LONGMONT, Colo. — Dena Creaser views her job as a security guard at the Fort Collins Marketplace differently than most.
Her primary job is to protect the buildings and patrons of the shopping plaza, but Creaser sees perpetuating kindness as an equally important facet of her work, particularly toward the unhoused people who frequent the area
“My whole message is kindness,” Creaser said.
As an artist, Creaser uses charcoal to draw what she sees at work and in life. After seeing her drawings, retail real estate firm NewMark Merrill asked her to turn a sketch into a wall-length mural at its Longmont mall, Village at the Peaks.
Painted by Erie artist Angie Nordstrum, Creaser’s drawing represents her son and her mother, who died of cancer in 2020. The mural depicts a black-and-white sketch of Creaser’s mother and son holding hands. The words “don’t wait to be kind,” are painted in large red letters, with blue and orange flowers surrounding the sketch and phrase.
Creaser explains the depiction of her mother and son. Photo: Lizzie Mulvey, Rocky Mountain PBS
The message of kindness — which Creaser tries to take with her each day — was her mother’s most important legacy, she said.
“She would give her everything to help people out and I hope I’m like that, too,” Creaser said. “My whole point of this was to get conversations started.”
Nordstrum said as she was painting the mural, many passersby stopped and shared tearful stories of heartbreak, loss and kind gestures with her. Some told her they appreciated seeing an older mother depicted on the wall because senior citizens are rarely portrayed in art.
“I think we all get so busy in our lives, and you don’t stop and think that it can be impactful to just open a door for someone and smile or make eye contact,” Nordstrum said. “It’s a great call to action to be kind and offer acts of kindness.”
Nordstrum, the artist who interpreted Creaser's drawing and mindset into a mural. Photo: Lizzie Mulvey, RMPBS
Creaser said she interacts with many people experiencing homelessness at her job. While most of them have a distrust of security guards due to previous traumas, she tries to take a more loving approach.
“I try to be there for people, to care, to connect with people, and that’s what we all should be doing, I think,” Creaser said. “The homeless people tell me I’m not like the rest and I have a kind heart.”
Creaser said sometimes the nature of her job is to wake people up and ask them to leave spaces, knowing they may have nowhere else to go. Still, she tries to do so with compassion, rather than forcefulness, and said it has created a unique rapport between her and the unhoused folks who gather around the shopping plaza. She also watches unhoused people take care of each other.
“A lot of them tell me, ‘other guys yell at me and you’re not like that,’ and it makes me feel good when they say I have a kind heart,” Creaser said. “That’s just how I was raised, and I’d want people to treat me like that.”
As she painted the mural, Nordstrum did her best to maintain Creaser’s sketch in its full authenticity, while adding color in the wording.
“It captures your eye as you walk by. It’s big letters so I think it’s kind of eye-catching, and hopefully it’s thought-provoking,” Nordstrum said. “Simple acts of kindness can mean a lot.”
Alison Berg is a multimedia journalist for Rocky Mountain PBS. firstname.lastname@example.org
Lizzie Mulvey is executive producer of investigative journalism at Rocky Mountain PBS. email@example.com