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Inspiring Stories from Aurora

The heart of our mission at VoyageDenver is to find the amazing souls that breathe life into our city. In the recent weeks we’ve had the privilege to connect with some of Denver’s finest artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and rabble rousers and we can’t begin to express how impressed we are with our city’s incredibly deep talent pool. Check out Aurora’s rising stars below.

Dawn Mortimer

I was born and raised on Long Island, NY, where I met my husband Kevin while working for American Airlines. We moved to Boston right after our wedding, where I finished my degree in Biology while volunteering at the New England Aquarium with the marine mammal rescue program. I had hoped to work in animal rescue, rehabilitation and education after graduating, but my husband’s career took us to Florida and then Illinois. I was blessed to be able to stay at home with my two daughters, but after moving to Colorado in 2005, I was ready to go back to work. I became a volunteer at the Denver Zoo, joining the Docent Training Program in hopes of finding a job at the zoo. After becoming a Docent at the zoo, I realized that I still wanted to be around for my daughters and didn’t want to work a 9 to 5 job and miss the summers or when they were home. I have always enjoyed photography, so I decided to keep my volunteer position at the zoo because I loved it while transitioning into photography as a career. Read more>>

Dylan Fowler

I’ve always had a connection to design and visual arts one way or another growing up, but I didn’t really “get started” until I was a college drop out working a dead-end job at the age of 23. Sometimes we have these moments in life where we look around and realize we aren’t really where we want to be but don’t know exactly where to start. So I did the responsible thing. I bought a laptop that I got with a credit card, found some bootlegged adobe software and just started making stuff every night after work. Looking back on it, it was all really bad and aimless work, but it was a start. After a while, a good friend of mine got me a job washing out screens and doing prep work at an apparel print shop. It was there that I got my first taste of doing some semblance of design work while on the clock, and I was immediately hooked. Eventually, I landed a full time design gig at A Small Print Shop here in Denver. It was there that I really started to dig my heels in and learn more about different styles and approaches to illustration and design. I learned a lot at that shop and will forever be grateful for my time there. Read more>>

Erin Pattullo

I originally went to RMCAD for photography, switched my major to painting, and by the first semester of my second year found my self spending a lot of time in the ceramics department. At the time I was hungry for a space to call my own, to be alone and think, there was a big push for conceptual art at the school during those years. I found myself just wanting to make functional, well-designed pieces for people’s homes. I didn’t have any desire to see my work in galleries and, at the same time, was falling in love with the mundane parts of the craft. I began to look for studio space in the area, with no money and not really anything to show for. I met with a friend who told me she knew of someone staring at a coffee shop in Aurora that had some extra space in the back. I went over to Jubilee Roasters (in Aurora) that next week and met Peter (the owner) who was down for the idea of a ceramics studio but couldn’t fund the idea, and either could I. There was a month left in the semester, and I just put the idea on the back burner. Read more>>

James Lee Baker

“In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, most Baptist churches in America adopted various doctrines and practices which differed significantly from Baptist standards. During these same times, there were many Baptist churches that held to traditional views. The contention between these groups became so sharp that new fractures began to develop in Baptist fellowship as of the late 1820’s. The division was accelerated in 1832 when a group of the conservative Baptists met at Black Rock, Maryland to compose a general address in which they announced and explained their resolve to withdraw fellowship from the liberal doctrines and practices.” ― David Pyles 151 years later, in the dusty, windy plains of the Texas Panhandle, I was born into the arms of a leather-jacket-wearing rock ‘n’ roll drummer and his companion, my mother; from the pictures of her in those days, she reminded me of Joni Mitchell when she held an acoustic guitar ― long, flowing blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and tanned desert skin. They both married young and I was the first of three children to come into their lives. Read more>>

Hayden Collette

I was born in a very poor area of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean. I dreamed of getting out of poverty & coming to America from a very young age. I played soccer from a young child and used it to eventually come to the USA on an Academic/Athletic scholarship. I started recording at the age of 14, also. I worked my way through college, at times being homeless. After I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration Management, I moved to NYC, Ohio and then to Denver, Colorado. I went through many difficulties with Immigration, even ending up in ICE detention. I fought my own Immigration case and eventually won the case, causing my release from INS ICE Detention. I started a hip-hop group & Sociocultural concept called Righteous Revolution with two other artists in 2002. Read more>>

Cole Willard

I grew up in Broomfield, and lived a pretty wild life. Had lots of fun, but made a ton of poor decisions. I grew up playing baseball, and was lucky enough to get a scholarship to go play at a small school in Nebraska for a couple years. Made some more bad decisions out there, but in the process met my wife, and we moved back to Colorado. I had just got arrested for some stuff in Nebraska, but needed a job after graduating, so I came back for an interview downtown, and hated it, what a waste of time. I decided I would head to church with my parents before heading back to Nebraska, we had been going to Flatirons off and on since ‘99. They threw a video up on the screen talking about their internship, and something in me knew that I should apply. So, I did. Read more>>

Alexis Watts

I’ve always loved Marketing. Even when I truly didn’t understand what it was in high school. I graduated from college with an Associates in Marketing Management. I decided to wait on going back to school and focus on building my career as much as I could before I turn 30. I’ve worked in multiple industries, High Education, Student Housing, Insurance, Dental, and now Mall & Community Events. In March of 2020, I was furloughed from my Regional Marketing Specialist position at a large Dental company. I wasn’t upset, as I knew the position wasn’t right for me and you couldn’t control the current pandemic. Read more>>


It all started off in Arizona on an Indian reservation nothing but dead bushes and dirt all around me, see for other people where I lived all they could do to pass time was get drunk or get high off of some sort of substance but not me I’ve always had an adventurous type of mind set exploring places no one has been before it all started off with a 15 dollar camera my friend gave to me as a gift at first I would make cinematic videos in the fields where they grew corn and cotton running along side me was my dog I never thought my adventures would get me into photography. Read more>>

RJ Handley

In sharing my story, my wish is that it inspires you to hold to the hope that no matter how much you’re suffering right now, there is a richer, fuller, more meaningful life that awaits you. Thirteen years ago, I was where many in the Denver metro area find themselves now: addicted and isolated. COVID has imposed restrictions on people’s ability to be with others. For those struggling with addiction whether it be to drugs, alcohol, food, porn, or self-destructive patterns—those restrictions only compound the isolation they already feel. From this place of loneliness, it’s easy to seek companionship in a drink or a pill. But the shame of addiction creates a self-imposed isolation of its own. Read more>>

Saba and Axum Teklu

Growing up in an Ethiopian household, coffee became a staple feature in our lives. After every day of hard work, our mother would set up the classic Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony that included roasting the coffee beans to glistening perfection while the warm aroma quickly spread through the rooms. With coffee acting as the medium, this time allowed us to sit in each other’s company, unwind, and share our time together. After years of watching and learning, we began to prepare the coffee ourselves in the same way our mother had. This familial and cultural practice developed into a deep-seeded passion for coffee that ignited the flame of Sheba Roastery. Read more>>

Kevlyn Walsh

Festive Gal makes unique, sparkly, and fun party supplies designed in our “Sparkle Studio” in Denver, CO. We are woman-owned and inspired by bright colors, confetti, and most importantly — glitter. We strive to create high-quality products with super cute designs that you won’t find anywhere else. I was a High School Art Teacher in Denver, CO and also worked as a restaurant hostess to help pay the bills and student loans. To stay creatively inspired, I started “Festive Gal” as a side passion project. In February 2019, the Denver Teacher’s Union went on strike asking for a raise for Public School Teachers. I realized that I was getting burned out being an over-worked/underpaid teacher by day and a restaurant hostess by night — all on top of managing Festive Gal. Read more>>

Larry Davis

After growing up in an alcoholic home the word DRUNK became a daily word/term in our household. After me picking up the bottle and making many blunders on my own throughout the years, DRUNK was still a word I heard often, if not every day. After my father passed from liver failure, the word was still there and I started noticing that the word carried a heavy dark cloud over it. I sought after to change the meaning behind the word to have a positive light. As most words in the dictionary, they have one or more meaning to them, but the secondary or third meaning often gets looked over. Long behold, I did not have to change the meaning behind the word DRUNK. When I looked it up, the word DRUNK had two meanings. The 2nd meaning that the world looks over or doesn’t mention much. Is “Overcome or dominated by a strong feeling or emotion”. Read more>>

Joanna Van Gieson

I’ve always thought it’s important to be a voice for the voiceless, to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. It started in 2009 when my husband Scott and I traveled to China to adopt our daughter Laila. She was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate which is shunned in the Chinese culture. We brought her home where she’s had numerous surgeries to repair this birth defect and years of intense speech therapy to become the happy, smart and beautiful young lady she is today. Shortly after coming home from China, I was diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t want my daughter to lose another mom so I forged headfirst into surgeries and treatments, recently celebrating my 11 years cancer-free anniversary. Read more>>

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