By Dawne Belloise
Jennifer Read says she’s definitely a Hoosier, having been born and raised in Tipton, Indiana. Her mother worked in the agriculture industry at a seed company while her father ran an autobody shop and was also an insurance adjuster. Jennifer describes Tipton as small farming community smack in the middle of the state and her childhood home was surrounded by cornfields where the neighborhood kids would play.
A typical all-American midwestern community, the big Friday night event was high school football and she recalls that, “The whole town went to the football games and basketball in the winter.” There was the Pork Festival too, which her town was known for. “We’d eat pork on a stick, which is one giant pork loin. They’d have a Miss Pork Cuisine contest,” she explains, “it’s the beauty pageant in my town.” In her senior year, she actually entered the contest, and she laughs, “In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t win.” All through high school, Jennifer played tennis doubles and also swam. “But I was terrible in swimming. I would always come in last.” However, she still managed to snag the senior class president title as well as vice president of the student body. “I liked to be in charge,” she smiles.
Jennifer graduated in 1994 and with a few ideas about her future, she enrolled at Indiana University in Bloomington as an English major. “I loved learning and opportunities. If I could be anything for the rest of my life it would be a college student.” She earned her undergraduate degree in 1998. It was just after her sophomore year that Jennifer and a friend took off for a summer adventure, pulling it right out of the pages of a book of summer jobs for college students. “Somehow, we ended up on a dude ranch, at Harmel’s, up the Taylor. I had never heard of Crested Butte. I had never been to Colorado.” One night the crew got together for an outing to the CB bars. “We went to the Talk (Talk of the Town, of course). It was my first time in a bar.” One of the cute local guys walked in and sparked her interest. “I was so brave,” she recalls with a grin. “I walked over and said, ‘I’ve been spending way too much time talking to my friends, so I thought I’d come talk to you.” They talked for hours. She wrote her phone number on his hand. He called the next day to invite her for a picnic up above Lake Irwin. She married that guy, Chris Read, two years later in August of 1998. Chris is the program director for the Adaptive Sports Center.
Fresh out of college, Jennifer got her first job teaching high school English in Durango. After a year, she and Chris had the summer opportunity to travel as crew leaders with the Student Conservation Association, an organization that places teenagers in conservation work in national parks. “We worked alongside of the students at Badlands National Park. It was amazing. We were on the Pine Ridge reservation when they introduced wild horses. We were at that ceremony. We got to go with a world-renowned biologist, tracking blackfooted ferrets and big horn sheep in the park.”
Returning to CB, she worked the front desk reservations at Irwin for a winter season. When another adventure opportunity arose to travel across Europe for nine weeks, she and Chris grabbed it. They started in France skiing, “Then we did a big loop throughout Europe and ended on the southern coast of Turkey for my brother’s wedding.”
Settling down a bit, the two enrolled in grad school together at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley in 1999. “It was the only place in the state that had programs for both of us,” she says. Jennifer earned her masters in school counseling while Chris got his masters in outdoor education. She finished up doing her internship at Crested Butte Community School (CBCS) in December of 2001. Jennifer then took a long-term first grade substitute teacher position at the CBCS. “I loved it. Even though I wasn’t an elementary teacher by training.” The following year she taught second grade at CBCS. When then school counselor, Jordan O’Neil, took a leave of absence, Jennifer stepped into that position. “This is my 18th year as counselor; 15 of those were as counselor for six through 12th grades, then two years ago, we hired a middle school counselor, so now I’m focused on high school.”
With all the restrictions of COVID, Jennifer feels that, “We’ve been lucky to have been fully in session this whole time. It’s a small percentage of kids who’ve been able to be in session full-time,” she says of schools elsewhere in the state and country. “We have all these protocols in place. It’s called a risk reduction toolkit. It’s been really successful.”
As counselor, Jennifer sees her role as helping to identify needs and then develop solutions and programs to meet those kids’ needs. “That could be for individuals, groups or the school-wide community.” For example, she points out, “For individuals, that could be providing social/emotional support, helping them with strategies for school success and brainstorming ideas for pathways after high school, like gap year options, college, military, all those options. For groups of kids, I helped start a collaborative with Living Journeys and Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Project. We provide a high school grief group. Another initiative I started is a Sexuality and Gender Acceptance Club, which is a gay/straight alliance for high school teens. School-wide, as part of a team, I helped to develop our program called Seek the Peak, a positive behavior and intervention support program, basically a system to develop a positive school climate.” She was also involved in the district-wide emergency operation plan, which includes the overall school safety measures.
In general, Jennifer feels that CBCS is an an incredible place to work and learn. “It’s an awesome place to be, the teachers and staff are outstanding, I have incredible colleagues. It’s a true feeling of family here for sure. I’ve been really fortunate along the way to have some really good mentors, like Carol Kastning and Jordan O’Neil.”
When she’s not at work, Jennifer takes advantage of everything mountain living has to offer. “I run, ski and bike and I’ve done several triathlons — the Half Ironman Triathlon, the Imogene Pass run, twice, from Ouray to Telluride, and the Birkie Nordic Race. I did Ride the Rockies with my dad. I’ve climbed all the [Colorado] Fourteeners, except the seven scary ones,” she laughs. “I also do ski mountaineering. Chris is my own personal mountain guide and I’d trust him with my life in the backcountry.”
Not surprisingly, like most Buttians, Jennifer loves a good polka. “I discovered my love for it when I moved to CB and my favorite Crested Butte holiday is Flauschink. Pete Dunda (local legend polka accordionist) played at my 40th birthday,” she says proudly.
Her husband Chris is a huge part of her life… “And the most amazing human I know. We love to adventure together. We’ve built a beautiful life together. One of the main things I love about Crested Butte is the community ethics. The dedication to community service, not a lot of communities have that. There’s a commitment to physical fitness and the appreciation for the natural environment is something I love, and it’s a really strong ethic here.” And probably most importantly, she says, is, “the compassion for each other.”