She also spoke about the lessons everyone should learn from the unimaginable cruelty that took place during such a dark time in history. For people who haven't experienced hatred, prejudice, and intolerance because of who they are, it's equally as important that they recognize how Carrie Olson's work benefits all of us.
Carrie describes herself as, “a Finish-Norwegian Lutheran from Northern Minnesota who came to teach inner city, middle school, Spanish speaking Hispanic Catholics students (many living in poverty) about the Holocaust, travel, and academic success."
Ms. Olson is a fiercely dedicated, deeply compassionate, and intensely committed teacher and founder of the Kepner Educational Excellence Program (KEEP). “KEEP” is a program that helps students, in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Denver, improve their academic achievement by setting very high standards of expectations -along with providing the support needed to achieve them.
Carrie, who speaks Spanish fluently, teaches her students to think and talk about the larger issues of justice, choice, and responsibility. The rewards for learning excellence are: educational visits to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.; and trips to Europe which includes a visit to the "Anne Frank House".
Carrie tirelessly gives of herself and stays true to her goals and principles. She continues to be a central figure and role model in the lives of young people who want to overcome any obstacles placed before them.
Carrie Olson is a beautiful, rare individual and has earned the right to be called a “Humanitarian". If there were more people like Carrie around, we would be that much closer to achieving world peace.
Every year since March 2003, you have taken a group of 8th graders to Europe and you visit The Anne Frank House. How successful are the trips; and what impact do they have on the kids? The trips are a resounding success. The kids were enthusiastic and eager to learn more about the Holocaust. They constantly ask for more information, and they continue to work hard at learning about the Holocaust. I see what an impact studying about the Holocaust has on the children. They see racial prejudice here in Denver; and many have experienced it first hand and know it shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere.
How did you become so passionate about teaching Holocaust Awareness to students? When I was 20, my father, an ophthalmologist who always volunteered to help others, was killed in an accident; and it created a sense of urgency to follow his example of working with others - whether it was the work he did at Native American Reservations - to roofing a sick neighbor’s house. I never realized what affect he had on others, nor myself, until he died.
Suddenly, there was an out-pouring of emotion from people of all walks of life as they expressed their sadness at his death and gratitude for what he had done for them. Until that point, his prodding for me to achieve more, push a little harder, fell on deaf ears. As it became apparent to me that my father strove for excellence in every area of his life, it shocked me out of my apathetic college mindset, and I became highly motivated to carry on what he knew I could do.
It was also my father’s death that led me to Judaism. When I returned to college after his death, I took a class called “Facing Death” where we explored different religions reactions to death. I was drawn to the rituals surrounding death in Judaism. We also briefly touched on the Holocaust, and I couldn’t imagine the pain that must have been felt by the Jews on the Holocaust, and I couldn’t imagine the pain that must have been felt by the Jews during that time. I was devastated, and I had only lost one parent. I couldn’t imagine losing a whole family.
So, from one event in my life, I began my quest to serve others beyond the bounds of what was practical or wise, and my quest to more fully understand the Holocaust.
Did you find any resistance to teaching Holocaust Studies in your school? No, none.
Who is your hero or mentor? Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., my father, Dr. Karen Shawn (Leader of the National Consortium on Holocaust Education), Eric Cahn (Holocaust survivor).
What is your proudest achievement? Becoming fluent in Spanish after failing my first Spanish classes in college and being asked to leave the Spanish program.
Can you tell us about an experience (or a moment in your life) you have had that really moved you and you will never forget? Personally, when I received the news that my father had been killed in an accident; and when my daughter was born.
Professionally, the way the Westwood neighborhood families have accepted me into their lives and allowed me to teach their children.
What do you read – or watch – to keep up with current events? I listen to NPR whenever I can.
Is there a book you have read that inspired you so much - you recommend everyone read it? Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo.
What do you consider a priceless gift? Love, receiving it and giving it.
What is something your parent’s taught you that you have never forgotten? The love of nature, the joy of reading, and the value in serving others.
Do you have a quote or saying that has helped guide you through life? Excellence is the result of: Caring more than others think is wise, Risking more than others think is safe, Dreaming more than others think is practical, Expecting more than others think is possible. - Author Unknown.
Never, Never, Never Give Up! -Winston Churchill
“...to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;...to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better...; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; this is to have succeeded – Emerson.
Jesus wept. – John 11:35.
When your life gets too hectic, do you have a favorite vacation spot you like to escape to? Yes, locally, I love to go to the stables and be with horses. I am currently riding at Colorado Horse Park with the Classical Riding School and will be co-teaching day camp there this summer. I am in love with an Irish Draft horse named Nick.
I love the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota and find a great deal of peace in being there or imagining I am there.
Who is the most interesting person you have ever met? My daughter. She is fluent in English and Russian and has such an interesting view on life. It has been so much fun.
At this time, what charitable/non-profit organizations are you involved with? Obviously, KEEP is my top priority. I also volunteer at my church, Augustana Lutheran and the Holocaust Awareness Institute of Denver.
What charitable or community event(s) do you like to attend during the year? When I can, the Holocaust Awareness Institute’s annual “Hope & Remembrance” Dinner.
What is something you absolutely can’t live without? My daughter. She is the light of my life.
What are you focusing on the most these days? This summer, my daughter and horses. I also will work on the KEEP website and attend the Museum Teacher Fellowship at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
What is your greatest strength? I care a lot about people.
What do you consider you biggest weakness? I care a lot about people.
How do you stay so motivated and committed to doing what you do? I am called to do this. My job and traveling with my students isn’t what I do, it’s who I am. I have been given a gift and the desire to use it to serve others. I love being with children. They are so delightful and respond in such honest ways to being cared for.
What are your favorite leisure time activities or hobbies? My daughter and I love to ride horses. We are taking hunter-jumper lessons. I love to cook, especially Spanish food. I am an avid reading, an obsessive U2 fan and walk every morning for an hour.
Would you like to live somewhere other than Colorado at some point – or is Colorado your forever home? It depends on what happens in the future. I would like to own a piece of land, preferably on Lake Vermilion, MN and have horses. We’ll see.
What should we all be working on these days to make our country better for future generations? Care. We need to care and connect with people, that is what life is about.
How do we get our young people more interesting in volunteering and giving back to the community? I think many young people are interested, I think we need to find a way to tap into that and show them how they can volunteer and give back.
What’s in the future for Carrie Olson; what do you still hope to accomplish? Watch my daughter grow, continue to be happy with my life, write a book, participate in a horse show, raise enough money for KEEP, finish my doctorate at DU, learn to speak Hebrew and travel to Scandinavia.
How do you want to be remembered by future generations? I’d like to be remembered as someone who cared about education and did something with this caring.
Education: 1985: BA in Elementary Education and Spanish, Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa; 1990: MA in Curriculum and Instruction (Language, Literacy and Culture Program), University of Colorado-Denver; 2005: Entered in the Ph.D. program in Curriculum and Instruction (Judaic Studies is my cognate) at the University of Denver; Graduate of the 1994 “Yad Vashem Summer Institute for Educators from Abroad.”
Community Involvement & Recognitions: 2005 Excellence in Education Award from the Holocaust Awareness Institute at the University of Denver; In 2000, Carrie was given the “7 Everyday Heroes Award” by Channel 7 – Denver; the 1998 “Remember for Tomorrow Alliance” Humanitarian Lifetime Service Award sponsored by the Colorado Symphony, Denver Art, Culture, and Film Foundation, and the Holocaust Awareness Institute at the University of Denver; the 1994 Human Relations Award from the Beth Joseph Congregation in Denver; 1991 Recipient of the King Juan Carlos Fellowship to study post-graduate Spanish at the Universidad Completense in Madrid, Spain; Co-translated a Holocaust curriculum entitled, Sin Salida (No Way Out, by Susan Sheer). Carrie was awarded a scholarship from the United States Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs; Book Sharing Project Teacher & Emissary with “The Ghetto Fighters’ House” in Northern Israel.