|When editor Glenn Walsh and I began discussing the inaugural issue of the Pagosa Post magazine last February — scheduled to hit the streets on April 1, 2010 — we decided we would feature five local citizens on the cover, billed as “Pagosa Pioneers.” These would be five neighbors who are out there in the trenches, getting their hands dirty, going beyond the call of duty to make Pagosa Springs a better place for all of us. |
But more than that, we wanted to select people who were thinking outside the box, stretching the limits of what worked or didn’t work, people who were doing the unexpected.
The first neighbor we picked — the first name that came to both Glenn and I as an obvious choice — was Joanne Irons, who had recently opened the doors of the Pagosa Youth Center on the alley directly behind Glenn’s little house on Hermosa Street.
You can read our “Pioneer” article about Ms. Irons and her efforts to open a safe, attractive, empowering after school space for local teens by clicking here.
Joanne was not only a person who stretched the limits of how people interact in a small mountain town, she had a great sense of humor — slightly dry, in a feisty East Coast kind of way — and an amazing way of seeing every problem as a opportunity to grow spiritually, and professionally, and as a citizen. And as an opportunity to grow as a town ... a town full of people helping one another.
Last Saturday at their 35th annual meeting, the Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce awarded Joanne Irons their “Citizen of the Year” award. Continued...
Here is a portion of the lengthy speech delivered by Chamber executive director Mary Jo Coulehan at that event.
Joanne Irons standing at the edge of Town Park with the new Pagosa Springs Youth Center in the background. Courtesy the Pagosa Post magazine.
“Similar to the Volunteer of the Year, the Citizen of the Year award is given to someone that gives of themselves through their volunteer efforts — through talent, time and financial contributions not related to their employment ... They must also have made an IMPACT on the community in at least one of these four categories: Economic, Cultural, Philanthropic, or Lifestyle...”
Ms. Coulehan then briefly noted some of the other individuals or groups who had been nominated: The Mounted Rangers, the Methodist Wreath Makers, Bob Moomaw, Norm Vance.
She then began to list the winner’s contributions to Pagosa Springs, without giving the winner’s name. After a few words, I think most of us recognized that the 2010 Citizen of the Year was none other than Ms. Irons.
“This year’s winner has changed the face of many programs that we now take for granted in our community. She co-founded Loaves & Fishes which is now in its 6th year providing meals to anyone on Thursday afternoons. This program is now embraced and the work spread out among various other non-profit organizations.
“She co-founded the Women to Women group providing support to those women in need and suffering from issues such as cancer recovery. She also spearheads a group trip for women to get mammograms at least once a year.
“She has redeveloped what was the Power House into the Pagosa Youth Center. She is a tireless advocate for our children. She is creating a safe space and place for the youth of our community to gather. In addition to just a space, she is involving the youth to hold a more visible place in our community by being a bigger part of our community through activities and community give-back. Examples include planting the flower boxes on Pagosa St., involving the youth in several parades and all the various activities performed through the RSAPP (Regional Substance Abuse Prevention Program) such as Hooked on Fishing and planting red tulips as a commitment to stay off drugs.
“She is also involved in Special Olympics, Rotary, and the new Pagosa Area Non-Profit Organization steering committee. She also serves as a volunteer on the School Board."
(Ms. Coulehan might have also mentioned Joanne Irons' involvement in promoting a skateboarding park in Pagosa Springs, an involvement that may have caused her to lose political "points" with certain small-minded individuals in the community.)
“All of the activities that our winner is involved with she also financially gives to. She has paid for a number of the costs involved with starting up the youth center including insurance and utility bills. When creating a new theme for the Seeds of Learning organization, Storybook Tables, she not only created the idea but sponsored several tables. When an organization needs to rent catering equipment that she has, she issues it at no cost to the organization. She is always personally financially supporting not only her programs but many others throughout the community.
“The efforts that we see our winner initiating may not seem on the surface to impact the community economically, but what she is contributing does greatly affects the community economically. Many of her programs are geared towards the economically disadvantaged. Two such examples are Loaves and Fishes and the Youth Center. The money that she has brought into the community through grant funds is tremendous helping to alleviate town or county or community contributions. Without the creation of these programs, our less fortunate community residents would not have a meal or be able to take advantage of extra food that is donated by organizations such as City Market.
“Many of the programs that residents now take for granted she instituted or co-founded. She has worked tirelessly since her relocation to Pagosa Springs. When she institutes a new program, she never thinks of a payback for herself, just what it will mean to the recipients of the benefits of the program. In 2006 she received the Volunteer of the Year Award. Since that time however, her volunteerism has turned into lifestyle changes for our community.
“Of course everyone knows that if you want an event to be had, you want to include Joanne Irons. If you want to promote any non-profit idea, then you must include Joanne Irons. Joanne has become synonymous with getting projects within the community started and always moving forward and I am honored to award her the Citizen of the Year for 2010.
“One of Joanne’s traits is that she is always thinking and doing for others. Joanne is not here with us tonight due to a personal situation in her family. Where she is so supportive of others, I ask that you keep her and her husband Karl in your thoughts and prayers and she is able to receive what she so generously gives out.”
Ms. Irons, who was not present that the awards ceremony, received a vigorous standing ovation nevertheless.
Read Part Two...