By Maria Servold – Loveland Connection

Although he was quiet most of the day, it was easy to tell that James Gilley was thrilled.

The 16-year-old’s slight smile and bright eyes lit up whenever he recognized an architectural term or correctly identified an image on an aerial map of Centerra.

Gilley, who lives in an alternative home for youth,was selected this summer by the Macdonald Family Charity to have his dream granted.

He is interested in becoming an urban planner or architect and wanted to learn more about those careers.

Macdonald Family Charity chose him and on Wednesday, a limousine pulled up in front of Alternative Homes for Youth in Greeley, where Gilley is in a program similar to foster care.

He takes classes at the home and has some free time, which he usually uses to do things like design cities on a Sims computer game.

“I was in the middle of lunch and my peers saw the limo,” Gilley said.

The crew from Macdonald Family Charity surprised him that afternoon with a trip to the Bent Fork Grill, where he met and ate with Kim Perry, vice president for Community Design from McWHINNEY.

Later, Gilley, his mentor Virginia, who could not reveal her last name because of her job, Perry and two representatives from Macdonald took a limousine tour of the Centerra development before going to the McWHINNEY offices to learn more about urban planning.

When asked if he was having a fun day, Gilley’s response was: “Oh yeah.”

Over some spicy penne and Caesar salad, Perry told Gilley anything and everything he wanted to know about what it’s like to design and build developments like Centerra.

His favorite school subjects are social studies and math, and he also likes to draw, Gilley said.

Virginia said that Gilley creates city maps with the Sims game as gifts for other people in the home on their birthdays.

“He names streets after his friends and their favorite colors, etc.” she said. “For my birthday, he drew me a house on graph paper.”

Perry has worked at McWHINNEY for seven years, after decades of other urban planning experience across the country.

She said she loves her job because she watches her designs come to life and fit into the community. “You’re actually creating places that influence people,” she said to Gilley. “I think its’ fantastic that you have an interest like that. I think it’s really phenomenal.”

Near the end of lunch, Perry presented Gilley with a color aerial map of Centerra and asked “Can you tell me where we are?”

Without hesitation, he pointed to a small section of the map that to anyone else, would probably look like a blob that was a different color than those around it.

Perry was impressed and the small smile on Gilley’s faced proved his pride.

“I’m having fun,” Gilley said quietly during the limo ride around Centerra.

Later, at the McWHINNEY offices, Perry showed the group a presentation about the company’s next project, called North Park, which will be built in Broomfield near Interstate 25 and E-470. The development is expected to be five times the size of Centerra.

The presentation included a “helicopter view” tour of a digital schematic of the development, showing where different kinds of buildings and landscape features would be.

Gilley watched attentively and pored over colorful maps and drawings of the development as Perry explained how McWHINNEY develops properties, from beginning to end.

At the end of the afternoon, Perry presented Gilley with a list of books he should look at to learn more about urban planning.

She also gave him one of her favorite books from her personal Cole.Evansction. His face lit up and he nodded with gratitude while offering a shy “thank you.”

Perry said she would love to keep in touch with Gilley and take him to an architectural firm in Boulder to learn more about that side of development.

At the end of the day, Gilley returned home, arms full of maps and drawings he will study in his free time. That evening, however, he had to prepare for the home’s Christmas party, for which he was the emcee.

“I’m a little nervous,” he admitted.