I wrote this open letter to residents of Montezuma county, Colorado, at the end of 2020 about my personal challenges of the previous year:
Over a year ago, my friend and I talked about wanting more positive news to be shared in our community, and she challenged me to start a hyperlocal newspaper. I tweeted about the challenge (in November 2019), as if adding it to a vision board. “Back to the Zu,” I’d say every time I hit the Montezuma County sign coming back from a trip to Farmington or Durango. I jokingly referred to Montezuma County as the Zu, not realizing I’d bring back this quip. In early January 2020, I texted my friend that I had purchased the website domain thedailyzu.com, and she cheered (and laughed) at my progress. The holidays had been extra busy with holiday parties and work events, so this little project took the back burner. But, there were many reminders why I should start this every time I stumbled into a load of Facebook comments that often divided neighbors, friends and even families. I was determined to find a way to share the beautiful side of Montezuma County and show how wonderfully different, yet closely alike, we all are in our daily lives. I wanted to build something that would celebrate our successes, no matter how small, and be proud to show off to any tourist, visitor or local. If you’re curious, I’m a marketer and event producer by trade so I have photography, graphic design and web development in my toolbox. The Daily ZU was going to be my ultimate marketing masterpiece.
And then on January 25, 2020, I had a stroke.
I was only 47. A beaded artery was the likely cause and led to many months of learning how to function again, including learning to walk again. Everything became a challenge and a chore and I often found myself sitting quietly on the couch watching hours of television and often crying myself to sleep. About four months post stroke I started thinking about my “little project” and decided it was time to start building the website. Thedailyzu.com became the catalyst to bringing my focus and creativity back to full steam. It helped motivate me to wake up in the mornings and get away from my 10-12 hour restless sleep sessions. It helped get me excited about possibilities again. Now, 11 months post stroke, I can walk unassisted. As I type this, I’m still pecking the keyboard with my right middle finger because the feeling on my right side hasn’t completely returned, but I’m more grateful that I can type a little instead of seeing it as a chore or challenge.
Thedailyzu.com went live at the end of July 2020 with no content and only possibilities. My first goal was to fill every section I dreamt up with at least one article or image. The first article was posted on August 6th at 5:57pm.
And then the website crashed completely.
But reflecting on the stops and starts of the previous months, I didn’t let that discourage me. The goal (and still today) is to make The Daily ZU better each day. In a very short five months, WE (our wonderful community) have created a hub of stories (long and short) of life in our little piece of the world. I couldn’t have done it without you sharing your beautiful, flaw-filled, funny, fabulous pieces of your lives and perspectives while living in or just visiting Montezuma County, Colorado. Please continue sharing your good news with us.
Jodi Jahrling, zu-keeper
I am now over 3 years post-stroke. A lot has happened in the world as well as my personal life to continue to be grateful for every step I take both literally and figuratively.
I started ZU Gallery with the hope of creating a physical community space that personifies The Daily ZU online community that we have all created in MonteZUma County. The space is divided into three main sections: an art gallery, a meeting and makerspace (for classes), and a photography studio. The wine bar is incorporated through seating in the gallery and a lounge area in the meeting space. All of the artists are local to help keep funds local. And we also serve local beer and Colorado cider, along with our extensive wine selections.
The photography studio is built around Wild Blue Bug Photography, a business that is now nearly two decades old. The studio offers affordable, local portrait specials, event photography with on-site printing, and commercial photography, from business headshots to products.
The hub of community activity is the Meeting and Makerspace. This modern space can host meetings and events for up to 40 people with various seating configurations and meeting technology. I help Makers coordinate their class space and create a custom environment to help fill classes, including help marketing their event online, offering online event sign-up and any advice to help their event be successful. To date, we have hosted over 300 events including community art shows, non-profit fundraisers (Montezuma Mutts Calendar and FOOD Art Show)), live music (including open mics, intimate concerts, and jams), classes (a wide range of creative workshops), and private events from baby showers to board meetings.
We were recently awarded Best Art Gallery for the second year in a row from the local newspapers Readers Choice Awards and featured in a local article.
My experience in marketing, events and non-profits has helped bring this community space to fruition. We are now two years old and working to become a mainstay in our community. It’s a struggle financially in a rural community, but has been worth it to watch this grow and feel like I am making a difference in the lives of so many artists, musicians, and community members.