For Paula Palmateer, there are two things in life that inspire her: traveling and volunteering. It is no surprise that Paula has chosen to fill her life with a combination of the two.”I’ve always loved to travel; it’s been my passion,” Paula says.”Travel is challenging, it keeps you on your toes. It’s also a fabulous way to learn to experience it. You learn the world is a pretty decent place after all, even though you often feel like it’s not that decent. It gives me hope, anyway.”Paula grew up on a farm her grandparents had lived on, in southeast Wisonsin. She was the oldest of five children and the only girl. The farm is still in the family today and being run by one of her brothers.”I went to school in Madison, at the University of Wisconsin. I always knew I wanted to travel and get out of Wisconsin.”After graduating with a degree in education, Paula heeded a friends advice and ventured to Colorado. The only job she could find teaching was in Sterling.”There aren’t even any mountains there, but I met my husband. He was a teacher as well,” Paula says.She and Oran decided to marry and ended up on the Front Range. They began looking around the country for jobs but had a hard time finding a school that would take both of them. In the meantime, Oran began working construction during the summer months in Vail with a friend. Before long he called Paula and told her about a resident manager position opening at the Westwind in Lionshead.”We thought we’d just do it for a winter, for a season and then go back to teaching,” Paula remembers. “We never taught again.”The pair moved up in 1970 and quickly learned a whole new business, the resort business. They spent the next nine years managing the Westwind Condos.”It was very different back then. It was a great time to be in Vail, it was a great time to be involved in the community because it was growing. Everybody knew everybody and we met a lot of wonderful people.”Paula was elected to the Vail Town Council in 1977 and later served as president of the Vail Resort Association from 1980-83. In 1987 the traveling itch grasped Paula again and her and Oran made the decision to take a year off and travel the world. They bought around-the-world airline tickets, rented their house for the year and headed to New Zealand, their first stop on the trip.”We both liked to travel and we didn’t have children and we were still pretty young; it was a good time to travel,” Paula says. “When it was over, I really wasn’t ready to come back, I could’ve traveled for another year, but my husband was ready to come back.”In all the couple spent two months in New Zealand, a month in Great Britain and the last eight months in Europe.”We loved every place we went,” Paula remembers. “I guess the highlights would be the people we met and how friendly they were even when we didn’t speak any other language.”Upon returning to Vail, Paula accepted a full-time, paid position coordinating volunteers for the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships. She was in charge of recruiting and training nearly 1,200 volunteers.”That was the first year (Vail) held the event, the first time it was in North America in like 50 years,” Paula says. “It was a huge job, it just consumed me for a year.”After the year was up, Paula again felt a familiar itch to get out of the valley.”I had a desire to go somewhere where nobody knew me, a place that was unfamiliar,” Paula says. “I knew I wanted to be a volunteer; I didn’t want to be paid.”Paula did some research and ended up choosing New York City, Harlem to be specific, as her next port of call. She wanted to work with the homeless in a private community called the Emmaus House. The community was started by a priest and after visiting, Paula knew it would be a good fit.”That was the most incredible experience of my life. There was a period of time where I was spending 40 percent of my time in Harlem, living in the community.”Paula met Louis Jones, a recovering drug addict and HIV-positive man during her time in the community. Not long after, Jones and Paula were inspired to start a homeless community specifically for HIV-positive people.They called it Stand-Up Harlem.”That began my commitment to work with a community that was very much stigmatized black, former addicts, formerly incarcerated, and now HIV-positive,” Paula says. “We bought a beat-up brownstone for practically nothing and fixed it up. There were crack dealers living there when we bought it.”The community grew and in the end, Stand-Up Harlem was comprised of five buildings and provided services and support for hundreds of people.In 1995 Paula decided to pull back from the community in Harlem and, soon afterward, funding for the program dried up. Today the community is no longer there, but the experience is still one that is with Paula today.”I felt very fulfilled.”Paula always wears a red ribbon on her collar, a symbol of her support for those afflicted with HIV and AIDS. She’s also very involved with the local Red Ribbon Project, a program that does a lot of work in local schools. Yearly the project speaks to over 1,000 kids in middle schools and high school.”We talk to them about making good choices in their lives. Often they’re just not aware, they think it couldn’t happen to them and they take a lot of risks.”The group also provides free AIDS tests for the community every couple of months. Paula says the testing has been very popular and appreciated, especially by young people in the valley that don’t have insurance and couldn’t otherwise afford the expensive test.Besides working with the Red Ribbon organization, Paula also serves on the board of the Eagle River Youth Coalition and the advisory committee to the Gore Range Natural Science School. And she still finds time to travel. She will soon be taking a Caribbean cruise with ten other high school classmates to celebrate their 60th birthdays. And next year Paula is planning on going to South America, to Patagonia and Chile and Argentina with a few friends.”If every young person were required to travel and spend at least one semester abroad, it would be a totally different world,” Paula says. “You realize people aren’t so different. I learned from the community in Harlem that folks, not matter what kind of background they came from or what kind of life they’d led, have the same desires for their lives and the lives of their family and children. We’re more alike than we are different.” VTCaramie Schnell can be reached at email@example.com.
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