There’s a quote, thought to be from the late Scottish minister Ian Maclaren, that’s popular on social media these days: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle. These Colorado families from diverse backgrounds have agreed to let you in on a bit of their battles, as well as their joys, of raising kids and building a life in this state. Some of them might sound or look a bit like your family; others will not at all. But these are your neighbors. Like you, they love their children fiercely, and all share the same view when they gaze west.
Father Steven, mother Janelle, daughter Ashton 14, sons Luca 12, Preston 9
It’s rare to find the love of your life in childhood, but that’s exactly how it happened for Janelle and Steven McCormack. They grew up together here in Colorado as family friends, and after chasing after one another for several years, the pair finally got married. After a couple of moves out of state for Steven’s work, they are now raising a family of their own in Thornton and love the unpredictability of Colorado weather.
Steven, a general manager with 24 Hour Fitness, and Janelle, a work-from-home mom and sales leader for the social selling company, Red Aspen, have three children. Their son Luca is in sixth grade and can be described as athletic and popular, while their youngest, third-grader Preston, loves making people laugh. Their daughter, Ashton, who is currently finishing up middle school, came out as transgender just a few years ago. Ashton is on hormone blockers and estrogen prescribed by her endocrinologist, and while she struggles with anxiety, her family is a source of tremendous support.
Overall, the McCormacks are a fun-loving, open-minded family, and do their best to always make time for one another. “We like to laugh, tease, and scare one another,” says Janelle, adding, “We try not to take life too seriously.”
Father Duane, mother Dianna, sons Isaiah 11, Phoenix 9, daughter Cali Jade 3
Green Valley Ranch
Lifelong Coloradans Duane and Dianna Robinson met in high school, but it wasn’t until later that they would reconnect over a college football bet. Dianna lost, took Duane out to dinner, and they’ve been together ever since. It wasn’t exactly a smooth start: both had a child from previous relationships (Isaiah Robinson, now 11, and Christopher “Phoenix” Davis, currently in the third grade). But they both knew how much they valued unity (neither grew up in a two-parent household), and today they’ve successfully brought their families together with the addition of their three-year-old daughter, Cali Jade.
These days, Dianna is a public awareness specialist with the Office of Children, Youth, and Families for Colorado Department of Human Services, while Duane works as a plumbing apprentice. Their happy, blended family lives in Green Valley Ranch, and they love raising their family so close to the mountains. Their biggest challenge today has been finding diverse public schools with high academic ratings.
“Being a middle class family in Colorado has meant that we have to make tough choices, like sending our kids to schools with less than successful ratings that include some diversity, or sending them to schools that aren’t diverse but have successful academic ratings and extracurricular options,” says Dianna. “A revisit to the current school choice policies to allow families to send their children to schools that are thriving, regardless of where they live, would make it easier to overcome the challenges we’ve experienced.”
Mother Vanessa, daughter Jade 17
Being a young, single mom like Vanessa Manzanares is both rewarding and challenging. Born and raised in Colorado, the 33-year-old Latina became a mother when she was still in high school, but has succeeded in creating a beautiful life for herself and her daughter. Vanessa experienced a fair share of difficulties growing up in the Denver metro area as one of six children to a single mother, and frequently changed schools. While she experienced plenty of judgment initially, she found motivation in her daughter, Jade Emma-Lee Garcia.
Today, Vanessa works as the human resources technology administrator for a tech company in the DTC while also volunteering as a mentor and group leader for Denver Kids, Inc. Jade spends her days at Golden High School, while working part-time as a shift lead at Cinnabon. The 17-year-old has an appreciation for city life, poetry, sociology, and criminology.
Respect and perseverance are two things Vanessa values, but faith is of utmost importance. The pair regularly attend services at their church in Lakewood, and Vanessa goes to bible study every week with a group of single parents.
“We value our relationship with God. At times of need He has never failed us,” Vanessa says.
Father Robert, mother Rakhi, son Akash 2
Some people spend their whole lives waiting to see the world, but Rakhi Ihiga and her husband Robert Macaria have already seen plenty of it along with their son, Akash. Rakhi, whose family is from India, was actually born and raised in Hong Kong while Robert was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, near the Ngong hills. Robert came to the United States over two decades ago to finish high school and attend college at CU Boulder. Rakhi’s path was a bit different, arriving first in Ohio on an undergraduate exchange program, and later to Colorado for her master’s degree. They both took jobs at Graebel Companies, where they met and fell in love, and have worked there ever since.
“We love traveling around the world and experiencing how people live,” says Rakhi, who visited nine different countries while pregnant with her son. Since his birth, two-year-old Akash has traveled to the Czech Republic, Greece, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Kenya. Rakhi hopes that her son’s exposure to different parts of the world allows him to grow up appreciating what he has.
“We want to show him the world so he can understand how people are basically the same with different stories and experiences,” adds Rakhi.
Mothers Angie and Mel, son Brody 6
Denver Tech Center
Forty-something moms Melodie “Mel” and Angie McLellan struggled to begin their parenting journey. Both experienced miscarriages, but Mel was eventually able to bring a pregnancy to term. With the birth of their son Brody, they faced even more challenges as the baby was diagnosed with tetralogy of fallot (a combination of four heart defects). This resulted in Brody having open-heart surgery at three months old. The family got through it thanks to a strong support group as well as the involvement of their non-anonymous donor, Nathan, who continues to be involved in Brody’s life on holidays and special occasions.
The McLellans are originally from the deep south, but have fallen head over heels for the great outdoors and plentiful opportunities of the Centennial State. Mel now runs her own CBD business, Nature’s Apothecary, while Angie works as an industry property manager.
In their spare time, the trio love exploring and hiking. “Our family bucket list is to visit all of the Colorado state parks on the state park passport,” shares Angie.
They are also big animal lovers and recently welcomed their late grandmother’s dog Lacey into their home. As for six-year-old Brody, he loves spending time creating videos for his YouTube channel, Brody’s Corner, and is thriving in kindergarten.
Mother Beth and son Austin 5, father David and son Isaac 4
Beth Singleton and her fiancé David Mann first bonded over their children and their experiences with abusive relationships. Beth escaped from an alcoholic husband, while David lost his first wife to addiction. Both could have easily given up on romance, but instead, they found solace, love, and support in one another. These days, they mainly focus on raising their sons: David’s biological child, four-year-old Batman-obsessed Isaac; and Beth’s five-year-old son, the Spiderman-loving Austin.
David, 36, is a disabled army veteran living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The stay-at-home dad enjoys doing yard work and planting flowers, as well as making frequent visits to the local Clyfford Still Museum to get his art fix. Beth, 27, spends her days supporting her family by working at Comcast. In her down time, she enjoys going on family outings like splashing in the creek at Lair O’ the Bear Park, or simply cuddling on the couch and watching movies.
“We are so lucky to have our home we have now,” says Beth, who notes that current housing costs are simply not affordable for many families like hers. Her full-time job, keeping a strict budget, saving on full-time daycare because David stays home, and solar panels on their home to decrease the electric bill, all allow the family to live comfortably. “[We] plan to make it work however we need to for us to be able to raise our family here,” she adds.
Father Cas, mother Jenna, son Apollo 2, baby on the way
Jenna and Brian “Cas” Casalaro’s love of music has followed them from South Dakota and Northern California to their current home in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood. The pair actually met at a Grateful Dead bar, and they currently own two dogs—one of which is named Stella Blue, after a Dead song. What’s more, their son went to his first Dead and Co. concert at just four weeks old and has been attending shows ever since. Jenna is a cancer survivor as well as an amputee, but none of it has slowed her down—and she hopes her son grows up recognizing that.
These days, Jenna works as a bartender at the Grateful Gnome, while Cas works at a warehouse logistics company owned by Coors. While the family lives paycheck-to-paycheck, they’re thankful for finding acceptance and opportunities here in Colorado. The Casalaros have cultivated a loving village of like-minded parents, most of which are transplants who lean on one another for support. Most importantly, they want their two-year-old son Apollo—and the baby they have on the way—to grow up kind.
“I want Apollo to accept everyone and anyone [regardless of] disability, gender, culture…and even music choice,” says Jenna.
Father Pedro, mother Arlene, daughters Anastasia 4, Ashley 2, Madeline 6 months
“We embrace that we’re weird and not a typical family,” says 24-year-old Arlene Ynigo, a self-employed interior and graphic designer and mom based in Thornton. She and her husband Pedro—whose day job is in sales—are artists as well as parents raising three spunky young girls: four-year-old Anastasia, two-year-old Ashley, and six-month-old Madeline. The couple met in Miami, and made the move to Colorado four years ago. Though they initially struggled and lived in low-income housing, they were able to become homeowners and are happily settling comfortably into the Rocky Mountain lifestyle.
Arlene’s family hails from Colombia and the Dominican Republic, and Pedro is Cuban. While they miss the diversity of Latin food and the sense of Hispanic community found in Miami, they’re striving to keep their cultural roots strong. For them, that means listening to Latin music, dabbling in Santería religious traditions, and cooking the meals of their homelands.
The Ynigos spend weekends hiking and making art. They’re also heavily involved in their community—something they don’t feel would’ve been possible while raising a family in Miami. From joining a local homeschooling co-op, to volunteering in the community garden, to attending local ward council meetings, they have truly carved a place for themselves in their new home.