Elvis1Name: James Elvis Nuñez

Rec Center: Swansea Recreation Center

Elvis grew up in the Swansea neighborhood of North Denver. From coaching volleyball to teaching break dancing and graffiti art classes, he’s been active in working as a youth advocate and mentor since he was a teenager. He’s seen the positive influence programs that dedicate time and resources to engaging teens “where they’re at” —in life, education, and place—and has helped youth understand what value they can bring to this world. In fact, it was programs and activities he was able to be involved him that helped Elvis turn away from a life that was heading towards gang involvement. He works with youth because those programs helped him, he says, because “I started to realize I had value.” He’s also seen what happens when those resources go away, as his friends and young people he’s cared about became swept up into gang culture when program facilities have closed, and have been arrested, and even killed.

He loves working in the neighborhood because, he says, there’s still a sense of community he doesn’t see in many other neighborhoods: people face similar struggles, neighbors talk to neighbors, kids still play in the streets, and people look after each other. As he’s a trusted figure in the community and owns a home just a couple of blocks from the rec center, he has a pulse on what is going on and what teens are interested in doing.

Elvis was one of the first on-the-ground staff for MY Denver, starting at Athmar Recreation Center and moving to Swansea Recreation Center. There, he leads programming such as graffiti art, youth leadership development, teaching youth that hip hop can be a positive influence, and sports with teenage boys. He believes MY Denver is so successful because of the creative freedom he is allowed within MY Denver programming areas. Elvis stays in tune with pop culture, what is happening at the local schools, and talks to teens about what keeps them interested and motivated. The only thing he says he needs is more hours and a second staff person to work with youth. He sees youth of all ages come into the recreation center, and has observed that to bring youth together, programming needs to be tuned to the interests of youth of different ages, cultures, and genders

Elvis sees potential to help MY Denver and Swansea Recreation Center be even more successful by creating a teen hangout space, one that has the technology that can help them with homework, college applications, where youth can be creative with guidance but not extreme supervision. He also believes that there should be more legal graffiti walls available to youth, because their energy and talent can be focused and it would also, he believes, alleviate pressure on recreation center and community resources to remove graffiti from illegal walls. Having those types of spaces will only help north Denver teens continue on a productive and healthy path in life.

(Editor’s note: Elvis is no longer with the MY Denver program.)