Rocky Mountain PBS teamed up with students in Colorado State University's Department of Journalism and Media Communication to work collaboratively to create Colorado Voices stories.
Just as with original Rocky Mountain PBS content, the mission is the same: to help create a Colorado where everyone is seen and heard. In the menu below, you can jump to the individual student stories featured on this page.
For more information on Colorado Voices, including weekly episodes, click here.
A husband and wife bring their heritage — and food — to Fort Collins
By Naomi Hillmer and Tenny Kim
FORT COLLINS, Colo. — When Azael and Morgan Chable first started their business in Fort Collins, they had no idea that it would flourish to where it is today.
“If I fail I try,” Azael Chable said with a chuckle.
Azael Chable found himself working as a dishwasher when he first immigrated to the United States as a teen from his small town in Yucatán, Mexico, 15 years ago. Despite having no prior experience in the restaurant business in Mexico, Chable strove to work his way up the culinary ladder. He eventually fell in love with cooking and became a manager at an upscale restaurant in San Francisco, California.
While in San Francisco, Azael Chable met his wife, Morgan Chable, at the Sea Breeze Cafe and Restaurant, where they both worked.
From there, the two decided they wanted to settle down and get away from life in the city. With a desire to develop their personal interpretation of Mexican cuisine, they decided there was no better place to start than Morgan’s hometown: Fort Collins, Colorado.
The Chables saved their money, packed their bags and set out in hopes to build something of their own.
“I was crossing I-25 and I just felt like I was going to cry,” Azael Chable said.
After moving halfway across the country, Azeal Chable was overwhelmed with the uncertainty of change. He left a stable future, but knew he wanted to do something else and the change was good.
Upon arriving in Fort Collins, Azeal noticed “there’s no empanada places in this little town.”
With that small idea and the help of Morgan Chable and her family, the two began the elementary process of creating their own business.
Their business, My Empanadas, became a perfect culmination of both the Chable’s roots - Azael’s time in Mexico and his experience with empanadas and the borders of the very town Morgan grew up in.
“These recipes I’m bringing here, they’re my mom’s recipes … I add my ideas too, we mix it together and we bring those flavors,” Azael Chable said.
However, they found it to be difficult to start a restaurant in a city with fierce competition from local cuisine startups.
“We started off just making empanadas out of our house, they looked horrible, we tried to sell them at construction sites competing with the burrito lady, and nobody wanted them, they wanted burritos… it was really hard,” Morgan Chable said.
Knowing they had to stand out from the crowd, the Chables began workshopping their recipes to find unique ways to market empanadas. They found they had to look no further than right where they started - their own personal experiences and abilities.
After a few months of Azael being mostly in charge of making the empanadas, Morgan decided to incorporate her Dutch European heritage and create dessert-style empanadas.
“Now desserts are half of our empanadas,” Morgan Chable said.
Completely based from both the Chable’s backgrounds, My Empanadas began to take form into providing a unique service of multicultural delicacies.
“We brought something to Fort Collins that wasn’t really here,” Morgan Chable said.
Despite a shaky start, the Chable’s perseverance paid off. Six years after moving to Fort Collins, they now have two locations.
“Starting from the bottom and going up step by step, really makes you proud to own a business,” Morgan Chable said.
“I like it when people buy my empanadas, they’re happy, they’re eating something special,” Azael Chable said.
Female route setters aim to make climbing more equitable
By Ruth Furman
FORT COLLINS, Colo. — “All the harder climbs were always forerun by men, and I was always like… well… I feel like I want to break that barrier. It was always men, and I was like I want to be a five-foot, strong, petite climber and I want to be a woman, and I want to be in the industry,” said Anna Castro.
Anna Castro, Madeleine Dean and Naomi Stevens, three trailblazing climbers and route setters, are setting the future of gyms and climbing one route at a time.
So what is route setting? Route setters are the people in climbing gyms who are responsible for placing the plastic pieces that make up routes (the climbs) on the walls for people to enjoy and conquer. Without route setters, climbing gyms would be pretty bare.
Determined to shift the culture of climbing through their professional roles at gyms and their advocacy, these three women understand their responsibility as route setters to create climbs that don’t favor specific body types. They spoke about why it is important for there to be diversity on route setting teams at gyms, as well as a little bit about the history of women in climbing and their lack of representation.
“For a while, climbing was a boys club. I mean you look at when everybody of Yosemite, and it was a bunch of white guys while, you know, people of color were fighting for the right to be human, and women too- we’ve been given the short end of the stick for an a while now,” Stevens said.
Women are not new to climbing. Where there were men at the crags in Yosemite, there was also Lynn Hill, leading climber and first ascender of The Nose on El Capitan. However, for too long, women have not been recognized for their contributions to climbing nor given the opportunity to secure roles in the climbing industry. This is especially true for route setting; women are all too often excluded from jobs where physical labor is at the forefront.
Throughout the pandemic, climbing has had a surge in popularity as more people got outdoors. Some new climbers get so hooked that they even coined a term for it: “the climber's bug.” The increase of people utilizing climbing gyms and climbing encourages us to discuss the way we shape climbing gym culture moving forward. There is no longer a single gym in your whole city filled with dark gray carpeted floors and predominantly white men. Climbing is a popularized sport that humans of all genders, shapes, and sizes are partaking in, and our gyms must reflect this.
Representation in route setting allows climbing gyms to be a place of inclusivity for women and non-binary people alike. It makes sense that including more varied and petite body types on route setting teams allows for the setting of more varied climbs. Sometimes, simply adding a “foothold” somewhere makes a climb suitable for all genders. A lot of this is due to disparities in things like height, but it is also due to our different physiology.
Climbing is a sport where women have the capacity to compete at the same levels as men. However, men and women use different bodily strengths to get up the wall. Men and women are physiologically different and while men primarily use their upper bodies, women usually rely on strengths in their bottom half, like their legs.
“I think it’s important for people to put themselves in different boxes and I think that the best route setters can set the same difficulty for short and tall climbers alike,” Dean says.
When route setting, Dean and the others understand it is their responsibility to make climbs that work for all body types. When we have women on route setting teams, we can bring a sense of empathy and inclusion into the climbing gym, one climb at a time.
"Try to find a light in whatever you’re doing."
By Anna von Pechmann and Alex Brito-Amador
FORT COLLINS, Colo. — “I’ve just been dying for the past four years,” said Audrey Lundgren.
Lyme disease revolves around pain, but Lundgren doesn’t let it control her narrative. From flying over the handlebars of her mountain bike to sliding off a ski rail, Lundgren has never let the fear of pain stop her from experiencing life to the fullest.
“I was always very curious about the outdoors and just wanting to do everything I could to spend time outside, and that’s why I love it in Colorado so much," she said.
Growing up in the Bay Area of San Francisco as the youngest of four siblings, Lundgren enjoyed spending quality time with her dad and brother fishing, hunting, dirt biking, and wakeboarding. Her grandparents owned a bison ranch where she grew to appreciate caring for the land.
Unfortunately, while she was logging hours outside, Lundgren believes an infected tick bit her at a young age. This tick bite caused a slew of symptoms, ranging from joint pain, fatigue, brain fog, exhaustion and nausea, that would ultimately lead up to her Lyme disease diagnosis, seven years after the onset of symptoms, during her junior year of high school. Since Lyme symptoms like fever, chills, headache, and swollen lymph nodes are commonly attributed to many different types of illnesses, diagnosis of Lyme disease can be difficult for doctors to identify.
Lyme disease, medically referred to as borreliosis, is the most common vector-borne infectious disease in the United States. Although it has historically been known to be transmitted from infected blacklegged deer ticks to humans, Lundgren said that some researchers are investigating whether fleas, spiders and mosquitos can also transmit the bacterial infection.
According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation, Lyme disease is a multisystem inflammatory disease that spreads through the body from the site of transmission, the bite. It starts as a local skin-level rash and spreads to joints and ultimately the nervous system. In its later stages, it can even impact organ systems. How the disease presents itself in the body varies from patient to patient, with some patients healing from Lyme within months to some battling Lyme for years on end.
“The biggest misunderstanding with Lyme is that: Lyme is not something that you can technically have, it’s like coinfections,” said Lundgren.
On March 27, 2014, a peer-reviewed, open access journal called PeerJ Life and Environment published a study titled “Severity of chronic Lyme disease compared to other chronic conditions: a quality of life survey” revealing a strong correlation between chronic Lyme disease and co-infections. This study of over 3,000 patients with chronic Lyme disease found that over 50% of the patients reported coinfections and 30% reported two or more coinfections. The reason scientists believe that patients with Lyme disease can have coinfections is because Lyme-infected ticks also carry many other types of infections including, but not limited to, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesia, Bartonella and Ehrlichia.
With the help of her Lyme disease specialist doctor in Denver, Lundgren has to keep track of her personalized treatment plan addressing her chronic Lyme with the coinfections as well as ensure that any over-the-counter medications she takes to treat her symptoms don’t interact with the variety of changing medications she takes.
“I do have chronic Lyme. I believe that I will never get rid of it, it’s just about managing it,” said Lundgren.
Since her diagnosis in 2017, Lundgren has moved from the Bay Area to Fort Collins, Colorado to pursue a forestry degree at Colorado State University. She is currently a junior and preparing for a job she has lined up working for the Colorado State Forest Service in Salida, Colorado this summer. Over the course of this academic year, she has been put on multiple different types of antibiotics transmitted via intramuscular shots and, more recently, via a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line, which is a soft, flexible tube inserted in her upper arm that follows a vein leading to the right side of the heart. Although the PICC line is more of a nuisance for Lundgren, she is not allowed to do any of the physical activities she enjoys. She has made the most of it spending her time sewing clothes, making jewelry and tying flies to use on future summer fishing trips.
“There are so many unknowns with it and that’s what’s scary, but I think the biggest thing is to try to find a light in whatever you’re doing,” said Lundgren.
Artist Jahna Rae Church relishes the opportunity to show her work in a 'public, free way'
By Claire Roalson and Zeya Highley
FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The opportunity to share your work with others on a huge wall in Fort Collins in such a public way is one that muralist and painter Jahna Rae Church doesn't take lightly.
“It's kind of like wearing your heart on your sleeve and, like, hoping that someone receives it well,” Church said.
For Church, mural art is an opportunity to speak her truth, and bringing her creation to a public sphere opens new conversations about emotion, community, and accessibility.
“Not everyone can go to a fancy gallery or, you know, travel to see someone's street art in another city," Church said. "And to give them that opportunity in a public, free way, I think is beautiful.”
Not only does Church get to share her passion for art and paint a piece of her soul onto the concrete, but she also gets to bring more representation into her community, including the people who pass by that mural every single day. She expressed how she wants to show children that there are murals of people like them, and members of the Black community can get hired to produce amazing works of art like this.
In fact, making a living off your art is difficult, especially for people of color. According to an analysis of 2012 Census Bureau data by BFAMFAPhD, around 10 percent of art students make their living from art after graduation. Out of those graduates, only 4.4 percent are Black.
Finding work is already difficult enough for artists, but Church expressed how her style of art gave her another level of challenge. “Sometimes certain businesses that are looking to hire artists to paint a mural tend to lean towards things like nature or abstract designs versus portraiture, because they fear it's going to send some kind of message that would then have a negative impact on them.”
Indeed, most muralists that get hired are predominately white: around 73%. Church explained that murals have a huge impact on culture and communities as well, so this lack of representation has a strong impact. Church, however, is determined to break into the art scene and break down these barriers for her community, especially one that is as diverse as Denver.
Church moved to Denver from New York in 2017. Church’s father was in the military, which led to her growing up in Panama and all around the United States. Being exposed to different cultures and traditions immersed her in different forms of art and creativity from a young age.
After attending the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, Church transitioned into a career in tech, working full time and making art after the workday. Finding a balance between a full-time job and a career in art has been rewarding for Church.
“It's been really busy and crazy. But this is the first time in my art career where I feel like I can make what I want to make and express myself that way,” Church said.
Overall, Church is excited to continue spreading her message, and breaking through into the scene with a strong passion for what she does.
“I can't change the past. I can't change the circumstances of the world," she said. "But I can at least stay true to myself and find the things that make me feel good. It's the only thing I have control over.”
The Northern Colorado American Robin project
By Casey Abashian and Aspen Flores
GREELEY, Colo. — Entering her Ph.D. program in 2017, recent University of Northern Colorado graduate Karina Sanchez wanted to find a way to connect her passions for behavioral and urban ecology and the teaching of those areas of science with her longtime hobby of bird watching.
Through the recently completed Northern Colorado American Robin Project, which was held in Weld County over the past three field seasons from 2019 to 2021, Sanchez was able to do just that. What makes this specific scientific initiative unique from any other was the high level of community involvement throughout the greater Greeley-Evans area that the study relied on.
“A lot of people say that they can recognize an American robin song just hearing it because it's so common,” explained Sanchez. “Which makes it perfect for community science and citizen scientists to get involved because everyone has a Robin in their neighborhood.”
Sanchez’s research focused on the effect of light and noise pollution on migratory birds. But rather than focus on the birds who are struggling, Sanchez chose a species that has done well in adjusting, like the American Robin. This gave her the opportunity to enlist the public’s help in collecting the data through the website she created for the project, where any local resident inside Weld County could report a nest or sighting of the species within their neighborhood for a team of researchers, led by Sanchez, to then band, track and collect data on this type of bird.
“Robins are really common, I think everybody knows when an American Robin is,” said Sanchez. “So by studying the birds like American robins, who seem to be succeeding really well, and changes through their habitats, offers a whole different perspective.”
More specifically, throughout this three-year period, Sanchez wanted to better understand how environmental factors such as the everyday noise and light that comes from vehicles, electricity and other man-made technology, which is known by scientists as noise pollution and light pollution, affect the adaptive nature of this type of everyday bird.
“In places with more noise pollution, like the city, birds have been found to raise their pitch, we call it a frequency above the noise. A lot of noise is really low frequency, like cars, an airplane that's flying by right now, and lawnmowers,” said Sanchez. “So birds are shifting their songs up so that they can be heard above the noise. That's really what's going on with noise pollution.”
The same also holds true for the constant light present in urban areas. All living creatures, including birds, humans and even plants, have internal clocks based on the natural light given off by the moon and sun. When that is disrupted by artificial sources, birds, who can be migratory in nature, have issues with the paths they travel and the ability to adjust their inner rhythms through sleep.
Robins, with their ability to create their own unique songs, have been able to adjust to these environmental difficulties better than other species. But still, even with their widespread and successful nature, much of robin ecology, including if they’re split up into separate species, is still majorly unknown by researchers. This is where the enlisting help from the nearby community became absolutely necessary, but rewarding as well, for Sanchez and crew.
“I think the biggest success I had was connecting to the community. It was so much fun. It was my favorite part of the year, every single year. I had people that were a part of the community science portion of the project for every year since it started. And now I feel like we're really close. So meeting people has been really fulfilling.”
Sanchez went on to describe how it felt to see so many people engaged and invested in what essentially ended up as her main focus throughout her time as a Ph.D. student.
“Getting a picture with a general public person with a bird in their hand, their faces are the best. And that's probably my favorite part every year is getting to see how stoked they are to be holding a bird.”
With the data collection aspect of the initiative complete as of last spring, the now-University of Northern Colorado graduate and doctor continues to compile all of the statistics and recordings of Robins she has gathered over the past few years, working with local Colorado municipalities such as LaSalle, Johnstown and Windsor to apply the findings to their conservation efforts.
For more information on Colorado Voices, including a full list of episodes to stream online, click here.