By Linette Hidalgo | Photo by Sarah Harvey
Derek Stokely is a more recent initiate into the Denver VOICE vendor program, having transplanted from Virginia just last October. His approachable, friendly nature and native Virginian accent make him a pleasant presence in the office. Derek often pulls double duty as both a VOICE vendor and part-time cook; his work ethic and positive attitude make him a standout vendor.
Born and raised in Fairfax, Virginia, Derek is the oldest of three siblings. Though Derek says he’s had a high IQ from a young age, he started having behavior problems early in high school. He started smoking pot and was eventually kicked out of school. Fortunately, Derek was placed in an alternative education program, New Dominion Wilderness School, which combined traditional schooling and outdoor education. He spent five days a week at the campsite. Six hours each day were dedicated to class time and the remainder for learning skills such as tent construction. The program also included outings to skating rinks and movie theaters. Through this wilderness program Derek was able to earn his GED at 16.
After completing the wilderness program, Derek was placed in foster care. The foster care situation proved difficult for Derek. He returned to New Dominion, this time as an employee and cook. He was emancipated at 17 and decided to attend culinary school, having gained a passion for cooking while at New Dominion. He completed culinary school in Richmond, Virginia. Following graduation Derek went to work for a catering company. This job gave him the opportunity to work events at the White House and Pentagon.
After five years the catering company was sold and Derek was out of work. He worked odd jobs for many months to follow. At this time Derek married; however, he had developed a drinking habit that led to many problems within his marriage and the marriage eventually dissolved. While drinking, he made some poor decisions and did a stint in jail. After his time in jail he quit drinking and began to turn his life around.
In addition to sobriety, Derek also credits his girlfriend, Pam, for helping him make better choices. By 2009 Derek was in charge of a kitchen at a homeless shelter in Virginia. During this time he organized and cooked a traditional Thanksgiving meal including two golden brown turkeys and a Hawaiian ham, an effort he is very proud of.
Derek and Pam initially came to Colorado last fall to visit Pam’s father. When the two were no longer able to stay with Pam’s father, Derek went to Crossroads, a Salvation Army shelter located downtown.
He began asking around Crossroads what places in Denver were hiring. He heard that some people were selling a “homeless” paper on the mall and that he could attend orientation and sign up to sell. He figured, “it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, as long as I’m not drinking,” and signed up as a VOICE vendor.
Despite completing orientation during a cold time of year, Derek went straight to work and experienced early success selling. He also learned he genuinely enjoys vending the VOICE. He appreciates the articles featured in the paper and likes the inclusion of stories about the vendors themselves. Derek particularly enjoys selling the VOICE because he gets to meet so many people. As Derek explains, “my love is cooking because it makes people feel good and that’s what the paper does…I have cooked for thousands of people and now I get to greet thousands of people.”
Derek plans to continue working in the food industry and selling the VOICE. He wants to take the VOICE to cities outside of Denver and says he will take the VOICE “as far as the bus will go.” ■