Celebrate Your True Colors

by Kimberly Nicolette, published in the Aspen Times on November 9, 2023

Read the Article on the Sopris Sun website HERE.


YouthZone partners with other community organizations to highlight youth’s creativity and resilience.


Community holds the power to heal and restore, while social isolation can destroy: We’ve seen it throughout the pandemic — and the ripples that continue to emanate in both kids and adults. True Colors: A Community Partnership Event, aims to bring people together to discuss positive change to support youth and families and to celebrate youth’s creativity and resilience Saturday at TACAW.

Participants gather under a balloon arch, ready to make a difference at the 2023 Salon West Unity for Community 5K Run & Walk, supporting YouthZone with every step.

In partnership with TACAW, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Tom Karrel Coaching, and the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, YouthZone will host keynote speaker Jaiya John; one young woman’s story of overcoming challenges; a panel discussion on building a healthy community; folkloric performances by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklórico; and guitarist Rodrigo Arreguin. In addition, a youth art exhibition features work from Anderson Ranch Art Center’s 2023 Teen Summer Workshop, which offers free art programs for teens ages 15 to 18 living in areas spanning from Basalt to Parachute.

“Anybody and everybody is welcome,” said Ali Naaseh-Shahry, deputy development director at YouthZone. “The point of the community event is (for it to be) fun and exciting and useful for everyone. That’s why we have a little of everything: music, dance, and thought-provoking discussion and amazing artwork.”

Swinging into action for a great cause at the 2023 Annual Charity Golf Tournament, the YouthZone team shows off their winning spirit on the green.

The event starts at 3 p.m. with an ArtWalk through TACAW’s lobby accompanied by the music of Arreguin, followed by Naomi Peña sharing her story after welcoming remarks at 3:30 p.m. She will talk about what it was like growing up facing challenges as a kid in the Lower Colorado Valley and how the proper resources helped her thrive.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklórico performs at 4:05 p.m. and again at 4:50 p.m. The program helps enrich local students, from kindergarten to 12th grade, by teaching Mexican folkloric dance and promoting connection and cultural exchange.

At 4:20 p.m., Tom Karrel facilitates a panel discussion on how local non-profits have seen growth in the community and employed successful tools and strategies to promote a positive environment for kids and families. He is a life coach who also volunteers for YouthZone, leading restorative justice and one-on-one sessions.

Rodrigo Arreguin will perform at True Colors.

John, the keynote speaker, takes the stage at 5:05 p.m. He describes himself as an orphan, born on ancient Puebloan lands in New Mexico who became an internationally-recognized freedom worker, author, and poet. He founded Soul Water Rising in order to “rehumanize” the world and eradicate oppression, partially through grants and scholarships to displaced and vulnerable youth. The former professor of social psychology at Howard University holds doctorate and master’s degrees in social psychology.

Tom Karrel will facilitate two panel discussions.

“Through the spoken word (including poetry), he creates an emotional response to feel empowered, connected, and rejuvenated,” Naaseh-Shahry said. “He’s very ethereal.”

John’s work in social justice and youth advocacy led YouthZone to make him the keynote speaker.

“He has this beautiful way of activating the audience by calling them to action through poetry to address civil and community conflict through connection and love,” said Jami Hayes, YouthZone executive director. “He really spoke to us because of the way he communicates around connection and the feeling of belonging.”

Jaiya John will be the keynote speaker.

YouthZone began 48 years ago as a grassroots movement in Rifle, due to parents who were concerned about risky behavior kids engaged in after school. The non-profit now fosters positive youth development for teens on the Western Slope by specializing in intervention, prevention, and volunteerism for kids ages 6 to 18. It helps more than a thousand kids annually.

About 60% of its clients have been charged in court with an offense. The remainder come from school or law enforcement intervention or self-referrals from the kids or their parents, Naaseh-Shahry said. Clients benefit from a comprehensive assessment, restorative discussions about what has happened, classes, contracts, support groups, public service projects, and more.

“It’s tailored to the client,” he said.

Saturday’s True Colors ends with a book signing and meet-and-greet with John from 6-7 p.m.

“The whole tie is the power of connection,” Hayes said. “It’s been hard the last five years. (Kids) have been forced to disconnect on a lot of levels. Losing that human touch, that compassionate touch, of I see you and I hear you (has negatively impacted them).”

“All community and all individual healing happens through connection,” Naaseh-Shahry said. “It’s the only way. It’s the whole point of our work.”

 If you go…

What: True Colors: A Community Partnership Event

When: 3-7 p.m., Saturday

Where: TACAW

Cost: Free, but you must RSVP. Bilingual interpretation will be available. Free ticket includes one drink for adults and appetizers.

To RSVP: tacaw.org or youthzone.com/truecolors