Jeremy Maxand 

Everything but the kitchen sink

Jeremy Maxand's resume is long. First, he got an associate's degree in criminal justice, then a bachelor's degree in sociology, then a master's degree in history, all at Boise State University. He worked for the Idaho Community Action Network, became the director of the Snake River Alliance, threw his stuff into his Volkswagen and moved to Mexico, then worked with at-risk kids in the wilderness of Alaska. He was also once the mayor of the city and borough of Wrangell, Alaska.

Now Maxand is at Life's Kitchen, where he has been the executive director for three years and looks forward to the future of Life's Kitchen at its new location near the Boise River. Construction is slated to finish by the end of 2017.

What was your plan for your mix of degrees?

My first sociology class blew my mind. I got really excited and I wanted to work with people on social problems and inequality issues. I didn't really have a plan. Instead of getting a degree that I thought would be good for a job, I went after a degree that I felt passionate about. Nonprofits and social justice became my path.

Then you left.

I was the director of the Snake River Alliance and George Bush [Jr.] was the president. I was like, "I'm done with the United States. I'm going to move to Mexico and check out."

So I did. I sold my house, quit my job, paid off my debt, flew to San Diego, bought a Volkswagen and headed to Baja, Mexico. I was like, "See ya."

I stayed for a couple of months, then I got pretty bored. I went back to Alaska and got a job working for a wilderness therapy program that took at-risk kids out for 50 days around British Columbia.

Their families would just ship them over and say, 'You need a branch up your ass?'

Yeah, they were all around 14 to 18 and had drug or alcohol issues or behavioral issues. They were mostly from villages way up north, where they had to take a military helicopter off an island to get to us. It was my first experience working with at-risk kids.

Every time we had a graduation, it was really inspiring to see the impact that being out, away from everything, has on your mental health. But yeah, it's frightening when you take 15 kids out into the wilderness, and when the weather gets bad and somebody runs away. Holy shit, it's scary when you're totally functional and you have all the training and supplies, but throw in unpredictable kids that are already at risk at an urban setting. It was intense.

What was next?

Well, I was an organizer for the conservation group that was basically blamed for the collapse of the timber industry in Alaska while I was also the mayor.

Hold up. You were the mayor?

I was the mayor of Wrangell, Alaska, for two years. It's like 2,400 people but 3,000 square miles. It was probably the most rewarding thing I've done professionally. At the same time, I had to be really patient and have a good temperament. People like to attack public officials.

Is that why you're in a wheelchair? Did you get attacked?

[Laughs] No. It was a totally random neurological thing that happened when I was 14. It's called transverse myelitis. They don't know how it happens, but it affects your spinal column and that's it. Boom. It took about a year of having difficulty walking before I was in a chair. That was 26 years ago, but it's all good.

You're still active in city matters, though.

I'm on the Ridge to Rivers advisory committee. There hasn't been a lot of emphasis placed on how to create more opportunities for access to trails. The technology has really changed with hand cycling and off-road stuff, even adaptive gear that goes on your chair.

I'm trying to help Ridge to Rivers create a trail system where some are paved and ADA-compliant and others are more challenging. [For more on ADA trail accessibility, see Rec.]

Being in a wheelchair isn't my identity. I'm passionate about all kinds of things, but right now I'm feeling a little more passionate that, like, I can't go to a yurt in Idaho City with my friends because none of them are accessible. We're still dealing with parking spaces downtown. Seriously, the Capitol isn't more ADA-accessible? Who was their architect? We should be beyond this and we're not.

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