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7Everyday Hero leads the rebuilding of a Lao Buddhist temple

Posted at 8:08 AM, Sep 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-10 10:08:14-04

WESTMINSTER, Colo. — In Westminster, a group people with little to no construction experience are busy building something quite significant. 

You may have seen the big red, curved roof as you travel on Wadsworth Boulevard near W. 108th Avenue. 

It is a massive Lao Buddhist Temple. 

"Progress is slow, but it is done from the heart," said Sunnie Gist, temple member. 

The original temple was lost in an electrical fire in 2011. And with it went a gathering place for the Laotian Buddhist community. Wanting to keep the community together, Gist volunteered to lead the rebuilding effort, even though she had no construction experience. 

"I want to see everybody happy," she said. 

Insurance covered just a fraction of the rebuilding after the fire. To help save money, temple members do much of the construction work on their days off from their full-time jobs. 

"Pretty much about 90 percent of what you see here is from our volunteer work," Gist said. 

She said she has found local contractors to donate time and materials. 

"She has been the heart and soul behind this," said Mayor of Westminster Herb Atchison. "I am astounded over what has been done."

Gist's husband, Darren Gist, said words don't describe how proud he is of her of tackling this project. 

Gist has been working on this project despite some serious health issues. 

"She has lung disease, lupus, and pulmonary hyper tension," her husband said. "She's trying so hard and is being so brave with a time table that is so short."

Atchison said the commitment she has to the temple, even with all her challenges, has never wavered. 

Right now temple members meet in a tent.  They hope to have the new temple done by April, in time for the Lao New Year.  But without more construction help, that may be the biggest challenge yet for Gist. 

"This is something that she needs to see done before she leaves us," her husband said. 

Gist said she helps when she can, and steps away when she doesn't feel OK. 

Through it all, she remains positive. She praises the community of Westminster and its mayor for their help thus far and said she hopes she will see the day the temple is complete and open to everyone of every faith.  

"This will be open for anyone who wants to come medicate, anybody who wants to come and learn, anybody who wants to learn about our community, our land and our culture," she said. "So, this will be open to everybody." 

Darren Gist said in the Buddhist culture, people put their community first, before themselves. 

"And that's what she has done here," he said of his wife. 

To learn more about the Lao Buddhist Temple in Westminster go to

Mitch Jelniker anchors Denver7 in the mornings from 4:30-7 a.m. He also features a different 7Everyday Hero each week on Denver7. Follow Mitch on Facebook and Twitter. Nominate a 7Everyday Hero here.