

“We go where the kids need us,” Swain said.

In 2018, 350 mentees were helped one-on-one by an equal number of mentors. About 45 percent are boys and 55 percent are girls. The number of young people served depends on the number of mentors who volunteer.

Mentors range in age from people in their 20s to nearly 80. They include teachers, business people and retirees. Many come from area churches.

“They are people who are looking to give back,” said Dains, who succeeded Villarreal as CEO in January 2018. “They all have their own struggles to share. It’s an opportunity to model resiliency and other life skills, like problem-solving and critical thinking. When it comes to kids, what you do is most important. More is caught then taught.

“Mentors have more to offer than they think. It’s amazing what happens when you keep showing up.”

Mentors share one to three hours per week with a young person for an outing or just to spend time together.

“Kids get to experience arts and sporting events that they probably have not been exposed to,” said Dains. “They go to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Rockies, the Nuggets and the Avalanche all donate tickets to us.”

Mentors also encourage good attendance at school and may be on a teacher call list if their kid misses school. Save Our Youth’s Summer Academy helps mentees improve their math and language-arts skills, allowing them to catch up to their grade level. Mentors also help high school seniors transition into college or trade school — and keep checking in with them until they graduate.

Save Our Youth started The Master’s Apprentice program, where young people learn plumbing, welding, carpentry and other trades from businesses that often hire them. The Master’s Apprentice is its own nonprofit organization now.

Save Our Youth is a faith-based organization that encourages mentors to share their spiritual journey with their mentees.

“Faith aids with healing,” said Dains. “But it’s OK if mentors don’t want to pray. We would never proselytize or try to convert a child.”

Mentors make a one-year initial commitment but remain with their kids an average of 42 months — a long stretch compared with the national average of nine months.

“Mentors stay because they get support from our trained social workers. We mentor the mentors so they don’t get discouraged,” Dains said.

Dains and Swain said current challenges facing kids include legalized marijuana and the prevalence of social media.

“The marijuana industry in Colorado is not favorable to kids,” said Swain. “All of us are stepping up our prevention efforts.”

Dains said social media and video games have expanded the definition of poverty to include relational poverty.

“Digital communication is no substitute for real relationships. It’s an opportunity for us because kids respond to human connection.”

About 80 kids are on a wait list for mentors.

“Kids call us, or their parents call us, asking for a mentor,” Dains said. “We just need more mentors. If they are willing, the impact is great.”

Dains’ vision for the future looks like more mentors helping more kids.

“I can see what would happen if every young person had someone to care about them, someone to turn to for help.”

For more information see saveouryouth.org.

Launch! The JCBRC Helps Local Businesses Grow

By Meghan Godby

This month, 14 small businesses will graduate from Launch!, a business development program hosted by the Jefferson County Business Resource Center (JCBRC). Now in its fourth year, the course is designed to educate participants on all aspects of running a business - everything from writing a business plan to learning the ins and outs of finances and marketing.

Amira Watters, who runs the program and also serves as the executive director of the JCBRC, explains.

“Business owners are very passionate about their ideas and services,” she points out. “But they often fail to understand everything that is involved with launching, managing and growing a successful business. They don’t know what they don’t know, but that can be the Achille’s Heel.”

“We have launched more than 50 unique business in Jefferson County since the program started,” Amira shared, “and over 100 businesses have [participated].”

Originally, Launch! was a six-week program geared towards start-ups and new businesses (i.e., in operation for less than two years). However, Amira knew that more people could benefit, so it has expanded to include all businesses, even those that are more well-established.

It now runs for nine weeks and focuses on a different topic each week. Capped at 15 participants, it’s small and intimate, giving businesses the benefit of one-on-one attention. Each module is led by one or several business owners who are experts in their field.

“We have roughly 13-17 business owners from Jefferson County that have risen to the top of their industry,” Amira shares. “They are highly vetted and really believe in the cause.”

These professionals are not only successful but also generous, donating their time completely free of charge. They come from a variety of different industries but include Deb York of York Insurance, attorney Mike Ambroziak and Valerie Morris of Tintero Creative.

The classes are shadowed by Lou Riverso, a business advisor to the JCBRC. She observes if participants are struggling with a certain area of focus, like bookkeeping, for example, and follows up with them to make sure they are getting the help they need.

The results have been outstanding. Businesses are growing and participants are leaving more confident than ever. But it’s not just the new guys who are seeing a benefit; Amira shared that one participant had been in business for 25 years - the course “changed his life and changed his business,” she shares. “It almost doubled!”

So, what’s next? Amira doesn’t see things slowing down anytime soon. Thanks to a new $5,000 sponsorship from Sunflower Bank in 2019, things can only get better. In fact, the JCBRC plans to launch an alumni meeting at the end of the year.

“Now that we’re four years in, we’re planning an annual opportunity for alumni to come together for special training and networking,” she said. “We want to keep in touch with them, do some surveys to see where they’re at today.”

For more information, visit jeffcobrc.org or call 303-996-8976.