‘Uppies’ are down with being back: Up With People bringing service back to Aurora, Colorado

Aurorans get chance to reacquaint with once-popular optimists

AURORA | The last time most Aurorans likely caught a glimpse of an “Up With People” cast, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, gas was $1.15 per gallon and the Chicago Bears were on their way to trouncing the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.

The halftime show at that 1986 Super Bowl was the last time the organization — which for more than 50 years has rounded up bands of young people to sing, dance, volunteer and convey an air of general cheeriness — performed for a sizable crowd. Some 92 million people watched that game, according to Nielsen.

But this week, Aurora residents will have a chance to catch up with the organization that invites people ages 17-29 to participate in various service projects and performances around the world during what has evolved into a six-month-long gap-year program.

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Ruben Cabrera, left, and Timpe Callebaut are the promotions representatives for Up With People. Cabrera and Callebaut coordinated with Aurora Parks, Recreation and Open Space to have a group of volunteers clean the High Line Canal. Photo by Michael Ortiz/Aurora Sentinel

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From left, Eric Watts, Ruben Cabrera and Timpe Callebaut talk along the Highline Canal Sept. 7 in Aurora. Watts is the Operations Superintendent for Aurora Parks and Recreation and is working with Up with the People to clean up the canal. Photo by Michael Ortiz/Aurora Sentinel

From Sept. 12-19, about 110 Up With People cast members — or “Uppies,” as they were once known — will be living in and volunteering around Aurora, offering leadership seminars at both Hinkley and Rangeview High School, working with Comitis Crisis Center and potentially helping to clean up and plant trees along the High Line Canal. The High Line project, which would take place along the stretch of trail between Colfax and Sixth avenues, has yet to be approved by Denver Water, which technically owns the land, according to Aurora spokeswoman Erin O’Neil.

The stop in Aurora is one of several dozen planned through year’s end for the latest Up With People cast, which boasts players from 21 different countries.

Up With People has gone through several iterations throughout the decades, from hosting Super Bowl haltime shows to a four-year period of inactivity from 2000-2004, according to Paul Whitaker, senior vice president of UWP.

“We are less on the radar than we used to be, and a lot of people knew us because we had five casts that were all doing 70-90 cities a year — nearly 500 cities — around the world,” Whitaker said. “And we don’t have that footprint any more.”

The organization now focuses on recruiting young folks who are interested in traveling, performing and volunteering for six months at a time. The group hosts two casts of about 100 people for a six-month stint each year, according to Whitaker. Once free, cast members now pay a fee to participate in the program.

“Essentially, we are doing exactly what we were doing in 1965,” Whitaker said. “We’ve had to adapt and adjust to the world … but the components of the program haven’t changed.”

Founded in 1965, the group has roots in the Moral Armament Movement of the 1960s. Up With People was founded in Tucson, Ariz., but moved its headquarters to Denver in the early 1990s after piquing the interest of former Gov. Roy Romer, according to Dale Penny, president and CEO of UWP.

Alex Steinkamp traveled with the group after graduating from Rangeview High School in 2010 and now works full time as an Up With People admissions representative. He said he’s excited to bring this year’s cast to his hometown.

“I’m really proud that Up With People has decided to go to my town, Aurora,” Steinkamp said. “Getting to bring that joy home — it’s just remarkable to me.”

The Up With People cast’s stay in Aurora will culminate with a concert Sept. 17 at Hinkley High School.

UPDATE: Up With People’s volunteer project along the High Line Canal has been approved by the city and Denver Water, according to O’Neil.

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