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Local Heroes, Helping Hands, Thankful Hearts

Community Support, Elevated Outcomes

Article by GJ Lifestyle Staff

Photography by GJ City, Mesa County Photographers

Originally published in Grand Junction Lifestyle

Grand Junction is isolated. We are sometimes referred to as a "land island" because our large and growing population is separated from other large populations by the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Wasatch Front/Manti-La Sal Range to the west, by road it's nearly four hours in either direction. So how does the Grand Junction area stand in terms of self-reliance for essential community services such as crisis response (enter COVID-19)? We are truly in good hands, by choice. As a result of this community voting "yes" for Back the Badge in 2017 our first responders have the resources to serve the wide variety of needs that arise in a population of our size and with our remote geography. As we spoke with several of the team leaders that work together to make our community secure, a common theme stood out. Each of these local leaders expressed their gratitude for the support of our community and a strong desire to work in a united manner with the other agencies who are called upon to respond in the moment of need. We are fortunate to share comments from five of these local leaders whose service gives our community cause to be "thankful".

Megan Weaver is the Victim Services Coordinator for the Grand Junction Police Department. Megan has been the coordinator since January of 2020 but was previously a volunteer of the Victim Services Program since 2011. "I am honored that I was selected to lead these amazing volunteers that so selflessly serve our community. While my degree from Colorado State University is in Exercise and Sports Science my work experience has always been supporting others", Megan said. Shortly after receiving her degree and getting a job on the front range at a nursing home, Megan meet her husband and grew their family to four boys. After a time, they wanted to move back to Grand Junction. The need to serve others stuck with Megan and she found the Victim's Advocate Program. "As victim advocates, we often see folks on their worst day or in their worst moments, and we are there to offer them support and resources," Megan continued. "Our advocates participate in a 35-hour academy. We host an academy at least once a year (most often in the fall) and, we currently have 35 volunteer advocates. They cover four 12 hour shifts each month to ensure that we have advocates available 24 hours a day 365 days a year." Megan also explained that the Grand Junction Police Department (as well as the Victim Advocates with the District Attorney's office and the Sheriff's Office) holds high standards for victim advocates. Advocates must pass background checks, as well as complete the training course, and continue to learn about local resources to help victims in our community. "Our goal is to offer this dedicated support to any victim of a crime and to help guide them through the next steps with as much ease as possible." If you would like to become an Advocate you may contact Megan at Advocacy programs with other agencies support victims of fire and a wide range of other incidents.

Dr. Jeff Kuhr is the director of Mesa County Health Department (MCHD) and has had a big job to do in response to COVID-19. He says his staff has carried much of the load and named several whose key roles have been crucial in helping the community adapt and stay safe. Diana Williams - Deputy Director of MCHD is "in the trenches" coordinating the efforts of many aspects of the department on a daily basis. Heidi Dragoo - Epidemiology and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator. Allison Sanchez - MCSD Clinic Manager over-testing, vaccinations, and other medical functions. Amanda Mayle - Communications Manager, Marketing, Website, and Media Relations Coordinator. Heather Nara - Head of Early Childhood Services. Dr. Kuhr speaks highly and values each of these team members that bring to the county's response to COVID-19 and gives some reminders that we all should consider. Firstly, MCHD wants to see as much "normal" activity as possible while being safe. Secondly, the goal is to encourage the use of best-practices without being the "heavy-handed enforcers" we see too often in news stories. Dr. Kuhr was asked, "with a virus 1,000 times smaller than a grain of table-salt, how does a mask really help?" His response: "This virus cannot move about on its own. It requires a carrier such as a droplet from a cough or sneeze. These particles are much bigger than the virus itself and they do get trapped in a mask." He also reminds us that masks, social distancing (6-10ft), staying home when sick, getting tested if experiencing the known symptoms, and being outdoors often, are among the "best practices" which will help us stay safe. 

"SARS, Spanish Flu, and many other pathogens have reached pandemic levels and have also run their course in a period of two years or so. This looks like it could be similar in the length of time it presents such an elevated threat but we are dealing with a pathogen previously unknown to science. The experts who have given us the guidelines for staying safe know their stuff. We will continue to work for a return to normal conditions by encouraging best practices. If we become lax and cases spike we risk placing a heavy burden on hospitals and losing the status of being among the most open counties in the nation." 

Other measures our community is taking include things like dining "parklets" to expand outdoor space for restaurants. By sticking to "best practices" and pulling together, we are likely to get past this much sooner than if we get complacent and go backward. Dr. Kuhr said, "We have worked too hard to go backward."

GJPD Chief Doug Shoemaker has been in law enforcement for nearly three decades and started in Jefferson City, Missouri. An avid football fan he held season tickets for the Chiefs from 1991 to 2018 when he came to Grand Junction. Jeeping and hiking are among his other interests and our area was very attractive for those recreational pursuits. When asked about how the negative press toward police has impacted things locally he told us that "While other cities have seen a big drop in applications, our department still has strong recruiting activity and our people love their jobs. We are very grateful for the support we experience from our community. We've seen some increase in assaults upon officers but we've seen an even bigger increase of community support in the form of cards, letters, snacks, and 'thank-yous' pouring in during what has been a year unlike any other. It is not our goal to be constantly enforcing regulations related to COVID or any other crisis. We want to invite and encourage our citizens to be safe by sticking to the guidelines recommended by the experts. Most of all, in the spirit of "thankful" I want to thank our community for the support given through Back the Badge. We couldn't do as much as we do, without those resources. That's a lot of trust and we are constantly working to improve our quality of service, to be true to that trust. We are also grateful for the teamwork and camaraderie we experience with the other first-responder agencies throughout the county. Our specialized teams also distinguish us from many other agencies and we are often seen by other cities as a model to follow. We take the public trust 'To Protect and Serve' seriously. As a result, we are constantly communicating with the public through the press, social media, and in person. Some of what has been in the public eye is a poor narrative and we aim to stand above the noise. We are pleased with the ongoing work of our Co-Responder program, providing mental health support on-site when responding to such cases. Our Special Investigations Unit also does fine work related to violent crimes and quality of life issues. We have high standards and as a result, we have quality people looking out for this community. It can take up to 5 months to hire a new officer because our screening, testing, and psychological evaluations are so thorough."

GJFD Chief Ken Watkins Came here in 2007and found the job also allowed him to help out a family member who had no other family nearby. He often visited the area in his youth, attending big family functions in DeBeque. Some of his hobbies include travel, gardening, motorcycle touring, camping, and skiing. "When I think of the theme 'thankful', I think our community should feel confident that your fire department is top-notch. We are full service and offer many of the things that keep our emergency responses self reliant in Mesa County. We support search and rescue, wildland fire fighting, hazardous material response, technical rescue (steep, rope assist), water and trench rescue in addition to fire, auto accident, EMS, ambulance, and paramedic services. Our department is grateful for the tremendous support we receive from our community!"

Sheriff Matt Lewis came here to go to school after his father retired from an Army career. "Before that, the longest I lived anywhere was only a couple of years. Since 1993, this place is HOME. I love it here and have found that our people feel the same way. After 24 years in this Sheriff's Department, I've seen it become something that state, federal, and other county agencies want to emulate. Our standards of constantly earning and maintaining the trust of our community are something we take seriously and I take on those standards of excellence personally. Every new deputy goes through an intensive screening process and then I have a one on one conversation with each of them setting clear expectations of our duty to uphold the public trust. Our 'north star' is our vision statement - MAKING MESA COUNTY THE SAFEST PLACE TO LIVE, WORK, AND PLAY WHILE EARNING PUBLIC TRUST. As new deputies and volunteers catch that vision, we hold each other accountable to the core values of the department (Integrity, Service, Community). I'm grateful to work with the best people. Even though we have seen a great effort to work together with the Health Department, PD, Fire Department, state and federal agencies through the Pine Gulch fire, COVID-19 precautions, and other incidents throughout 2020, these are simply examples of what we have been doing within the county for decades. Other crises will arise and we must stand prepared and capable of working effectively together within our assigned responsibilities. The Sheriff's office has the jail and has the first responsibility for incident management in unincorporated Mesa County including wildfires. Together with our partner agencies, we all are more effective than standing alone."

Thank you each for your generous remarks.

  • Megan Weaver
  • Dr. Jeff Kuhr
  • Fire Chief Ken Watkins
  • Chief Doug Shoemaker
  • Matt Lewis