UNC alumnus and Weld Community Foundation Communications Officer, Tim Coons, discusses his approach to deconstructing feelings of social isolation and disconnection.

what exactly is a communications officer?

Right, you tell me [laughs]. So marketing and communications would entail, I'm sending emails out, I'm running events. I'm kind of coordinating plans on how do we reach certain peoples. And right now there's a big kind of public relations push of "do people within Weld County know about the Weld community foundation?" And what we do. For the most part, not really. It's not a, it's not a well known or talked a lot about group.

Is that based on your perception of it?

Yeah that would be my perception. That's anecdotal. I have lived here for 23 years and had never heard of it until last year when I was asked to be a part of things. And then they said there's this opening for communications and marketing. And I was like, "man, I would love to do that." For one, I think that they work that they do is incredible and it hasn't needed to have a giant public push because we're working with high level donors who are wanting to tailor a fund for the sake of philanthropy. And so that's the bread and butter. But at the same hand, I think great things can happen when word gets out.

I graduated from UNC with that music education and I only taught choir a few years. I loved it, but I was involved with a lot of other music type of projects. So I was a worship director at a church, various churches over the last 20 years. All sorts of different denominations but really playing that same role of when we get together, I'm in charge of the plan from beginning to end. I used to tell folks I'm a glorified events coordinator [laughs] - like from beginning to end, I'm the one in charge of gathering the volunteers and then that primary role of music and making sure that the music was solid and I had different bands and people ready to go to create an experience where people could connect and spiritual ways. Alongside that, I was also a singer songwriter doing work where I'd produce albums. And so I've toured and also had songs that are placed in movies and videos and things online. So my work has been used for that. But that also involved marketing and communications consistently with. You know, it's kind of a tough sell to get people to come to your church or to buy your album.

You can do a little bit of both in there.

Yeah. Well I mean both of those things you have to think through like 'how are you going to share the things that you're doing?' It's not a magic thing where if you build it, they will come, which is what, you know, going into it was like, "gosh, if I just make this really great song it'll be an instant hit." And over the years I've learned it takes a ton of work to be able to share that. And so that was the non traditional background I had coming into the community foundation.

With the community foundation, you're doing sounds like plenty of things, and one is a podcast?

Yeah. That's my favorite thing that I'm doing. The creative work such as producing newsletters and we do this luncheon every year, but my favorite thing by far has been this podcast, Weld Found.

And it was one of those things that I pitched to my boss, Rand Morgan and Rand immediately understood where I was going with it and what I was doing. I said, "I love the idea of, of it being a commercial for the foundation and telling those stories, but we should draw back a little bit further and tell a bigger picture story of what does it mean to belong in an age of social isolation and disconnection?" That's our tagline for the podcast. And that comes from the fact that before taking this job, I was commuting and I had been commuting for around seven years all the way down to Highlands Ranch. My commute was an hour and 22 minutes on average. And then when I took this new job, the commute changed to five minutes, 32 seconds. It was awesome. But along with that, it came the sense of like, man, I've been living outside of my home for so long.

I've been 'living above place' is a phrase that I was hearing of like, you know, people who commute or people who have a lot of their life online, all of a sudden they become socially isolated and they become detached from the actual neighborhoods they live in, the actual communities and the issues of what's going on in their area.

The physical space.

Yeah, we can ignore the physical space. And so we do. So with this change of job, I wasn't commuting anymore, I want to do address this picture of belonging in an age of social isolation. I wanted to say, "okay, well then what does it mean to tell the stories of our area?" And to tell these stories in such a way that other people can relate to it and that they would find it universal. They would enjoy it. But it's also this, taking pride in the things that are going on here. And so very specifically, it's called Weld Found. And I've been trying to tell these stories of connection and getting over that divide and that loneliness that we can sense is really prevalent within our culture right now. Production-wise, I'm trying to emulate really highly produced stuff like this American life or TED Radio Hour that you had been talking about earlier. So I'm trying to cut it down to essential things, essential stories. With my music background, I score it and have music underneath. But the way that I've approached this for a season is simply, is it compelling to me?

Like you personally?

Me personally. It's "would I want to listen to this?" And so I'm a big snob about podcasts. I'm like, ah, I don't know if I'd listened to that.

You listen with your pinky out.

Yeah [laughs]. While sipping tea. Yeah. When I'm looking at podcasts, I don't really like the two and a half hour long, three hour long conversations that, that friends will turn on the microphone and just go. And there's a lot of popular podcasts that are like that. And I've tried and I just can't. I'm just like, man, I think I just need more production, more editing, more music, whatever. And so for this first season I just said, okay, what are the connections to stories that I have? What kind of doors are being a part of the community foundation opening for me? Of like, Hey, I could, I could go talk to these people because I could say I'm from the community foundation and they'd be interested in connecting. And then alongside that just saying, is it compelling? Is it something that's like, "I really want to know about that." A couple for instances is, I interviewed Neyla Pekarek. She used to be a part of the Lumineers. She was their cello player and she stepped out of the Lumineers to create an album about Rattlesnake Kate. And so Rattlesnake Kate is this local weld County legend. And she found out about it because she's an alumni of UNC. And so I've got her singing a song from rattlesnake Kate and just talking about that project, and I put that under an episode called Courageous Women and the County that Loves Them. And so I just started seeking out stories that I found to be really high interest, compelling, and things that you would want to share with friends.

For me personally, it has been such an awesome journey. This whole year, you know, sometimes people will choose different things, like a different word phrase to represent their January or their new year. Like they talk about, "what's your word for the year?" And really January last year, my word was localize. I knew I was taking this new job. I knew I was going to stop the commute. I knew I wanted to address these, feelings of loneliness and disconnection. And so my word for the year was, was localize. And through doing the podcast and also through different things like tours that I've been able to do through community foundation work, I felt more connected to my home than ever. And I think with that comes a lot of positive things. But you gotta be honest that it comes with negative things too.

Like what?

Well let me say the positive things have been to know the stories of why this park is named Allen Park or why this school is named Monfort school of business. To know some of those things and then to know and be tied into, Hey, these are these really cool fun events that are going on. Here's the new bill that's happening. Here are the issues that we're facing when it comes to water and growth. For the first time I went into this election fully knowing who was running for things, what they stood for, the issues. And I didn't have to like read it as soon as I opened my ballot and be like, "what is CC?" You know, like, I knew because I had been in the conversation with different people because this is our home and it matters. Before that I had lived in a bubble and it was a very awesome bubble. I was a little bubble of kinda my church world, which was kind of higher education and spiritual and then crazy artist world of musicians. And my wife's an artist. So we all ran in these circles of artists and just creatives and I've loved that bubble. But it is a tiny world. And that was only, you know, made worse and made an echo chamber by things like Facebook and Instagram.

Birds of a feather flock together.

Yeah, exactly. And so I had this tiny bubble. I loved it. We were all sharing stuff together. But to step out of that bubble this year and to get to know the actual physical place where you live and the issues that are faced here, it makes you feel so much more tied in and like you really belong. Now the negatives on that front I think is, you know, it's the difference between your close friends and then your family, right? Like, like, like your family, there's this stronger bond of connection because your'e family, but then there's also a lot more mess.

And so there's a little bit of that of like when you decide to localize and truly belong somewhere, you're taking the good and the bad and you're going to be frustrated sometimes, and you're going to have different opinions and values. And I think one of the important things that I'm trying to put words to and figure out is that, over this last year, and especially with how, hot topic, hot button issues that we have with politics right now, there's been this tendency, trend or however you want to call it, to vilify the other side of, of your values, of your political party, of your stance, of your ideology. And so you want to make the villain. One of the things that I found in stepping out of my bubble is that I'm meeting the people that I've heard been vilified by my friends or people online, and I'm getting to know these different areas of life. And, they're human [laughs]. They're not of dark forces, you know. They're, they're human and then they're earnest. They want to see what's good for this community and they are very interested. And, they might come at it in ways that I would disagree, but they are earnest and they do want to do good. And um, and that has been not necessarily surprising, but just humanizing for me, of just meeting these people and saying, okay, like shaking hands and saying something like, "wow, like, like I have a friend that hates you because you voted this way" or you know, like, or because you stand for these issues.

And how do you not walk into the room bias, you know, and knowing all these things beforehand it and putting a microphone in front of them and then letting them talk.

Yes.

And I only see more of a challenge of you going back to the editing room and then how, you know, thinking, am I a gatekeeper now and what do I choose to put in and how, and what music score should I put with it?

Oh, exactly. Well, I mean, just on that front, you know, I have my own feelings and opinions of our town founder, Nathan Meeker. I mean, it's a dark past. There's still really beautiful, courageous things about it, of him coming out at the age that he was and founding union colony. But at the same time, like you hear the stories of the disagreements with the Native Americans that were here and you're like, you're like, "Oh, I can see the native Americans point."

I presented a segment on him during the graveyard walk through Lynn Grove cemetery. I wanted that to be the Halloween episode, but it was really going to be about history and legacy. But I wanted to present him in a way that wasn't super biased by me. For one, I don't like listening to that. Like I'm not, I'm not that interested in kind of the pundit like, "let me tell you" like, "let's get angry together. Let's get real mad."

"I want to rile you up and show you my soapbox."

Yes, exactly. And like I'm actually deeply uninterested in that. Just, uninterested. And so it was like okay, well I'm going to tell the history of Meeker but I'm going to put darker music behind it. It's going to be tense, and I'm going to let you draw some of your own conclusions, but I do want to present this in such a way that it can have this stream of affect that's fairly wide and you can come to it and you can feel that, that "Hey, there's an honoring here, but also a sense of warning and tension."

Within the podcast, I try to present a sense of a character changing. And so for the episode that I have called Welcome Wagon, it is a tour of the immigrant refugee center. And so what I tried to do was to present myself and to say, "here are my tendencies to be an unwelcoming person, and here are my tendencies to be even racist." And the moment I say that word, it kind of explodes a bomb in the room. And so I didn't use that word in the podcast, but I leaned into "this is who I am and these are my tendencies that I can sometimes slip into." And then I talked about my experience with the immigrant refugee center and talked about how it changed me. I talked about how I came away with a greater sense of empathy after walking through there. And to be honest, like that journey has been happening for 10 years for me, but I heightened the sense of story and the sense of change for that episode, if that makes sense.

Yeah, it does. And I listened to it so I know that you carry it well because, I'm able to visualize you going through this tour and you're learning from the individuals who are there. And then listening to their stories on top of it. And then where do you go from it? Well then I think, "where do you go, Tim?" You know, it's the kind of like the way that you've produced this and it's, I think it's great to show like that sense of belonging in this area that sometimes isn't always shown in a positive light to a lot of the times.

Yeah.

Among all of this work that you've been doing since you've been here and graduated and moved on, how has UNC contributed?

UNC was a foundational experience for me. And I think one of the things that UNC did from me. I mean, I had a great education and great opportunities through music and through gathering other musicians and playing together and having that space. But on a, on a larger scope UNC... The friends that I made in the first couple of years, we grew up together, we played in bands together. We were in each other's weddings and now we're still hanging out together, raising each other's kids. I mean, just a story along with that. My best friend today, his name is Eric Long and Eric and Amy are close friends, but Eric went to UNC. He's an alum and he's been teaching music at frontier Academy for a long time. I think it's over 10 years. Um, it might be 20... And, and teaching elementary school music at Frontier. But we met our freshman year in Wiebking Hall and I said, "Hey, you're in a bunch of my classes." That was a residence hall. And he's like, "Oh yeah, man, I'm in the music program too." And at that same time, the pizza delivery guy came in and he got this like large pizza. And I was like, Oh, "you got dinner, going on." And he's like, "Oh, you want to split this with me bro?" And it was immediate friendship. It was just like, yeah, absolutely.

You were literally breaking bread with this person.

Yes. It was this like beautiful picture of like breaking bread and all of a sudden, "are we friends now? Yeah, we're friends." And we've been best friends for 23+ years. One of the reasons I chose UNC was because as an artist, as an artistic person, loving music, I tend to be just a touch out there as far as like mainstream, like there are things about me that I won't say in polite conversation because I know they're fairly alternative. But at the same time, I'm from Kansas and I have this like very grounded nature about me. Like, like the whole Kansas thing is like, "if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it's probably a duck." Like, like, it's just kinda like what you see is what you get. Like, I don't like when people are trying to overthink something or over blow something up or whatever. And um, and so I have this kind of artistic mindset, but also groundedness. And I think with UNC being a teacher school and UNC having so many servant hearted kids that are a little bit from agriculture areas as far as Weld County. It became a place where I could be that artistic mindset, but keep my grounding and the community that I found through that was long lasting.

Music:

Tim Coons – Guide Your Wild Eyes Instrumental

Tim Coons – Settle Down Instrumental