By Linette Hidalgo | Photo by Emma Fullerton
Raelene Johnson is a staple on the streets of Boulder. You are likely to have seen this colorful vendor on the Pearl Street Mall or near the Boulder Farmer’s Market. With her multi-colored top hat rimmed with bright pink fur and a vivacious personality to match, she is hard to miss.
Raelene is a veteran VOICE vendor with over seven years experience selling the VOICE. She consistently ranks among the top ten vendors in sales, and proudly claims the title of top female vendor with sales in the hundreds every month.
Raelene was born in Maine but grew up in various cities throughout Connecticut including Bridgeport and New Haven. During childhood Raelene had amblyopia, also known as a lazy eye, a condition in which the nerve pathways between the brain and the eye do not function properly, leaving the lazy eye visually weak and typically unable to focus. Because of this condition Raelene struggled in school. Many of her instructors did not recognize this problem or realize it was the cause of Raelene’s learning difficulties. She quickly began to fall behind in school.
Along with her academic struggles, Raelene also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather from childhood to early adolescence. By age fifteen Raelene was regularly ditching school. Shortly after she began hitchhiking. She left home, unable to be around her stepfather. His abuse had stopped but the residual effects were too much for Raelene.
Raelene suffered from depression for many years to follow and developed a drug addiction. She struggled with this addiction for the next thirty years.
However, in November 2007 Raelene’s life took a turn for the better. She’d arrived in Denver from Florida and was spending time around a local homeless shelter. Someone suggested she go to what is now Bridge House for help. It was at Bridge House that Raelene saw a sign for a job with the VOICE. Like many new vendors, Raelene had a hard time selling the paper. Yet she did not quit. Instead she prayed and credits God for giving her a sales pitch, the sales pitch she still uses today.
Raelene credits the Denver VOICE, her faith, and Flatirons Church in Lafayette for her addiction recovery. She is not hesitant to share that the VOICE has given her self-confidence and changed her life.
“The VOICE didn’t care that I had no diploma, references, or address. They gave me a chance anyway. I went from living under a bridge to being the top female vendor.”
Raelene, who once felt worthless and limited, now describes herself as honest, fun loving, and giving. She believes that what you speak into the universe is what comes true and negativity prevents blessings. Her goal is to spread street papers to other cities. She has given many tourists papers to take to their hometowns in hopes that a similar program can be started in a new city. Raelene plans to continue vending the VOICE and ultimately hopes to write an autobiography and become a motivational speaker. ■