CSU Women in Construction students team up to support Denver residents

Frida and Augustine Gallegos moved to Denver in 1989 and over the past four decades have seen massive change take place around them – illness in the family, population growth, endless construction, and a constant cycle of neighbors coming and leaving.

Through the changes, the Gallegoses have lived in the same home in Denver’s Swansea neighborhood. After a prolonged battle with cancer, Augustine was unable to help with household chores – and completing home improvement projects such as painting and landscaping was no longer an option.

“A lot of people need help [in Swansea],” said Frida.

On Sept. 21, help arrived.

Seventeen students from CSU’s Women in Construction club and Women Engaging in Construction Mentoring program traveled to Swansea to volunteer with Denver-based nonprofit Extreme Community Makeover, continuing a partnership with the organization that began in 2016 as part of the University’s commitment to engaging and supporting communities surrounding the future CSU Campus at the National Western Center.

“We’re very appreciative,” Frida Gallegos said. “I couldn’t have done this by myself.”

Partnering for impact

Joined by CSU faculty, staff, and other community members, student volunteers completed home improvement projects for six families – including yardwork, landscaping, fence repair, painting, and graffiti and debris removal – on Columbine Street, between 47th and 48th Avenues.

“Today’s Extreme Community Makeover event demonstrates the power of community; it’s all about learning from one another and developing relationships among students, industry, and families in this community,” said Molly Weisshaar, academic success coordinator with CSU’s Department of Construction Management, who led the volunteer effort on behalf of CSU’s CM Cares program, WECM, and WIC.

“We are better together, and Extreme Community Makeover is a great reminder of that,” said Weisshaar.

The Department of Construction Management, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences, works actively and intentionally to support the recruitment and retention of women to the major and the traditionally male-dominated field; WECM aims to cultivate community and promote self-efficacy for women in the first year of their CM degree program.

Local construction company Swinerton Builders supported the volunteer effort in partnership with CSU and ECM, by donating project materials and serving as industry mentors for students throughout the day.

“We always enjoy connecting with all the groups that volunteer with us, and it’s especially great to have volunteers with skills and professional experience in the types of projects we do,” said Angela Bomgaars, executive director of Extreme Community Makeover. “I’m so excited to have the CSU Women in Construction group join us to make a difference in the lives of families in Swansea.”

Ivannia Conejo, a CSU sophomore majoring in interior architecture and design and minoring in construction management, was one of five students who repainted the exterior trim of the Gallegos residence.

Conejo was born and raised in Denver; some of her family live a few houses down from the Gallegoses, and her mother grew up only a few blocks away in the same neighborhood.

As she painted the ceiling of the front porch, Conejo shared her passion for creating things that people will “love and feel comfortable with.”

Cultivating community

Graciela Chairez Moreno, a Colorado native and CSU senior majoring in construction management and minoring in business, was one of two student peer mentors who helped coordinate the volunteer effort. As a WECM peer mentor, she provides support for up to two CM students during their first year of coursework.

Volunteering in Swansea with ECM and CSU was especially meaningful for Chairez Moreno; some of her family and a few close friends live only a couple of blocks from the house she worked on, and her own house is less than a 10-minute drive away.

Chairez Moreno referred to the volunteer experience as “a great opportunity for women in the construction field to feel that this career is attainable.”

“Members of our low-income communities don’t always have access to the best resources,” she said. “It’s awesome to be volunteering in my own community and making a difference.”

Graciela Chairez Moreno

Chairez Moreno sees herself doing similar volunteer work in the future with ECM or similar organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, where she currently serves as secretary for the CSU chapter.

“I will be volunteering more of my time,” she said. “One of the reasons I majored in construction management was to help communities, whether it was building or renovating homes, schools, hospitals, etcetera.”

After graduation, Chairez Moreno hopes to run her own construction business to help achieve her goal of giving back to the community where she grew up.

“It was exciting to talk to the homeowners and see their smiles once all the work was done,” she said. “I would like to come back to my community and, with my career, help it grow with the resources it needs.”

CSU Campus at the National Western Center

Colorado State University has made a long-term commitment to the future National Western Center and its surrounding communities in north Denver.

The CSU Campus at the National Western Center will focus on research and educational programming in the areas of food, water, sustainability, and human and animal health within its three buildings: the CSU Water Building, CSU Animal Health Complex, and CSU Center for Food and Agriculture. What’s inside the buildings will bring together the brightest minds, inspire the next generation, and address global challenges.

The University is currently working to engage with the community and to partner with local schools, nonprofits, and businesses to create impactful research, collaboration, and year-round programming to this unique project.

For more information, visit nwc.colostate.edu.

Extreme Community Makeover 

Extreme Community Makeover creates opportunities for volunteers to partner with underserved Denver residents to build safer environments, cultivate community, and establish permanent pathways to healthy, hopeful, stable lives. Since its founding in 2008, ECM has engaged more than 35,000 volunteers from churches, families, schools, companies, and organizations to complete more than 2,700 home and neighborhood improvement projects for Denver residents. Learn more at extremecommunitymakeover.org.

CM Cares 

The CSU Department of Construction Management’s CM Cares program promotes service-learning by infusing leadership traits, team building, and ethics through community service activities. It focuses on teaming students, faculty, staff, and industry partners to complete construction-related projects for people with special needs or local community service agencies needing assistance that cannot be provided by other sources. Learn more at chhs.colostate.edu/cm/cm-cares.