Today, we bid farewell to a great collaborator and friend. Armando Rios, who first joined Epicenter as an AmeriCorps VISTA in 2012, will be leaving us for new opportunities in the great state of Michigan. Over his four years in Green River, Armando has helped Epicenter achieve momentous things, including:
– the completion of the first Green River Habitat for Humanity House,
– raising $70,500 in grants for Habitat for Humanity and serving a year-and-a-half on their Board of Directors,
– starting and developing Fix It First, recipient of the Utah Housing Coalitions’s 2014 Rural Project of the Year,
– 37 Fix It First project completed, affecting 100 Green River Residents and repairing 25% of the 146 homes identified by the Green River Housing Plan as in need of repairs, and
– raising $93,000 in grants for Epicenter, and self-generating $40,305 for the Fix It First program through client repayments that sustain the program perpetually.
We will miss his service, unparalleled work ethic, drumming abilities, and mirthful excitement. Below are some of our fondest memories of Armando and Green River.
5. (Almost) Every Taco Tuesday: Taco Tuesday has been a tradition since Epicenter’s inception: every Tuesday at 11:30 AM the staff goes to a local Mexican eatery (cue the never-ending La Veracruzana v. La Pasadita debate) and eat lunch (sometimes actual tacos) together. Regardless of the potential for slow service or mixed-up orders, Armando is always down for Taco Tuesday, and I love that about him.
4. Church Camp (circa July 2014): During Armando’s time in Green River, he’s always been the drummer for the house band. Of all the times they played, my favorite night was actually just a random Church Camp practice. It had been a +100-degree July day, but we had just been blessed with a late-afternoon rainstorm. With the garage doors open, a cool breeze, and the multi-colored Christmas lights reflecting off the wet concrete driveway, Chris Lezama and Armando played to an audience of me and a few others. Everything felt just right.
3. The Battle of Westwater (July 21, 2014): Every summer in July, Epicenter goes on a Westwater rafting trip. On the second day of the 2014 trip, a great naval battle was waged. I don’t recall the details of the battle, as much of it was a blur, but I could guess that while Chris was attempting to water-board me, Justin Queen was probably Hulk-smashing Armando into the river. Or maybe he was just peacefully hiding under the shade of the raft. You never quite know with Armando.
2. GRHS Basketball: I love going to sports games of all kinds, I always know that I could count on Armando to join me in cheering on the Green River High basketball team. The DJ G. Riches jams and semi-warm nachos just won’t be the same without Armando’s nervous panicking during the last few minutes of the closest rivalry games.
1. Grand Canyon: Epicenter has a tradition of road trip staff retreats, and the 2013 trip to the Grand Canyon puts all other road trips to shame: swimming in cold Lake Powell on the hottest day of our lives, sleeping on the edge of the Grand Canyon without another soul for miles, finding scorpions by blacklight at night, learning how (not) to dribble an Australian rugby ball. I worry that we’ll never have as good a trip as that one.
None of these memories are directly work-related. That’s not to say that Armando wasn’t an incredibly valuable asset to Epicenter’s work; he built the Fix It First program up from the ground! He will be missed in the office, but he will especially be missed as a contributor to the culture of Epicenter after-hours and to the community of Green River at large. He’s our ambassador of good times, sultan of summer, bringer of beats, dancer to Pony, lover to all, and the most fashionable longboarder/cyclist for over 100 miles.
You’ve left your mark on this place, Armando, and you won’t soon be forgotten.
– Maria Sykes, Principal of Arts and Culture, 2009-present
Despite his self-infatuation as a Leo, Armando is quick to speak of his love for each of us: those here now, those in the past. The “I love you”‘s he throws out to everyone can come across as flippant, but in quieter moments we’ve had one-on-one, I can honestly say he’s actually very genuine in his care for us all, noting specific reasons and lengthy stories that he holds on to. For years he served as the Volunteer House on-site manager, often the first to welcome the hundreds of people that have visited with a hand-written note, local tips, and an invitation to watch the sunset. It’s not uncommon that people recall a story with Armando as a key component of their time here in Green River, no matter the length of their visit. It’s Armando’s everyone’s-always-invited attitude that I hope we find a way to maintain after he leaves.
Beyond that, he simply gets shit done. He has been at the bad end of plumbing, in tiny crawlspaces and attics, installed drywall overhead, renovated a dog kennel, and pulled weeds alongside volunteers he recruited, doing all these things in what most would determine inclement weather. Armando’s also the one making sure there is music and beer for the beach, to which I can’t recall one instance where he declined going.
– Jack Forinash, Principal of Housing, 2009-present
There are too many great Armando memories—we all know this. But one of my favorite first memories was Melon Days 2012. It was the first time Armando and I had been on a float in a parade. Thrilled to be nuzzled up next to itchy hay bales, a half-dozen excited children, and buckets of candy to throw at the parade watchers, it was quite the introduction to our new home in Green River. This was only the beginning of our time in the wild, wild, West—packed with new adventures and endless happy moments.
Armando’s love for Green River and the people that live here is intoxicating. I truly admire his commitment to the work he has done, and this all attests to Armando’s quality of loyal friendship. He is a true friend: trustworthy, honest, and incredibly fun. I feel very lucky to have had time to work with and get to know the one and only Armando Rios Verde.
– Ashley Ross, AmeriCorps VISTA, 2012-2013
Armando was the first person I really got to know at Epicenter. Just a few days into my internship last summer, he and I left Green River to drive a group of design students from Japan around the Mountain West and then to Design Build Bluff where they worked on some small design-build projects. We acted as chauffeurs and advisors, radio DJs and cultural ambassadors. Many of the stories gathered here highlight Armando’s insatiable desire for fun and entertainment, but what I remember most from that trip is his equally strong sense of caring and responsibility. He remained protective of those students (whether hiking on a cliff edge or preparing for a night on the Las Vegas strip) and a diligent teacher. Looking at what Armando has accomplished over his four years at Epicenter, it is obvious that those qualities—his sense of responsibility and his care for others—have allowed him to foster great relationships with volunteers and grow the Fix It First program into an award-winning precedent. I saw all of that immediately within him. Over a year later, that trip with those Japanese students and Armando is still my fondest memory of my time at Epicenter.
– Bryan Brooks, AmeriCorps VISTA, 2015-present
1. 8-8-88 Celebration: Armando’s 27th birthday including tattoos by Mary, a dance party, and an amazing time.
2. Melon Days: Matching watermelon shirts for the parade, the watermelon eating contest, volunteering at the kid’s art booth, and everything in between.
3. Swamp Cooler: Although it was freezing, Armando eagerly helped remove a swamp cooler off a roof for a home repair. We enjoyed throwing it off the roof so much that, for a second, we considered carrying it back up to be able to throw it back down again.
4. Sardines Champ: Ten of us searched for Armando for a good half hour while playing Sardines. Turns out he was hiding under the couch. Luckily no one sat down.
5. Disc Golf: Armando’s sense of style is unsurpassed in almost all situations. The outfit he wore while playing disc golf further confirmed this.
6. Backyard Pool Parties: Armando: the pool inflator, filler, and DJ.
7. Utilikilt: The first day Armando wore his homemade Utilikilt working on site… only to spill Horchata on it during lunch at the taco truck.
8. Swasey’s Beach: Armando was always at the beach, but the most memorable moment was probably his impersonation of Baywatch last summer. Unfortunately, this resulted in losing another pair of his glasses to the mighty Green River.
Thank you Armando for playing such a large part in making Green River great and unforgettable. You were always willing to hang out—whether it was Sunset Club (I always look east now because of you), binge watching Netflix on cold winter weekends, or just sitting around the fire telling awesome stories. Green River is going to miss you, but Grand Rapids is going to be great. In all sincerity, ‘preciate ya!
– Katie Anderson, AmeriCorps VISTA, 2015-present
—Armando Rios – Housing Programs Specialist
Fix It First turns three this month. With it being winter and not a prime building season, we now have time to sit down and reflect on the accomplishments Fix It First has achieved over the last three years. Everyone likes to hear about achievements and accomplishments, and though cliché, Epicenter and Fix It First could not have done it without all of the great people who have spent their time making the program succeed. We are proud to work with enthusiastic and energetic people to create affordable housing solutions for Green River.
Fix It First was developed in response to the City of Green River’s 2012 Housing Plan which revealed that 46% of Green River homes are in need of repairs. The program officially began on January 18, 2013, when the first project was completed, while the program was initiated in October 2012 when Bike & Build awarded Epicenter $10,000. The grant is the largest amount that Bike & Build awards; the funds were utilized to begin a revolving loan fund. At this point Epicenter had the ability to purchase the materials necessary to do home repairs. This was the pivotal moment when the first steps were taken to develop the program.
Armando Rios, an AmeriCorps VISTA at the time, shadowed David Woodman at ASSIST in Salt Lake City; Dave manages ASSIST’s Emergency Home Repair program, which served as a model for Epicenter’s Fix It First program. The other model was Habitat for Humanity’s A Brush With Kindness program, which has plenty of experience doing repairs and success stories throughout the nation.
Over the years we have been able to further develop “the gears” of the program, collecting data on what materials were used on a project, what extra materials were required to be purchased, hours spent planning and constructing, and repayment timelines. We now have a collection of specialized tools, and our construction knowledge base has grown to allow us to predict what sort of problems we will potentially encounter. With each project, the program’s efficiency and client satisfaction improves. All of us can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Through Fix It First, we’ve directly impacted 74 Green River residents completing 32 home repairs. With additional grants along with the repayments of loans by clients, we’ve invested a total of $52,491 in improving the housing stock in Green River, addressing issues on 31 homes in the last three years. We’re proud of the fact that 23 projects have been paid off, and the remaining nine have a 0% delinquency rate on their monthly payments. By the end of 2015, Fix It First clients had paid back $29,353 through affordable, low-interest monthly payments.
The projects completed to-date have addressed housing burden issues in 14.6% of the 212 homes identified in the 2012 Green River Housing Plan as in need of repairs. The momentum is there to reach the goal of eliminating all housing burdens in Green River, and that drive to improve quality of life for all Green River residents has been noticed by other private foundations. Our local electrical company, Rocky Mountain Power, awarded a $5,000 grant through their philanthropic foundation for use on home repair projects focusing on improving energy efficiency. The Sorenson Legacy Foundation pitched in $1,500 from a broader grant funding many of Epicenter’s programs. The Wells Fargo Housing Foundation jumped in too, awarding $10,334 in 2015 for both Fix It First and in support of our efforts of researching and planning new multi-family housing development.
This new year will bring even more investment into Green River’s housing stock and alleviate burdens for local residents. For 2016, we’ve set a goal of 15 new projects, along with 10 additional small interventions to install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in mobile homes.
For more information on Fix It First or to donate to the project, please call (435) 564-3330 or visit Epicenter at 180 S. Broadway, Green River, Utah.
We are excited to announce the completion of Epicenter’s new shop! Epicenter staff designed and built a new 340 SF shop on the back of the Epicenter property over the summer, led by our intern Daniel Richards. This new space securely and efficiently stores all of Epicenter’s and Habitat for Humanity’s tools (all 403 of them!) and provides interior space for pre-fabrication and craft work. When applicable, Frontier Fellows will also have access to the space and tool library.
We’re thrilled to have the tools out of the basement, which is only accessed through a door in the floor inside the office; the basement is once again a usable space for storage and work space for Frontier Fellows. In the new shop, the knolled wall of hand tools assures everything has a place and everything is in its place. The six-foot-wide garage door on the shop allows for trucks to be loaded right where the tools are kept. A new tool library check-out system keeps all the tools organized and tracked. And, for the first time, a 220-volt outlet will allow for the use of our Miller Thunderbolt AC stick welder for fabrication of steel projects.
Project: Epicenter Shop (340 SF interior, unconditioned, slab on grade, wood frame, reflective metal R-panel roof, fiber-cement board siding, painted plywood interior finish)
Construction team: Daniel Richards (Designer and Project Manager), Jack Forinash, Steph Crabtree, Armando Rios, Katie Anderson, Bryan Brooks
Concrete flatwork by High Desert Excavating (Green River) and electrical work by P&L Electrical Services LLC (Helper, UT).
Total cost: $17,454.90
– – Construction costs (materials and sub-contractors): $10,387.22
($6,661.49 [64%] spent in Green River, $2,009.65 [19%] spent in Carbon/Emery Counties other than Green River)
– – Payroll costs: $7,067.68
In-kind support from: P&D Ace Hardware
Funding generously provided by: The Wheeler Foundation and The Sorenson Legacy Foundation
For two weeks Armando and I got to be American ambassadors. We acted as chauffeurs, construction advisers, language assistants, and cultural intermediaries for fourteen Japanese graduate students from Hosei University in Tokyo. They came to Utah for a design/build study-abroad excursion hosted by the University of Utah’s DesignBuildBLUFF program located on the northern border of the Navajo Nation. They came from diverse backgrounds, some studying architecture, some urban design, some systems design. Two grew up in Mongolia, one in China, one in Jersey (the one with the shore). Some could carry on simple, slow conversations in English, some knew choice phrases, and some didn’t speak English at all. Each left a little more knowledgeable about the United States—particularly the Four Corners region of the Colorado Plateau—and the advantages, challenges, and process of both designing and building a project from start to finish.
Our whirlwind tour began with stops at the Great Salt Lake, including the Spiral Jetty and Antelope Island. The students and I stood enraptured at the vast expanse of water, the crusty, crystalline surface underfoot, and the great billows of foam blowing across the beach. Here the selfie-stick emerged. If I can generalize one thing about the group, it’s that the love their selfies. There can never be too many.
But it was time to leave the Great Basin behind. The next day we drove south—stopping in Green River for lunch (at the Tamarisk!), and Arches for more selfies (with Landscape Arch)—to Bluff, a tiny but picturesque hamlet six hours drive from Salt Lake City. There the DesignBuildBLUFF campus consists of a turn-of-the century sandstone pioneer home and various outbuildings, sheds, and sleeping quarters constructed by DBB students over the years. Atsushi and Hiroko, DBB program coordinators, made us delicious homemade pizzas, evidence of more great meals to follow.
At Bluff we were introduced to the DBB program and toured several past housing projects built by University of Utah and University of Colorado at Denver students for families living on the Navajo Nation. Then it was the students’ turn to design something and get their hands dirty constructing it on the DBB campus. The student’s broke up into three teams: one designing a new bench around an existing fire pit, the other two designing water catchment systems at outdoor spigots. The bench team had a good idea of what they wanted to do and how to do it from the beginning: they used a mixture of straw and clay applied to hay bales to create a semi-circular shape. This construction method is particularly effective and appropriate for the Four Corners’ dry climate and uses local clay.
The spigot teams had a harder time deciding on a design, and both went through several iterations of ideas and even substantially changed the design well into construction. Both teams worked with concrete which is a less forgiving material than straw and clay, and they learned the importance of working with the right water-cement-aggregate ratio and that good concrete is only as good as its formwork. In the end each project turned out nicely, and all the students came out of the program knowing much more about materials, construction, and working together to design and build.
Over the course of our week at Bluff we also had a little time for fun, including hikes to ancient Pueblo ruins, poker nights, Frisbee throwing, and Japanese lessons (I can now introduce myself and thank the farmers for the harvest before I eat a meal).
With the projects completed, we took time to sketch them and the surrounding campus before celebrating with a party and corn-hole competition (unfortunately both American-led teams lost). And then it was time to say goodbye to Bluff and take to the road again. To finish the students’ tour of the Southwest, we stopped at Mesa Verde National Park, the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, and Las Vegas.
For the long drives I had the Japanese be DJ, and aside from some songs from Miyazaki movies we got back American pop—even the Japanese love Taylor Swift. After a late-night driving tour down the Las Vegas strip, breakfast-for-dinner at Denny’s, and a few hours of sleep, we shuttled the students and their luggage to the airport under the still-dark 4AM sky. Before we parted the Japanese gave Armando and I a thank-you card that each student had signed, and then we said goodbye to each of them: Ryosuke, who was brave enough to start a conversation with me the first day, Tulga, the Mongolian who holds himself like a prince and declared authoritatively, “I will come back,” Yusuke, who told me all the good spots to go hiking in Japan, Aran, who taught me Japanese, Keiichi, our interpreter from Jersey, and all the others. I miss them all dearly.
—Bryan Brooks, Epicenter Summer Intern
The Utah Housing Coalition held their 18th Annual Utah Housing Matters Conference on September 23rd & 24th, 2014 at the Yarrow Hotel in Park City. Each year, the Utah Housing Coalition honors outstanding businesses, organizations, or individuals engaged in making a significant contribution and or benefit to the community in the field of affordable housing and community development.
This year the awards committee selected Epicenter’s “Fix It First” program as Rural Project of the Year. After years of investing their lives in Green River, the young professionals at Epicenter learned from the community to tailor programs for the specific needs and social environment. The Fix It First program is in response to the city’s Housing Plan, completed in 2013, which determined that 45.7% of the homes in Green River were considered deteriorated or dilapidated and in need of repairs. As a town with high homeownership, an aging population and conservative political biases, traditional solutions were hard to implement and “hand-outs” were discouraged by the small town lifestyle. Epicenter formed Fix It First to be a program funded by private dollars instead of tax dollars, repaid by clients through affordable micro-loans, and solving the defined need based in data exhibited in the city’s housing plan.
Additional awards presented Tuesday, September 23rd included:
The 2014 Jack Gallivan Legacy Award winner is Dave Conine. Dave puts his heart and soul into fashioning dynamite successful long-term projects that have champions, leaders, funding, strategy, advocacy and a whole host of critical ingredients to best meet affordable housing project and community needs in Utah. He is creative and a life-long advocate for affordable housing. His work both professionally and personally on poverty issues, community revitalization, sustainability, housing for the ill-housed and solutions is an unfolding, extraordinary, significant achievement. Watch the award video here.
UHC Member of the Year: Utah Coalition of Manufactured Home Owners received the award for their legislative advocacy and partnering with Utah Housing Coalition on critically needed improvements in mobile/manufactured home law.
Agency of the Year: Utah Non-Profit Housing Corporation received the award for their owning and operating more than 2,000 units of affordable housing throughout Utah, serving households with area median incomes of less than 50% with the majority making less than 18% (making it the lowest or one of the lowest statewide). The population served includes the elderly, disabled, mentally ill, as well as those suffering from domestic violence and HIV Aids. UNPHC has served more than 17,000 households to date.
Urban Project of the Year: Iron Horse Transit Housing developed by Park City for their innovated funding. They received a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to build affordable housing for seasonal transit employees.
Person of the Year: Karen Haney, employed by Family Support Center’s LifeStart Village for bringing her tenants out of homelessness and into a secure, safe environment; along with building their self-sufficiency and self-esteem. Her program is designed to get single women out of homelessness and give them the tools and skills to be self -sufficient, so that they can be good role models for their children.
On August 6-8, the Epicenter was visited by Bike & Build, a group of 31 young adults biking across the country from Providence, Rhode Island, to Half Moon Bay, California. The group stopped for a build day, one of only thirteen on this route, in Green River to work on three Fix It First projects, two Habitat for Humanity A Brush With Kindness projects, and the Epicenter building itself. The Epicenter crew was very excited to get so much work done in such a small amount of time.
The night before the build day, after a family-style meal, Green River town tour, and Bike & Build’s own presentation, Epicenter introduced all of the projects and split the group up into four teams.
The first team worked with Fix It First staff (Steph Crabtree and Armando Rios) on two home repair projects. On one of these projects, the group was split into smaller teams to work on replacing a window, patching a leaky roof, and building a larger front entry with handrails and a larger walking surface when entering the home. In the morning, the roof team left for an hour for an additional project, helping a local senior citizen keep her yard to the city’s code by removing weeds and trimming back some large bushes.
The second team worked with our Habitat for Humanity summer intern, Ellise Gallagher, on one A Brush With Kindness project and one Fix It First/Habitat for Humanity collaboration. In the morning this group of six Bike and Builders traveled across the river to Elgin to work on one project. This project was to recoat the roof of a trailer home, re-structure the porch awning to be more stable, and install rolled roofing over the awning to stop any future leaks above the homeowner’s front door. All of that was completed in the morning, after lunch the group traveled near the foot of the Book Cliffs to work on their second project, helping a senior citizen couple clear their yard of weeds; with all of the rain Green River has been seeing lately, some of the weeds were more than six feet tall! At a later date, Fix It First will revisit this couple’s home to cover exposed wire and plumbing.
Team three consisted of four Bike & Builder’s and our new Habitat for Humanity staff member, Jeff Adams. Their project was to recoat the roof of a trailer home that was in dire need of repair. This group’s efforts will ensure that the roof will not leak and the homeowner will live in a safe, dry place. After the group completed their work they traveled to other sites to lend a helping hand.
Team four worked on the Epicenter building. The cornice on the building had begun sagging and it was their mission to make needed repairs to improve its durability. Epicenter summer intern, Evan Rimoldi, led six Bike & Builders in this task, which included adding tie-backs to brace against the wind, which had caused the damage over the years.
A huge thanks goes out to Bike & Build for their hard work in our small town!! The impact of this group over the years has been enormous and without our initial $10,000 grant in November 2012 from Bike & Build to start Fix It First we would have not been able to complete 23 separate critical home repair projects to date.
Meet the January 2014 Epicrew! Crew Count: 11. From Right to Left: Cyrus Smith, Chris Lezama, Mary Rothlisberger, Charlotte X. C. Sullivan, Maria Sykes, Jack Forinash, Sarah Baugh, Nicole Lavelle, Armando Rios, and Ryann Savino. Not pictured: Justin Queen.
Please enjoy the diversity of the group through the Q&A session below:
Q: What’s your age, birth place, zodiac sign, and spirit animal?
Sarah: 28 / Hope, Idaho / Capricorn / white-tailed deer
Jack: 28 / Alabama / Aquarius / seahorse
Nicole: 26 / San Francisco, California / Leo (Cancer cusp) / wild housecat
Chris: 30 / Daly City, CA / Aquarius / Donatello from the Ninja Turtles
Justin: 27 / Maybee, Michigan / Saggitarius / phoenix
Armando: 25 / San Angelo, Texas / Leo / fox
Mary: 30 / Killeen, Texas / Virgo / opossum
Ryann: 23 / Placerville, California / Virgo / doe
Cyrus: 33 / Portland, Oregon / Taurus / unknown
Charlotte: 29 / Boston, Massachusetts / Pisces / red fox
Maria: 29 / San Diego, CA / Virgo (Libra cusp) / ringtailed cat
Q: Where’s your favorite place to eat in Green River?
Sarah: Breakfast at West Winds, salad bar lunch at Tamarisk, and taco dinner (seasonal) at La Veracruzana.
Jack: Chow Hound.
Nicole: Tamarisk salad bar.
Chris: A back room booth at the West Winds or a counter stool at Ray’s.
Justin: Chow Hound.
Armando: The city park.
Mary: West Winds, late night. Like, late late night.
Ryann: At my Aunt Katherine’s house.
Cyrus: Chow Hound (love the BLT).
Charlotte: West Winds.
Maria: I like to belly-up to the bar at Ray’s Tavern for a burger and a pint. Juke box, tourists, and free pool: what more could a girl need?
Q: What brings you to Epicenter this January? What brought you to Green River originally?
Sarah: I’m here for one week with Nicole Lavelle to work on the upcoming Green River Magazine! I came to Green River in August of 2012 for the Frontier Fellowship. I’ve been here a total of four times since then, mostly as a Fellow.
Nicole: I’m here with Sarah Baugh to work on the Green River Magazine, and to get my annual winter dose of Green River. I came here originally because my friend in Alabama said, “Do you know about these guys? They’re building stuff out in the desert.” I had pictured a Burning Man vibe with geodesic domes and Epicenter actually literally building stuff in the middle of the desert. Anyways, even though I was wrong about the hippy vibe, the work the Epicenter was doing was compelling to me as a young designer just out of school, uninterested in working long hours to make Nike commercials. They provided an alternative model of practice, or at least they were investigating one, and I wanted to be a part of it. Years later, the model of young-creative-professional-forging-ahead that I learned from Epicenter is integral to the way I work. I’ve been here five times, but I had stopped counting.
Mary: I moved to Green River in November because of affordable housing options. I believe the power of small communities to enable positive change and as an citizen-artist, I prefer to work and live in towns of under 1,000. Small towns are for big ideas; open spaces never close. I first came through Green River to photograph the post office. I met Maria at the beach that evening. Haven’t really left the beach since. I spent a week on the beach with Cabin-Time last summer. Went to the beach for my birthday with new friends from Epicenter. Visits to the frozen winter beach to look at the moon. Have plans to set the record for consecutive beach visits as soon as its warm enough to read outside. I ended up at the beach here by accident, but my relationship with Green River started in February 2012 when Molly Goldberg and I applied to the Frontier Fellowship. We’ll be here together in April for adventure, intrigue, and a tornado of good old-fashioned fun.
Cyrus: I am the Frontier Fellow for the month of January. While in Green River I will be working with a group of high school students on an Oral History project. I am also seeking out the “Most Interesting Person in Green River,” who I hope to meet and interview for the upcoming Green River Magazine. I first came to Green River in August 2013 as part of the Cabin Time Residency which took place north of town in Desolation Canyon. This is my first time back, and I am looking forward to spending time in town, meeting the good people, and taking walks around town.
Charlotte: I am working at Epicenter this January to help select Fellows for 2014. I originally came to Green River because I wanted to collaborate with Jack and Maria, as I was inspired (via their Vimeo account) by their “LET’S DO THIS!” style work ethic as citizen architects. I also wanted to do an art residency in a remote, desert location, but didn’t want to wait for applications I had submitted to other programs to be processed. So, with Jack and Maria’s support, I decided the fastest way to do a residency of this sort was just to start one. Since January 8, 2011, I have returned to Green River three times: in September, 2011 to oversee the installation of Epicenter’s Antipode, A Site-Specific Billboard On the Frontier, in August, 2013 to participate in Cabin-Time 5, and in January, 2014, to assist with the Fellowship selection process.
Q: What do you do full-time at Epicenter?
Jack: I’m Principal of Housing and the Financial Manager.
Chris: I’m the Community Development Specialist. I assist Green River in a few of its ongoing community development initiatives.
Justin: I’m a part time employee facilitating Epicenter’s separation from PACT into its own nonprofit entity.
Armando: AmeriCorps VISTA, Housing Resources.
Ryann: I’m the Community Development AmeriCorps VISTA. I help out with the Frontier Fellowship program, run the Epicenter Etsy store, manage Social Services, work on our High School ACE Internship program, facilitate Windows on Broadway projects, help at the Boys and Girls Club, and translate documents in and out of Spanish.
Maria: I’m a co-director. I’m the principal over all things arts and culture related. I also work heavily on economic development and affordable housing projects and programs.
Q: Why do you enjoy working at Epicenter?
Jack: It feels like an adventure in my daily life. Gaining community presence and trust provides fulfillment and legitimacy for Epicenter and for me.
Chris: I enjoy working in a collaborative atmosphere with passionate people with differing interests and skill sets. There’s also always an influx of new people, projects, ideas that makes every day at Epicenter different than the one before it.
Justin: Because it rocks my world and this world.
Armando: Well, my colleagues of course. They are all great, passionate people who share my love of the river beach.
Ryann: So many reasons! I love the variety of the tasks I am able to work on at Epicenter. The crew here is dedicated and knowledgeable which makes me excited to work alongside them. I get to speak Spanish and work on creative projects with youth. It is wonderful to get to spend my time working to help a town that I really care about.
Maria: Every day I see the impact of my work, what I’ve co-created. Also, I’m madly in love with the town, the landscape, and the residents of Green River.
Q: How does working at/with Epicenter fit into your big picture/career/life?
Jack: Epicenter serves as an alternative model of professional practice, where architects and designers are able serve as community members helping to navigate and facilitate resolutions, rather than coming in as outside, top-down experts. This model is something I believe in and want to grow to its full form to exist as a compliment to traditional practice.
Nicole: I still think about the manifesto Epicenter had in their “About” section back in 2010 and 2011. When I was teaching design I had my students read it for a different perspective on the practice and they were repeatedly compelled by it. It was passionate, it was naive, it was driven by a fervent desire for something different than what was offered, something fulfilling. And that still resonates with me. I don’t know how to speak about my “big picture” or “career,” but I do know that immersing myself into a place and trying to understand it is a model of inquiry that fits into my life.
Ryann: I wrote my thesis about the Green River Watershed and my family history within it. Coming to work at Epicenter feels like a homecoming. I know this place will always be special to me, and I know I want to continue pursuing work with youth, the arts, and Spanish.
Cyrus: Some of my favorite artists and thinkers are in Green River this winter. Could not have kept me away.
Charlotte: I am working towards having a life that is based part-time in a rural location and part-time in an urban location. Currently, I view Green River as an excellent candidate for my rural base, with New York City, being the best candidate for my urban base. There are ways of working in Green River that are impossible in New York, and there are ways of working in New York that are impossible in Green River. I think there is harmony to be found in this opposition, which is why, artistically, and spiritually, I am seeking a hybrid-life.
Q: What’s your top Green River memory?
Sarah: Rafting Westwater Canyon!
Nicole: I stole this from Ryann but: square dancing at Melon Days 2013.
Mary: I’ve had a good number of best days here. Most of them were at the beach or the kitchen table. The time I won at backgammon, early morning camp chores, the stars in late summer, endless drives to somewhere, listening to records, writing by candlelight, playing cards, the color gold, copy editing, the sound of the train, and every great vista.
Armando: One of my top memories was the whole Summer Summit experience, but a specific memory of Summer Summit took place on the mighty Green River. We had been floating down the Green for a few hours and my turn to man the ducky had finally come. I was nervous when the first set of rapids approached; especially after the river guides yelled at me, “Don’t stop paddling!” I didn’t stop, and those first rapids ended up being a huge thrill and lots of fun.
Ryann: Too many to pick just one! Square dancing in the park during Melon Days is definitely up there. The wind was whipping and I couldn’t stop smiling as my dance partner taught me how to “do-si-do.”
Cyrus: Laying on our backs on a dirt road. Staring up at a moonless sky. Deep in Desolation Canyon.
Charlotte: On August 23, 2013, I spent the entire morning thirty-five feet in the air gold-leafing Andrew Rogers Elements sculpture on Monument Hill.
Maria: My first Melon Days (2009) was also my epic quarter-of-a-century birthday: endless melon, creating the melon monster, and my first weird hippies in the desert party. Additionally, that weekend was the first and last time my brother, Steven, visited me before he passed away. It was such a special weekend for me!
Q: What’s something that you’re really excited about right now?
Jack: Right now, more than ever, every song seems to apply to my life, so it’s hard to say there is any focused excitement. Based on listening to the album repeatedly yesterday, Lorde’s song “Buzzcut Season” seems to best express my current mood, outlook, and life. That’s probably a flash in the pan, but it seems at all times there is an all-consuming song, with a couple others to round out a mini-soundtrack.
Chris: Sandwiches. I recently ate at one of the Bay Area’s celebrated sandwich shops, Ike’s Place, and at Las Vegas’ famous Earl of Sandwich. Both sandwiches were delicious. I look forward to furthering my sandwich eating experiences in the new year.
Justin: The text, Tao-te Ching. It’s wonderful.
Armando: James Blake’s album, Overgrown. I have listened to it since the day it came out, but fell back in love with it pretty recently. Retrograde is probably the best song of 2013.
Mary: Astrology. Never not working on a Zodiac Library of all my friends, colleagues and historical figures.
Ryann: Black Dragon Canyon. I’m super intrigued by the calendar system petroglyphs.
Cyrus: The sunsets this time of year are amazing.
Charlotte: Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” music video, directed by Hype Williams.
Maria: This is easy: Iceland. My life became consumed with all things Iceland a few months ago when I began planning a trip to present the community design work of Epicenter at Design March, Iceland’s annual design conference. I’ve always been fascinated by the films, art, literature, and pop music of Iceland, and now I have a focused reason to continue my research of their culture. My bedside table is packed with books on Iceland’s sagas, folklore, architecture, and history.
Q: What book, movie, or person is significant to your work/process/life? Why?
Chris: One of my favorite books is Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis It happens to be about my favorite baseball team, the Oakland A’s, but it’s also a pretty universal story about how an underdog succeeded against all odds. I’d like to think that with enough cunning and daring, an underdog can thrive, and this book demonstrates that.
Justin: St. Francis of Assisi: He’s a great model of simplicity and service and wearing sandals. Honorable Mention: Solanus Casey, Detroit’s very own almost-saint!
Charlotte: One of my current role models is Kennon Kay, the director of agriculture at the Queens County Farm, in New York City, where I work. Her leadership style is infused with un-ending optimism and unintimidating confidence. She is an avid-problem solver and marvelous strategist even though she never acts as though she knows all the answers.
Q: If you could have any superpower what would it be? Why?
Justin: Geographic manipulation (the ability to create things as awesome as Goblin Valley, the Swell, and the Bookcliffs) so there would be even more amazing hiking and adventuring to be had.
Charlotte: Teleportation, as it would allow me to travel back and forth between New York and Green River more easily.
Maria: This is one of my favorite questions to ask people. An answer can tell you a lot about someone. However, I never have a consistent answer for myself. What does that say about me? Maybe I’m still figuring it out. Today, I’m feeling like a greedy cheater, so I’ll go with power mimicry.
Q: What’s your favorite place/space in/near Green River? Why?
Jack: This is probably too overt, but it seems easy to say it’s the river beach. I require fresh water access wherever I live. It’s always been a part of my life. Swasey’s Beach is far enough away to feel a sense of escapism. Every time I’m there, everyone is relaxed, calm, and willing to be goofy. I like the systematic preparations I go through in order to go there, preparing the car with chairs, cooler with ice, site radio for music, salt and vinegar chips, Star magazine, sheets so that you can lay on the sand but not be dirty, cribbage and backgammon, and inner tube floats. A lot of activity, then about eighteen minutes of riding in the car, anticipating if our favorite spot will be available and how cold the water will be.
Sarah: Three Rocks. It’s the highest point in the area and the view is incredible.
Nicole: Three Rocks, because the high school students told me about it. This place is also known as FM Hill to the mom-aged crowd, because you can drive to the top and catch all of the radio stations in town. It’s the highest point in the near Green River vicinity (besides the Book Cliffs) and you get a 360-degree view—the town, the reef, the Book Cliffs, the Lasal Mountains, the Henry Mountains, other mountains…
Justin: The San Rafael Swell. Every time I go there, I go to Vulcan.
Armando: The State Park boat launch, it’s beautiful and you can watch trains pass on the bridge.
Mary: I like the moon from here the best of all.
Ryann: The river. It reminds me of my Uncle, who was the original reason I came to Green River two years ago. I love the history wrapped up in its silty waters, the sense of possibility you feel while floating down into the canyons, and watching it ebb and flow with the seasons.
Charlotte: I really love the White Haus, where Jack Forinash lives. When I am there, to quote the painter Joan Snyder, “I feel as if I’m away from time.”
Q: Who is the most interesting person in Green River and why?
Sarah: JoAnne Chandler. She’s a walking, talking archive of information about Green River.
Nicole: Jo Ann Chandler. I don’t know how she remembers everything, but she does. She doesn’t run the archives, she IS the archives.
Chris: I think Richard Seeley is the most interesting person in Green River. He has a lot of deep knowledge about seemingly disparate topics, including but not limited to: petroglyphs, refrigeration, Mormon history, heating devices, and pie.
For the past two years, we’ve been honored to host volunteers from Evangelical Lutheran Churches in and around Boulder, Colorado. Two years ago, the group painted the Boys & Girls Club of Green River, and last year, the group put up a fence around the Club’s front play yard. This year we had a blast working with everyone, and are so grateful for all of their hard work and dedication. Green River always enjoys having visiting volunteers helping out in the community, but having these repeat volunteers is the best!!!
The first group hit the ground running with an adventure into Sego Canyon even before they had set their bags down. During their first day of work we broke off into two groups, one group began construction on picnic tables while the other group did some landscaping for the Boys and Girls Club. Day two was spent finishing the picnic tables, designing and painting welcome sings, pulling weeds at the apartments, and helping Armando with a Critical Home Repair project. This group was so fabulous! Dominated by young women, this group was so energetic and willing to get their hands dirty. Some volunteers had never used power tools before, but everything turned out perfectly!
The second volunteer group showed up a week later, and was much smaller, but we did some big things. The first day the group designed and built sandwich boards for the Epicenter and Boys & Girls Club of Green River. The care and craft that this group showed on the sandwich boards was carried over to our second day at the Adams’ residence. June and Bill Adams are the sweetest couple. We helped them tend to some exterior home improvements, but also got to sit and chat over lunch; they shared photos of past adventures, and we got a private magic show from the great Bill Adams! After lunch it was back to work, we did touch-up painting on the soffit, and got the yard ready for gardening season. The scenery at their home is absolutely incredible. Thank you, Bill and June, for letting us spend the day at your beautiful home nestled right up in the Book Cliffs.
We would like to give thanks to each and every volunteer who made the trip to visit us. These volunteers represent the Atonement Lutheran Church, Trinity Lutheran Church, and Christ the Servant Lutheran Church. THANK YOU Pastor Chad, Pastor Paul, Bex, Kayla, Jody, Pat, Tracy, Katie, Kelly, Maddie, Emilee, Sophie, Anna, Liz, Madelyn, Dean, Sandy, Andrew and Evan!
We cannot thank you enough for all that you do every year for Green River.
“I am almost 5 months into my Green River life. Working at the Epicenter is a great way to use my architecture education in a meaningful way that affects people on a special level. I am excited to be here doing great work alongside my fellow Epicrew. In these short 5 months I have focused on incorporating myself into the community by going to as many community meetings as possible (e.g. business group meetings, city council meetings, planning and zoning, Utah Housing Matters conference). Attending these meetings has allowed me to have a better understanding on what is going on in the community.”
“Now that the Epicenter has completed the first Habitat for Humanity house in Green River, the housing focus (and my personal focus) is shifting to the new Critical Home Repair (CHR) program. Funded through Bike & Build, the CHR program is set up to be a revolving loan fund that will provide micro-loans to residents who cannot afford the upfront cost of a major home repair (e.g. a $1,000 roof repair). In addition to providing the up-front cash, the CHR program identifies future candidates, provides a material takeoff, a quote for the work to be done, and organizes volunteer groups to perform the work. Utilizing volunteer groups helps keep costs down while also building a greater sense of community, a neighbors helping neighbors mentality. I am excited to see the results of this program and to watch it grow.”
“Here is a quote about snow because it is colder here then I have ever experienced, and I have never lived
in a place that has snow on the ground for weeks on end: ‘Snow flurries began to fall and they swirled around people’s legs like house cats. It was magical, this snow globe world.’ -Sarah Addison Allen, The Sugar Queen.”
Playing a vital role in the completion of the first ever Habitat for Humanity House in Green River, Armando quickly became a godsend for Epicenter. His patience and dedicated work ethic will prove useful in the coming months as he’ll be the project lead on the new CHR program that has the potential to assist 6-12 families this year with home repairs. Armando has had at least one major “win” in Green River, and we look forward to those to come!
The Epicenter team and our volunteers have made some incredible strides over the past two weeks! The house has gone from bare studs to a house with insulation, drywall, paint, and beautiful hardwood floors!!! Thank you to our volunteers for your hard work: Martin Cruz, the entire Mendoza family, Mr. and Mrs. Escalante, Chad Kohlmeyer, and Scott Winston. Hats-off to Jack Forinash and Armando Rios for leading the efforts with help from Maria Sykes, Ashley Ross, and Chris Lezama.
Thank you to Scott Winston who generously donated the flooring! Scott was part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) group from Boulder, Colorado who came to Green River in early 2012 for a week of volunteering with PACT. He and Chad Kohlmeyer (ELCA Pastor) came all the way from Boulder to help install the flooring! Thanks to Scott and Chad for making the drive just to work with us.
The house is nearing complettion. This is the first ever (start-to-finish) Habitat for Humanity house we’ve funded, designed, and built in Green River!!! We are currently on schedule to get the prospective family in this house just in time for Christmas thanks to the hard work of all of our volunteers and recent private donations. THANK YOU!!!