By Sarah Harvey | Photos by Giles Clasen
Although Kenneth Cooley is one of the newest Denver VOICE vendors, he’s quickly become one the top vendors in sales.
New vendors often struggle when they first venture out to sell the VOICE. There’s a lot to learn: how to deal with rejection, where the best sales turfs are. But within his first month, Kenneth sold over 300 papers.
Kenneth was born in Rockford, IL, but didn’t stay there long. His father was in the Navy, which kept the family moving around. “As quick as I was born, my mom told me the car was already packed,” said Kenneth.
The family moved around frequently during Kenneth’s childhood. Illinois, California, Nebraska, Florida, and Colorado are all places he called home while growing up. As a teen and young man, he spent several years in the Denver Metro area.
Last summer Kenneth moved back to Colorado with one of his sons, but hadn’t realized how expensive the state had become. When he and his son couldn’t find a place to live, they tried the Denver Rescue Mission’s Lawrence Street Shelter. At one point, Kenneth ended up sleeping in Lincoln Park. He was arrested for camping violations (the charges were later dismissed).
Kenneth has been a homeowner—four different times, in fact. There have also been a few times in Kenneth’s life when he would have been considered homeless, living in hotels or other places most people don’t technically considered “homes.”
But to Kenneth, there isn’t much of a difference between living in a hotel and living in an apartment. Many people have shelter but don’t own that shelter; Kenneth considers them homeless, too. “People…will say, ‘I got a house,’” Kenneth explains. “No you don’t, the bank owns it. You’re technically homeless, aren’t you?”
Now Kenneth is staying at New Genesis men’s shelter. He likes it there, and finds that the chores and requirements keep people in touch with reality. It was through New Genesis that Kenneth met Randy Keller, the vendor who first told him about the opportunity of selling the VOICE. Kenneth has felony charges in his past that make it difficult for him to find more permanent housing and employment, but between the VOICE and New Genesis, he’s getting back on track.
It’s important for Kenneth to find ways in which he can give back. Although he doesn’t have much to give, Kenneth still donates and volunteers. He serves 18-22 hours a week as a team leader at New Genesis. This takes him off his regular vending corner and costs him in paper sales, but it’s worth it to Kenneth.
His recent experiences have reminded him never to judge a book by the cover. “When you start uncovering the layers,” said Kenneth, “and you start to realize that they’re all human beings…even the ones that seem bad, they have good in them too. And that’s what gives you hope.”
Vendors gain more than just money through selling the VOICE. Many vendors report gaining more self-confidence, but Kenneth already had plenty of that. One thing the VOICE has given him, though, is hope: “I guess if anything, I’ve learned there’s still hope. That there’s still room for change for people who have lost their way.” ■