Meredith C. Carroll: Aspen pays it forward

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

Aspen does many things flawlessly, including, but not limited to, mountain backdrops, powder days, farmers markets, yoga clothes as formal wear, truffle fries, people-watching, traffic jams, overpriced parking spaces, bear sightings, offseason, reminiscing about the glory days, and bickering over the same inconsequential quality-of-life matters ad infinitum.

Perhaps Aspen’s signature move, however, is taking care of its own. You don’t need to wait until you’re the one needing support to have it seared on your heart that if and when the time comes, you won’t be alone. From the critical work of organizations like the Aspen Hope Center and Response, to the profound undertakings of groups such as Pathfinders and Challenge Aspen, and the come-here-and-we’ll-tattoo-your-soul-with-culture-and-conversation-that-matters Aspen Art Museum, the Aspen Institute, and the Aspen Music Festival and School — it’s a patchwork community rooted in beauty, character and compassion.

As tensions continue spiking between the public and law enforcement officials nationwide, earlier this month the Aspen Police Department posted a photo on its Facebook page showing a handwritten thank-you card along with flowers and pastries given to them by a local mom who wanted to make sure they know how much they’re valued for continually safeguarding us in ways we often can’t see but that we still feel in our lowest moments.

In June, when Mac and Cheese Festival founder and longtime city of Aspen recreation supervisor Keith Bulicz was diagnosed with kidney cancer, it took his friends, acquaintances, and recent Roaring Fork Leadership classmates roughly 24 hours to raise in excess of $5,000 to alleviate the stress of his added finances.

On Saturday, my 7-year-old daughter, Petunia, set up a lemonade stand opposite New York Pizza as part of the Roaring Fork Valley’s Lemonade Day, which is sponsored by YouthEntity. The program’s goal is to kickstart a lesson for kids on budget forecasting, securing investors, saving money, marketing, selling and giving back.

Unfortunately, Petunia failed on almost every count. My husband, Rick, did most of the heavy lifting when it came to budgeting, investing and marketing (not counting Petunia’s handmade sign showing a smug cup of lemonade wearing a pair of sunglasses and saying, “S’up, bro?”).

Where she exceeded expectations, however, was in her empathy. Lemonade Day proprietors have no mandate to keep, spend or donate their profits; Petunia could have pocketed the money and spent it on Minecraft skins or Shopkins. Instead, after reminding Rick and me that she needed to return our seed money, she took every remaining dollar — all $250 of them — and gave them to the Aspen Animal Shelter.

Of course she hasn’t learned about benevolence in a vacuum. Earlier this spring, her second-grade teachers at Aspen Elementary School, Becky Oliver and Susan McKeller, executed their own Lemonade Day where their students devised and implemented stands, with the majority of the proceeds also aiding the animal shelter and the rest of it going toward a class party and then $5 for each participating kid.

Since she started Hebrew school in kindergarten at the Aspen Jewish Congregation, Petunia also reminds us weekly about tzedakah, the Jewish practice of charitable giving. As she’s learning, there’s no age minimum for championing others, even if it’s just 25 cents at a time.

Some of Aspen’s most coveted days unquestionably occur when the crowds thin out, like in May when the trees get exponentially greener between sunrise and sunset, or all of September. It can be frustrating during the summer months when you not only can’t park your car but your bike, too. That being said, Aspen’s tourists are equally as critical to the fingerprint of town as those who protect, serve, ski and live here year round. Petunia’s lemonade stand coffers grew with love from each corner of the community, including many visitors, and Ms. Becky, who made a special trip downtown to cheer for her students carrying on the spirit of humanity she sparked in them.

Whether it’s the Aspen Community Foundation and Aspen Skiing Co.’s Environment Fund, financed through a volunteer payroll deduction plan that’s doled out nearly $3 million over 19 years to hundreds of projects, to the makeshift change jars, GoFundMe accounts, benefits and lemonade stands around town that pop up when friends, neighbors and even strangers collide with hard times, what Aspen lacks in a reputation for being dull, it more than makes up for not by being showy, but by showing up.

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