Arlene Hirshfeld sits in her living room of her home in Denver on August 21, 2009. Photo by Ellen JaskolOne of the earliest memories my wife and I have together comes from both being cast in the play, Trip to Bountiful, at our college. (If you know the play, she played the beautiful, kind young woman on the bus; I was the sheriff.) At one rehearsal, our director became irate when two actors neglected to acknowledge a cup that had fallen in the middle of their scene. “When a cup falls on the floor in life, people pick it up, they don’t ignore it!,” he exclaimed. A few nights later, in a dress rehearsal, as the sheriff, I wore a mustache tacked on with spirit gum or liquid latex adhesive. In the middle of my scene, I felt my mustache begin to slide down my upper lip. All I could think was: “What do people in real life do when their mustaches fall off? Do they pick them up or ignore them?” The beautiful girl on the bus and I had a good laugh about it when I came off stage.

chooseyourlife1In my time as an actor for our Educational Theatre Programs, I portrayed some characters who were considerably younger than me. During the run of our play called What Would You Do? for upper elementary students, it was recommended to me that I should use a dye spray to cover up my premature gray hair to appear younger. It looked pretty great, trust me. (insert wink emoji here) Unfortunately, the first day I tried it out, the school gym where we performed was roasting hot, with a heater that wouldn’t quit. And, I have a special gift for profuse sweating even when it is not hot and I am not performing in front of 300+ students. While on stage, mid-scene, I began dripping on set pieces and props. Streams of black sweat were rolling off me. Once again, I had to ask: “What do people in real life do in this situation?”

What do we do in “real” life when the unexpected happens? How do we respond? What do we do when something doesn’t work the way we intended? What I love about our Arts Integrated Resources team is the way members of our team keep exploring how to make what we offer to the community better. We look at the fallen cups, the drooping mustaches, and the hair-dyed drips of sweat and ask: what could be another solution? What could be the next right picture? Throughout this year our teams have trail-blazed new paths to develop and provide resources that tread new ground, are more effective, increasingly efficient, and creatively reach people in our schools, neighborhoods, clinics and businesses.

DSC_0145Our Educational Theatre bravely stepped into the new territories of behavioral health to produce a play, People Like Vince, which aims to reduce mental health stigma. Throughout the course of this fall semester, they have tackled multiple ways of marketing the program to schools, and they have reconstructed a follow-up workshop through at least seven iterations to bring a high-quality learning opportunity to upper elementary students.


Our Community Impact team published a grant funding opportunity to support up to six school districts to systemically advance social emotional wellness and behavioral health in schools. The team has charted a complex path with input from multiple state and national resources, establishing Kaiser Permanente as a pioneer funder in this area of health for schools in the state of Colorado.

LeadTheChangeGroupPhotoMOur Youth Engagement team re-designed and re-tooled their annual youth summit to build something new, #LeadTheChangeCO, to foster youth leadership skills in young people. The team did this together in partnership with high school youth and other kindred youth-serving organizations. In an effort to reach more students and have longer lasting results beyond a one-time event, #LeadTheChangeCO will have statewide implementation through multiple regional and social media charges.

CC_3Our Experiential Learning team created new content in their workshops to wrestle with issues of unconscious bias, compassion fatigue, conflict resolution and hunger. This team is constantly tweaking content, especially “in the moment”, as they juggle the variety of responses that come from the diverse audiences (including middle students, safety net clinic providers and staff, nursing and medical professional students) their team facilitates.

AIR 2016 webThis is a time of year when many of us stop and reflect. It is so good to reflect on and celebrate what has been accomplished, and to take note of the costs, struggles and failures required. Each of these projects came with unforeseen challenges and barriers as the Arts Integrated Resources teams trail-blazed new ideas with our communities. Of course, the work each team did required more than the trivial pick-up of a fallen cup, or extra adhesive for fake facial hair. It strikes me though, as we grapple on a much larger scale the unexpected results our nation experienced in early November, that similar seeds of resilience, ingenuity, flexibility and patience will be required of all of us as we enter into 2017 and beyond.