By Matt Kroschel
DENVER (CBS4) – Until we reached the concrete front porch of a downtown condo, Jackie Long was strong, smiling, and almost carried a super human strength.
But that front porch and what Jackie found inside in 2013 haunts her, and she can’t visit the spot without crying.
Her daughter Callie died a death she blames on drugs and addiction.
Callie grew up a charmed life in Aspen. Pictures showed a smiling little girl who played soccer and excelled in school. She graduated with straight A’s from CU Boulder.
But she had a demon.
In the wake of Callie’s death, her mom Jackie found heartache and frustration was only erased by giving back to other at risk young people facing hardships most can’t imagine.
Even before her daughter’s death, Jackie would help homeless youth with meals and donations to provide a spot for them to hang out and get a shower. Callie even helped her mom in those days.
Her death, though, forced Jackie in a new direction.
She added addiction to her foundation, which is called Callie’s Backyard, and focused her pain into making a bigger difference in the community.
On a sunny afternoon, CBS4 cameras followed Jackie on what is a simple routine. She heads down into the homeless camps, bringing back dozens of young people to her little van filled with homemade sandwiches and juice drink packets.
Her homemade sandwiches provide nourishment for these young people, but her presence is what is changing lives.
“Hanging in there?” Jackie asked one of the young faces. “All you can do is hang in there.”
Jackie connects with these kids in a way few adults have managed to do.
Over the years she worked with the local police to create a statewide sex trafficking task force. She helped remodel a downtown youth day shelter. And she continues to push for further safe places for the homeless to go.
“I’m just a mom out here. I don’t have a dog in the fight. I don’t have kids anymore. I believe in doing something for these kids.”
Callie’s Backyard Foundation finds purpose in tragedy. They focus on homelessness, sex trafficking, and addiction. The last pillar of the mission is difficult with an opioid epidemic hitting the country, so the foundation brings programming to local schools, including Aspen, where Callie grew up.
“We just brought to the high school, the program is about drugs and teen suicide. Aspen is the number one suicide city in our country,” Jackie said.
Education and hands-on programming is bringing together Colorado donors with local organizations to help solve these big challenges.
“If one mom in every city would do this, we would have a little more kindness all around.”
When we started this Together 4 Colorado project, this story is exactly what I envisioned. This is what Together 4 Colorado looks like in action. This is what is happening everyday, on the streets and in our schools: one mom’s mission to help, so other parents don’t have to face the pain she carries.