Kindness Campaign Doesn’t Wait

FORT COLLINS and LONGMONT — It’s not part of her job, officially, but security guard Dena Creaser has become the unofficial ambassador of kindness for real estate company NewMark Merrill.

Her influence, which locally can be witnessed at Fort Collins Marketplace, 3601 S. College Ave., will soon have a visual presence throughout the 90-property commercial real estate firm with operations in Colorado, California and Illinois.

Creaser, a music major and teacher by training, works as a security guard for NewMark Merrill in Fort Collins. While security is her primary duty, outreach has become how she accomplishes that.

A Dena Creaser’s sketch. Courtesy NewMark Merrill

“I make a point of talking with everybody. I say hi. I stand by the grocery store doors, and I welcome everyone. It’s an important part of me,” she told BizWest in an interview. “Getting to know the people around here makes my job easier.”

Her greetings didn’t stop with “hi.” She began to learn the stories of the people she met — the customers, the people without homes, the others she greeted. She learned their needs and would buy things for those who had need — guitar strings for someone who was missing one, gloves for someone with cold hands.

Then, she’d go home and sketch the people she met using charcoal pencils or sticks.

“I like things messy,” she said of working in charcoal. The medium permits her to obscure faces of some who don’t necessarily want to be known.

Her sketches began to grow in number.

“I have 91 drawings on my walls,” she said as she turned her computer camera to show her living room. “I have 150 over there in a box. I’ve sold quite a few.”

And she’s given quite a few to her subjects, and some are hanging in stores about town.

“Eventually, people found out I was drawing, and they encouraged me to put a book together,” she said. A staff member at an insurance business helped her connect with Amazon, and her book, “Out of the Shadows: Drawings from My Daily Walk,” found its way to the retail behemoth.

Every image has a story behind it, she said.

“This is a family,” she said, pointing to one grouping of drawings. “She works on the plaza. These are her kids.

I was going to write a story about this woman, she said about another drawing. She swears at people, but that’s not the point. The point is mental health. How are we going to change what we have? We need to do something. Be active. Fix the system. Even if it’s one person at a time.

“This guy right here,” she said of another. “He’s not homeless. He lives in a low-income housing project. He was 28 weeks sober, so I took him to Starbucks to celebrate. He had made it further than he had the last time, so I was congratulating him. He’s still sober. That’s been a lot of fun,” she said of getting to know him.

When NewMark Merrill learned about her drawings and about her outreach, it sought to elevate it.

“This all came to be because we felt Dena was a great person to be a security person at our facility,” said Danaria McCoy, vice president of marketing and operations for the company.

“She would treat people with kindness and empathy. We didn’t know about the levels of her talent,” she continued. “She’d approach a person on the property. She had a job to do to keep the business aspects of the shopping center working. She’d find out that maybe they needed guitar strings or gloves. She was buying those things out of her pocket. When we found out about that and her art, we wanted to support both.

“Dena goes well above and beyond the traditional security role. The way the world works these days, we need more Denas. Dena fits into our ethos and beliefs so well.”

NewMark began to stock blankets, gloves and other supplies in Dena’s office so she wouldn’t have to buy them out of her pocket.

When Sandy Sigal, the CEO of NewMark, heard about Dena, he wanted to expose her artwork beyond the book. A mural project was born, first in Longmont at Village at the Peaks, 1250 S. Hover St. Three others are planned for completion in the next few months, one in Chicago and two in California. More are likely, McCoy said.

“I never expected anything like this,” Dena said.

Dena Creaser interacts with people on her daily walk at Fort Collins Marketplace. Courtesy NewMark Merrill

The Longmont mural, near the Nothing Bundt Cakes store in the mall, was particularly meaningful to Dena.

Created by Colorado muralist Angie Nordstrum, it pictures Dena’s son taking care of Dena’s mother, who died of cancer about three years ago.

“What they didn’t know was that the dedication (this year) of the mural was the anniversary of Mom’s death,” Dena said.

The image includes the message “Don’t wait to be kind.”

“I’m not a great artist,” Dena said, her modesty showing. “I doodle.”

Said McCoy, “Dena is being modest about her artwork. Dena’s story, her way of life, approaching people, makes the world a better place. We want to share that with as many people as we can. I don’t think the four (murals) will be the end.”

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