Hi, my name is Emma Heth, and I’ve been interning with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) this summer. I came to VOC for a number of reasons, but it was my mother, Jen (Dunbar) Heth, who first drew me to VOC. She worked at VOC from 1991-1994 as her first job, formative years both for her and the organization. VOC was in its old office on Grant Street, Dos Chappell was VOC’s Executive Director, and I wasn’t yet born.
In 1991, my mom, dad, and grandparents participated in the Chalk Creek Mine Reclamation project. My mom interviewed with Dos Chappell for her new job at a campground picnic table the night before the project. She was hired on the spot and started work the next day! During that project, Coors, who remains a VOC sponsor today, was out taking photos. My mom and grandpa ended up featured on billboards and newspapers in an ad showing Coors’s support for the Colorado outdoors. One billboard ended up right outside my dad’s downtown Denver apartment, and they laughed that he could see his then-girlfriend anytime he wanted, right outside his window. If you look closely in top photo, you can see the Coors photographer setting up the camera in the background.
One of my mom's favorite VOC stories, and greatest lessons in flexibility, was during a Bike to Nature fundraiser, which she organized as a part of her job. She often laughed about the year that a catering truck full of salmon veered off the road on its way to Bike to Nature, spilling salmon in the trees and all over the highway. My mom was left in a pinch to feed the cyclists, but the thought of salmon hanging in the trees made the story more funny than stressful.
Once I was born in 1996, participating in VOC projects became more difficult. We never did VOC projects as I was growing up; life got in the way. Nonetheless, VOC had an important presence in my family through my mom’s stories, her old VOC sweatshirts, and our family’s values. Our outdoor experiences were varied: everything from hiking and camping in the mountains to constant puttering in our backyard garden. In City Park, my mom trained for half marathons, walked with friends, and watched the sunset whenever she could. Giving back to her land and community was important, and she showed it through jobs at other nonprofits and the public school system and many, many hours of volunteering.
In December 2018, my mom passed away at the age of 51. Her love of Colorado and the outdoors was steadfast until the end; in October, when her prognosis turned sour, she insisted on getting our family up to the mountains together one last time, if only to sit by a lake for some family reflection.
Among my mom’s wishes for her memorial, she requested that people donate to VOC and two other organizations in lieu of flowers. With that request, her love of Colorado outdoor spaces and VOC was sealed.
Working at VOC this summer has been an honor. I have explored the inner workings of a well-run, passionate organization, watched the dedication of decades-long volunteers, and experienced my first VOC project alongside my dad, brother, and grandparents. I have met so many people who share my mom’s love of Colorado’s outdoors, and through them, I feel her spirit.