We recently discovered that our friend Jake Dresden had decided to make a shift in his career becoming Director of Outreach for A Little Help. It wasn’t a shock at all since he has been a long time supporter of this thoughtful organization, but we wanted to learn more.
We come from a long line of educators in our family. Being a father of two, as well as a previous educator, what changes would you like to see in the public school system?
How much time do we have? JK. Yes – it is true that education has been the Dresden ‘family business’ for many generations. I had the privilege of attending (growing up in Philadelphia), and working (in Denver at the Jeffco Open School and at Graland), in both public and private schools. Seeing education through multiple lenses has given me some perspective on the system as a whole. First, let me say that I have an enormous amount of respect for teachers and school administrators. Our daughters have been incredibly blessed to have stellar teachers and human beings lead them at Steele Elementary and now at Merrill Middle School. Their jobs are incredibly challenging, and can be tremendously rewarding. If I had to boil it down to two changes that I would love to see happening in public schools, they would be: 1) a decreased emphasis on testing and learning via laptop. I really feel strongly that kids developmentally need to frequently be able to practice ‘human’ skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, exploration, etc, that cannot effectively be done digitally. 2) I would love to see schools break away from traditional scheduling to allow for more learning outside the classroom. I want kids to be able to ‘experience’ learning rather than ‘consume’ it. I understand that there are myriad reasons to continue the system the way it is from lunch schedules to lack of resources, but it is always so fun to hear my daughters talk about a field trip or a project that kicked them out of their comfort zone. Lastly, schools need more money plain and simple, and we need to fund schools more robustly. Cutting arts and physical education is a horrible idea. We need more arts and PE!
You recently started a new position with Colorado based, and locally well-loved nonprofit, A Little Help. What can you tell us about this new career?
First, let me say that it was a very difficult decision for me to leave teaching. That being said, I’m very excited for career 2.0 at A Little Help (ALH). For those who don’t know what we do, we are a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of older adults in our communities. ALH fosters community connections and equips neighbors to volunteer with tasks that are needed. My title at ALH is Director of Outreach and Development. As such, my main focus will be to continue to introduce our organization to the greater Denver Metro area and, more broadly, to the entire state of Colorado. In addition, we plan to search for new partnerships with like-minded organizations and individuals to support our mission. We will continue to need support (financial and other) to offer the services that older adults need and to help us grow into new communities. Our home base is the Denver Metro area, but we also have offices and a presence in the Ft. Collins/Berthoud/Loveland region as well as in the Roaring Fork Valley.
How can we as a neighborhood get more involved with such a unique and important organization?
As a neighborhood and as businesses, individuals, and families, there are many ways to get involved. First, there are always opportunities to become a volunteer. We have a core of dedicated volunteers that provide services on an ongoing basis for our older adults. Some of those services include: snow shoveling, transportation, tech support, care visits, etc. As a family, Service Saturdays are a great way to get involved. We usually have diverse groups of volunteers (families, businesses, school groups, individuals, etc.) that convene somewhere locally (typically South High School) and then fan out to multiple homes in a neighborhood for a half day. It is a shared experience where you meet all sorts of new people and make a difference for our older adults. In addition, organizations can sign up to do a day of service where the entire office comes out to provide service. It is a tremendously meaningful way to bond as a group, and to meet and work for and with our older adults. Please visit alittlehelp.org to learn more or feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I want to stress that performing the tasks are very important, but more important is the connection that is made between the volunteer and the older adult. We try hard to blur the line between who is receiving and giving the service as the relationship is mutually beneficial.
You’ve been in Colorado for 30 years. What led you here?
The simple answer is college. I attended Colorado College in the Springs from 1990-94 and then moved to Denver shortly thereafter. I was involved in multiple entrepreneurial ventures back before being an entrepreneur was fashionable. I started a business making furniture out of recycled sporting goods and was on the road running mountain bike and ski races for a sports marketing firm before I decided to go back to graduate school in education at CU Boulder. That happened in 2000 and I have been in education ever since that. I still try to keep my hand in the entrepreneurial game as I have a very small business that takes kids camping and backpacking in the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness near Steamboat in the summer months. I have been doing that for the better part of the last two decades now.
How did you land in Wash Park?
I lived in many different locales in Denver, but mostly I was centered around West Wash Park and Baker. I loved Broadway back in the 90’s. Sputnik and the original Skylark were my go-to spots.
My wife closed on our house about a week before we met and that’s how I migrated across Downing to the East Wash Park area. To be honest, I rarely ventured to the east side of the park back in the day. Our house is on the west side of the block and our neighbors on this side still sometimes refer to ourselves as ‘west-siders’. I believe there were some hoodies made. No disrespect to the east side, we are just a different breed.
Your home is one of the first new builds that set the bar in modern design. Did you help with this project?
Saying that I ‘helped’ would be a stretch. The vision for our home was mostly all my wife’s. She has a keen, understated design sense and can articulate clearly what something should look like. She is a true modernist and minimalist. I can simply see something that appeals to me and mumble ‘that looks good’. We ended up hiring one of my good friends from Colorado College to be our architect and he was able to take my wife’s ideas and make them into a cogent design. I will say that when the house was completed back in 2010, there weren’t many like it and I remember many people walking or driving by and stopping to stare at it with a vacant, puzzled look. That doesn’t happen anymore….
What do you think about the changes happening architecturally in the neighborhood?
That is a difficult question to answer to be honest. On one hand, I believe whole-heartedly in urban density as a healthy alternative to suburban sprawl. Intellectually, I understand it. Emotionally and nostalgically, I, like many of my peers who have been here awhile, yearn for the simpler days that were less crowded. I cannot get too upset, however, because I am fully a part of that evolution of our neighborhood and our city for better and worse.
Architecturally, I think that Wash Park is transforming extremely quickly and hasn’t really developed a true identity to replace the bungalow community that we once were. Ask me again in 5 years I guess.
What are some of your favorite local spots? Activities?
I do appreciate that there are still some spots that I frequented long ago. Sports Plus comes to mind. In terms of eateries, our family favs are: Adelita’s, Devil’s Food, and Vert. Quality food. My daughters might have some more to add to that, but I think that is pretty accurate. I would also like to say that Finley’s is perhaps my favorite neighborhood watering hole.
In terms of activities, I love the park for different reasons and different seasons. I appreciate the solitude on a late evening walk in the winter or a multi-family get together in the shade of the lawn south of the rec center in the summer. I try to bike as much as possible and this summer discovered the joys of the pump track at Ruby Hill. I try to stay out of my car as much as possible. I like live music and consider the Ogden to have the best sound in Denver.
Thank you for giving us a peek into your past, Jake. We look forward to what the future holds for you and we will see you in our next round of volunteer shifts for A Little Help!