Community profile: When an accident becomes the perfect outcome
“With every negative, there’s always a ton of positives,” says Kaleb Cook, the community and therapeutic recreation supervisor for Glenwood Springs.
The 22-year-old supervisor came to Colorado and got his job in Glenwood almost by accident after the pandemic caused his college to switch to online courses.
“I think everything happens for a reason,” he said.
Cook originally moved to Colorado to ski, living in Winter Park as a ski instructor. Then he moved to Empire, Colorado, briefly to manage a summer camp for people with disabilities, and later moved back to Winter Park to work with the National Sports Center for Disabled for one season.
Then he broke his leg.
“I broke my leg on April Fool’s Day, and then that same week I was told we were getting kicked out (of their house) because it was getting turned into an Airbnb,” Cook said.
He couldn’t do his job with a broken leg, and he was about to renew his lease when the landlord decided to end it instead.
“So, I was unemployed, I was about to be homeless, and so I applied to a million places and found the city of Glenwood Springs rec therapy program,” he said.
Cook sees a bright future for Glenwood, as one of the city’s newest advocates for inclusivity, and he has been innovative in his pursuit of creating a community for all.
When he was originally hired, his title was a full-time director position for the kids camp, but when he started meeting with the recreational manager for Glenwood Springs Parks and Recreation, Steve Fredrick, they both quickly realized the work he could be doing.
Frederick personally knows the lack of resources for people with disabilities in rural communities because he experiences it with one of his family members.
“He saw that the best parks and recs departments for city government always have a rec therapist on site, because that’s the way you can make your programs inclusive and accessible for all people,” Cook said. “So he really pushed for the therapeutic recreation side of that position.”
Everywhere Cook goes, he is constantly looking for new ways to help people around him. He not only helps with adaptive recreation in his position or even just in Glenwood Springs, but throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.
“Kaleb started to do a really good job of starting to build community with our community members with disabilities,” said Bryana Starbuck, the public information officer for Glenwood. “And certainly it’s something that we’ve seen has been something that is really needed, not only in Glenwood Springs but across the valley,”
Cook is not only an advocate for the disability community but for all marginalized groups.
“Providing more adaptive recreational opportunities and inclusivity through the city, not only for people with disabilities, but also for the gay community, for people from lower socioeconomic statuses, the Latino community and anyone else in a marginalized community,” he explained of his role.
He is also on the board with Arc of the Mountains, PFLAG Roaring Fork Valley, a nonprofit for family members of LGBTQ+ youth, and Gay for Good, a volunteer organization for the LGBTQ+ community.
“I really noticed there’s not many services apart from support groups for LGBTQ youth,” Cook said. “So that’s where I’ve kind of been trying to fill that void and starting to do more recreational and fun-based activities for the kids in the rainbow community.”
Cook wants the youth to know they have support and a safe place at the recreation center.
“People from historically marginalized communities belong here,” he said. “And we’re here.”
Although Cook lives with ADHD, his main inspiration is his best friend, Sydney, who he clicked with in kindergarten. Sydney has Down syndrome and is why Cook said he was originally drawn into accessibility work.
“I always like to credit her for the reason I do all this work,” he said. “Sydney is the one that’s the reason I’m doing all this work and is the continuous driving force for why I believe in inclusion and accessibility for all people.”
This year he also opened his own nonprofit called Cook Inclusive Co.
“We place individuals in jobs, and through that they also are provided housing, and have the ability to really practice and work on their skills of being independent and living independently while holding a job,” he said.
His nonprofit consults with businesses on how they can hire teams of people with disabilities for transitional education. The company also helps with job placement. Cook helps remotely with resumes, cover letters, securing interviews, job search and direct vocational rehab, which is placing individuals with a vocational program federally, he said.
He does this work because of the other counselors and directors who have shown him how helpful this work is.
“I’ve learned from all of my amazing mentors in the past, all the different organizations I was fortunate enough to work with,” he said. “Trying to bring that out here in a different format to better suit the needs of the community members that we have here.”
Cook is moving fast with no intention to slow down. Now that his leg is healing, he plans to be volunteering with Challenge Aspen and the Sunlight Mountain Resort Adaptive Program this winter.
“That’s my favorite thing in the world, is adaptive skiing and being able to work and help other people get access to the mountain through skiing or snowboarding or whatever their outlet is,” he said.
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