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Andy Magel: “I believe the motivation for all true acts of heroism is love”

I believe the motivation for all true acts of heroism is love. Love for someone else, for the planet or for a cause moves people to be brave and initiate action. If a person’s heart is open to love then they will respond heroically when the opportunity presents itself. Heroic acts done for selfishness or […]


I believe the motivation for all true acts of heroism is love. Love for someone else, for the planet or for a cause moves people to be brave and initiate action. If a person’s heart is open to love then they will respond heroically when the opportunity presents itself. Heroic acts done for selfishness or fame, don’t hold up no matter what impressive they may seem.


As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Magel. Andy Magel founded the Mile High WorkShop in early 2014 after managing other social enterprise projects in Denver. He also has experience in service-based non-profits and business management in the for-profit sector. Andy hopes to see Denver lead the way in creative, employment-focused community development, and he’s humbled to play a role in that growth. He is a graduate of Warner Pacific University in Portland, Oregon, and a member of the American Enterprise Institute’s Leadership Network. Andy loves being a dad to his son and enjoys time in Colorado’s mountains and rivers as well as a good cup of coffee. He’s pretty laid back, sort of funny and a seven on the enneagram.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

I grew up in Portland, Oregon, and lived there before moving to Denver after college. I love coffee, beer, plaid, and all things Pacific Northwest. I grew up in a middle-class home with a younger brother and two hard-working parents. My childhood was fairly unremarkable, yet really great and I have some wounds like many do but also a lot to be thankful for.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Probably my biggest literary influence has been Wendell Berry. More than anyone I’ve read, he articulates a philosophy of being human that resonates deeply with my own understanding of the world. He writes a lot about the natural world, about work, and about how people fit into all of those spaces. It’s hard for me to narrow his collection to a favorite, but “Life is a Miracle” and “What are People For?” are two that I’ve re-read many times. His fiction is all amazing as well.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I’ve never really been much of a quote guy… I’ve been much more influenced by relationships and the presence of other people and their energy in the moment.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

We started the Mile High Workshop in 2014 to support men and women who were transitioning from prison, recovering from addiction and/or rebuilding from homelessness. As we’ve grown up and figured out our model, we have landed in the contract production space and have many awesome partners that we perform work for. We package dog toys for KONG, create retail packs for Charlotte’s Web Hemp, sew and stuff pillows for InfiniteMoon and upcycle marketing banners into bags for companies like Vans, Adobe, and Adidas.

When the pandemic hit, our first commitment was to our current team. We made the choice not to lay anyone off because supporting people is our entire reason for existing and we couldn’t justify letting anyone go when times were tough. We quickly realized that there was a massive need for PPE in our community and began exploring ways we could pitch in. The first thing we did was to donate 4,600 N95 masks to the city of Denver. Next, the director of our sewing operations created a sample cloth face mask and we decided to pursue that opportunity. Since then we’ve been donating 50% of all masks we’ve sewed. We’ve produced thousands of masks and have been fortunate to donate to many organizations doing work on the front lines with very vulnerable populations.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

In my opinion, a hero is anyone who is willing to move outside of themselves for the sake of another. Some acts of heroism may be more grandiose, but I’d say that it’s heroic to help someone out in the grocery store or for a teacher to give extra attention to a struggling student because it involves risk of rejection and a willingness to think of someone else’s needs before your own and that’s the root of any flavor of heroism.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

I think there are really only two things needed for someone to be a hero: selflessness and courage. Outside of those two things the characteristics of a hero are wide-ranging.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

I believe the motivation for all true acts of heroism is love. Love for someone else, for the planet or for a cause moves people to be brave and initiate action. If a person’s heart is open to love then they will respond heroically when the opportunity presents itself. Heroic acts done for selfishness or fame, don’t hold up no matter what impressive they may seem.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

Our team is comprised of people who are all attracted to the idea of using our gifts and abilities to serve others. Some of us have had personal experience with pain and trauma and loss and act from a place of wanting to give back in the ways we’ve been supported, and others on our team simply hold an awareness of what is true and lasting in the world and want to contribute.

Our team was a group of heroes before the pandemic hit because every staff member has acted boldly on behalf of the community we serve too many times to count. When things started shutting down because of Covid-19 and needs outside of a paycheck became apparent, it was simply a reflex to jump in and help with food, shelter, and masks.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

There are so many people stepping up and bringing clarity to chaos in our world these days! The heroes in my life today are my dad and mom who taught me the value of hard work. My former boss and current mentor, Jeff Johnsen, who has selflessly given of his talents in the city of Denver for over 30 years. And lastly, the men and women we serve at the WorkShop inspire me every day. The ways they navigate adversity and injustice in their lives, all while holding space to support each other and the broader organization is a constant reminder of what matters in life. It’s nothing short of heroic to battle addiction every day, raise a child, and show up fully present to help build an opportunity for yourself and the people who will follow after you.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

What I feel most frightened about during the pandemic is the way so many people are allowing themselves to act from the fear and anxiety we’re all feeling. The news stories and video clips of people treating each other so negatively is disheartening. It seemed the shared experience might bring humanity together, and it has in some ways, but it’s also driven division and further exposed longstanding injustices and I fear those will not be positively addressed, but instead contribute to additional pain.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

I believe in the goodness of humanity and the spirit of love in every person. We cover it up, lose sight of it and act from places of pain but I think love and radiance and beauty is inside each person just waiting to bust loose. Even within the political tinderbox our country is right now, there are way more good people working hard to make the world a more loving place and we will not allow darkness to outshine the light, so I have hope.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

It was so inspiring to see people stepping up to support their communities! There have been countless examples of people jumping in and making PPE in all kinds of creative ways; taking food and groceries to their vulnerable neighbors; medical professionals working crazy shifts and coffee shops donating tons of fuel for their work, and the nightly howling and cheering has been wild to witness! There’s always so much goodness happening but it’s easy to lose sight of it because the hard things always shock us more. The most disappointing actions I’ve noticed are when people choose to use something that should be connecting us to divide people. The fact that wearing a mask to try and keep others safe has become a political statement that is sad.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

Not in any significant way. It’s mostly served to reinforce what I already believed: that people and community are what actually matter in our lives. That work is important and necessary and that our globe is more interconnected than most of us realize. Most people are amazing and good and sacrificing and loving. I believed all of that before the pandemic and I still do!

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

A new president! In all seriousness, a new president would be number one. Also, I’d love to see healthier rhythms for people. I think a slowing down and an increased presence with one another would go a long way towards healing so much pain in our world. And a realization that all work is good work and important work and should be valued and compensated as such. No human is a widget or a cog in a machine.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I would ask them simply: ‘why do anything else?’ There are so many stories about a person achieving massive material success and realizing it didn’t actually matter. But have you ever heard someone say they regretted the time they invested in their communities, relationships, and nature? I don’t think I’ve come across anyone yet. That is the wisdom I like to pass down to the next generation.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have heard a lot of concern for the way workers have been treated throughout the pandemic and we all have noticed the strikes at places like Amazon and Target. I love organic food and fabric, I want my coffee to be fair or direct trade, but we don’t know much about the way companies manage their most important asset, their employees. I would love to see a consumer-facing certification that drives long-term change in the way employees, especially hourly workers, are treated and cared for by their employers. My goal is to find someone interested in funding this a project and I’d happily be the one to drive it!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

My dream lunch right now would be with Rob Bell and Pete Holmes together and I know that could happen because they’re buddies!

How can our readers follow you online?

Our website is https://www.milehighworkshop.org and our IG is our most updated social account: https://www.instagram.com/mile_high_workshop/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Thank you very much!


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