By Linette Hidalgo | Photo by Sarah Harvey
JJ Jones is a bright spot along the stretch of Broadway where he regularly sells the Denver VOICE. With his yellow baseball cap and wide smile, he exudes a childlike happiness and enthusiasm. Though primarily wheelchair-bound, JJ has a positive attitude and undeniable work ethic.
JJ grew up in the heart of Denver near downtown. He was mostly raised by his mother but, in part, raised himself. He is the oldest of five siblings. His parents split during his childhood and his father moved to San Jose, California. JJ made regular visits to see his father in California, and these trips became a highlight of his adolescent life.
Though he was a successful student when he applied himself, JJ’s dreams were not academically driven. JJ dreamed of moving to Nashville and breaking into the music industry as a singer.
He attempted to participate in a vocational program for radio broadcasting through his school, seeing this as a way into the music industry. But his mother refused to sign his permission form. JJ left his mother’s home and became temporarily homeless before finding shelter with friends. Following this disappointment, and feeling embarrassed at his inability to pay for senior year expenses such as prom and class rings, JJ opted to get his GED.
Once he earned his GED, JJ enrolled in Albuquerque Technical Vocational School. JJ completed one term before moving back to Colorado. That’s when he began experiencing serious foot pain and was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis and flat feet. Unable to work jobs that required long periods of standing or walking, JJ took a series of mostly office jobs over the course of the next several years, working in telemarketing, customer service, sales, and seasonally at Jackson Hewitt.
With memories of traveling with his father on his mind, JJ bought a van and began living out of the vehicle. He continued his seasonal work at Jackson Hewitt and traveled during his off season. JJ was enthralled with traveling and continued his pattern of work followed by travel for the next three years, visiting Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico.
Throughout the years JJ continued to express his passion for singing. He participated in a few different bands, sang at weddings, and made a Christian CD.
When JJ developed neuropathy in his legs in addition to his chronic foot pain, traveling became difficult. He settled back in Colorado and started to search for a job. He met a few VOICE Vendors on the 16th Street Mall and learned about the program. Just after becoming a vendor, JJ’s leg condition worsened and he became primarily wheelchair bound. However, this hasn’t prevented him from working.
JJ credits the VOICE with keeping him focused and giving him the flexibility needed to attend doctor appointments. He appreciates the opportunity the VOICE gives him to interact with a variety of interesting people and earn an income. JJ uses a particular strategy to keep a positive mentality and work toward his goal of purchasing a wheelchair accessible van. He sets selling goals each day, week, and month.
JJ has overcome several serious health issues including a 45-day stay in the hospital earlier this year, but has no plans to give up. He will continue working toward purchasing a van and plans to travel again to fulfill his dream of seeing more sites and cities around the world. ■