THE BUZZ: The Faces of Blair

By on August 25, 2015

If residents of Blair Place Apartments are forced from the valley, just who do we stand to lose?

The Faces of Blair spotlights vital community members who are reevaluating their place in Jackson after Blair Place Apartments announced a more than 40 percent rent increase.

Associate director of Hole Food Rescue Jeske Grave and nursing student Mark Henderson at their Blair Place Apartment. Photo: Robyn Vincent

Associate director of Hole Food Rescue Jeske Grave and nursing student Mark Henderson at their Blair Place Apartment. (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming — Jeske Grave has found herself in the news on a few occasions for her indefatigable work as Hole Food Rescue’s associate director. Ahead of HFR’s first fundraiser, The Planet ran a story last week highlighting her organization’s efforts to rescue 20,000 pounds of food each month from dumpster demise. This jettisoned food is delivered to the plates of hungry people all over the valley, from folks at Good Samaritan Mission to the Senior Center. Today, however, the alacritous 28-year-old is the subject of a different battle, that which concerns her uncertain fate living in Jackson Hole as a Blair Place resident.

After two years of work with HFR, Grave is finally collecting a paycheck for her work in the nonprofit sphere. The organization not only fights food waste and sates local hunger pangs but it also teaches life skills to people who lean on organizations such as Teton Literacy Center, Climb Wyoming and CES. Indeed, HFR’s future is radiating with promise. Partnering with the Community Foundation, HFR is launching Just Food JH, a two-year project to research the extent of edible food waste in Teton County and to explore new methods of food waste aversion. “We have big plans with Hole Food Rescue in the next two years,” Grave said. “But I am definitely worried about my living situation.”

In order to keep HFR afloat and guide its more than 50 volunteers, Grave says living in the same community that she serves is crucial. “I’m up each morning at 7 texting Ali [Dunford] (Hole Food Rescue’s executive director and founder) about what we must achieve that day,” she said. This includes organizing food baskets, inspecting new donations to ensure food isn’t past its prime, allocating the massive influx of rescued items, working with volunteers, performing “rescues” and writing grants, to name a few. “When there is too much activity at the hub, Ali and I come to my Blair apartment to work,” Grave explained. “If I wasn’t living in close proximity to Hole Food Rescue, I don’t know how I would do this. I am so passionate about this community, so I refuse to be pushed out, but I don’t know who to fight.”

Grave lives with her husband Mark Henderson, a second year nursing student. Altruism pumps through both their veins. The duo’s shared belief in the power of community outreach is a cornerstone of their relationship.

“We have always thought the best way to connect in the community is to volunteer,” Henderson said.

The two met when Henderson was traveling in Grave’s hometown of Amsterdam and have volunteered abroad together. After completing a master’s degree in environmental education, Grave moved to Jackson to be with Henderson and the two resumed their community work, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, Teton Botanical Gardens, Friends of Pathways and Teton Raptor Center.

“While I was waiting for my green card, I started volunteering to get to know this community,” Grave said. “What I found was that everyone wants to make this a better place.”

While Grave buzzes around HFR’s hub and across town, Henderson, a 12-year resident, spends his days studying to become a nurse, an occupation he sought out after a near fatal experience while traveling in Guatemala. “I was deathly ill—the doctors thought I had Dengue Fever,” Henderson remembered. “Somehow, they were able to nurse me back to health and they did it all for free … I was blown away. After that experience, I donated money back to the hospital and I really started thinking about how I could give back and involve myself in global health.”

Once Henderson completes nursing school, he says he wants to become involved with Doctors without Borders. But for now, he’s already taken steps to improve the health of people on the other side of the globe. Recently he traveled to Accra, Ghana, to volunteer with Unite for Sight, a nonprofit that performs free cataract surgeries. Henderson volunteered 15-hour days in stifling, sooty buildings to ensure that almost 400 people were examined and treated each day. After a round of visual acuity tests, doctors would determine who needed surgery based on test results and how entwined a person’s sight was to their livelihood. “After surgery, when they would take the patches off,” Henderson said, “there was an automatic welling of tears in their eyes; I was crying, they were crying. It was very powerful.”

It is people like Henderson—volunteers who are on the ground working directly with communities—that have a special opportunity to forge meaningful bonds with the people they help. Grave laments that the more than 50 people who volunteer for Hole Food Rescue are all working-class folks, some who face similarly uncertain fates as her and Henderson.

“The people who volunteer for us have three jobs already,” said Grave, whose own juggling act includes working four nights a week at Cowboy Steakhouse. “We are losing volunteers all the time who can’t afford to live here anymore. Two just left for this exact reason.”

During a four-hour joint town and county meeting last week, Blair resident Jorge Moreno presented to local officials almost 200 questionnaires completed by Blair households lamenting their futures and decrying Blair’s decision to steeply raise rent instead of instating an incremental hike. Moreno has spent the last two weeks interfacing with his neighbors to place a human emphasis on the hundreds of potentially homeless people living at Blair.

“I never understood the saying, ‘a deer in headlights,’ until recently,” Moreno said. “When I knocked on my neighbors’ doors I saw that people are shocked. They don’t know what to do, but they are waiting, and waiting and waiting until the last minute and some of these answers reflect that. I don’t know what they are waiting for, but they are afraid.”

Contact Robyn Vincent at editor@planetjh.com

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine and former editor of Planet Jackson Hole. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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