By Kerry Booth
Photos by Giles Clasen
Spend any time with Meg Stearns and her service dog Elly and two things are likely to happen: you’ll get caught up in Meg’s bright outlook on life, and Elly—part beagle, part husky, and all sweetness—will nudge her nose under your hand. I had the pleasure of meeting this matched pair on a sunny day in February. Meg was picking up papers to sell and Elly was showing off a new red knitted sweater.
The sweater was a gift from one of Meg’s regular customers. She has a small platoon of people who regularly stop by her corner at 16th and Glenarm Streets to talk or bring something for Elly.
Meg’s smile when she talks about her regulars is infectious, and you can tell she is connecting with people not just as a vendor, but as a part of the canvas of Denver.
The youngest daughter of a father who taught languages and a mother who taught math, Meg had aspirations to become a veterinarian. Originally born in New Jersey, her father’s work took them for a time to France. Back in the states, Meg went to high school in Pennsylvania. She started off her college career at Colby College in Maine, but eventually transferred to the University of Denver, interested in American studies but eventually getting a degree in geography.
Like most graduates, Meg found herself working a job to pay the bills while she looked for something better. Working as a bike messenger, she would deliver maps—with her resume attached—to oil and gas companies throughout Denver. The plan worked when she was eventually hired as a draftsman.
When the oil and gas industries crashed in the 1980s, she was one of the many in Denver affected by it. But Meg found work in restaurants, and also worked for Outward Bound, leading groups into the mountains in the pre-cell-phone days.
As is often the case, bad luck for Meg multiplied. Injuries lead to an addiction to pain medication and, eventually, jail time. Not once during our conversation was Meg wistful about the life she never led, nor did she dismiss any wrong action she took, nor the consequences of those actions.
Challenging family relations exacerbated her trials, and many times Meg found herself with no one to help her reverse her situation. Eventually, she found a few people and organizations offering help.
Meg knew VOICE vendor Dwayne Pride from some petitioning work they had done together; Dwayne referred Meg to the VOICE. Meg has housing now, and selling the VOICE helps supplement the money she makes from other part-time jobs and allows her to pay her bills. Hard fought gains have her contemplating new, bright futures.
Now that Mag has an apartment of her own and is working several part-time jobs, she is considering going back to school and starting a new career. Utilizing the many opportunities available to Denver’s homeless and impoverished population, Meg finds time to volunteer as well, helping those who may be in circumstances similar to hers find a way out. ■