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Off-the-clock: Pursuing a lifelong passion for creativity

Denver Water Customer Care representative loves to craft, create and share joy.

While some people struggle to find their passion in life, Debbie O’Neill, a Denver Water Customer Care representative, found hers as a young girl.

“I have always loved doing crafts,” O’Neill said. “Since I was 13 years old, I’ve always loved being able to visualize something and then make it.”

While she’s done different types of crafts over the years, O’Neill’s current hobby is using her Cricut Maker

Debbie O’Neill with the hardest Cricut shadowbox she’s made yet — gloomy and lovable Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh. Each piece had to be handled with a tool like a magnifying glass. Photo credit: Debbie O’Neill.

A Cricut Maker is a cutting machine that uses a downloaded design to imprint or cut different materials, ranging from specialty papers to fabrics to wood. 

“You can make about anything you imagine using Cricut. I’ve made paper flowers so intricate people thought they were real,” O’Neill said.

The Cricut machine walks the crafter through the design step-by-step, though O’Neill customizes many of her designs by using different paper types, inks and finishing materials. She loves to make shadowboxes, banners, custom wall hangings and many other projects. 

O’Neill has worked at Denver Water for 16 years, and it was at work where she first learned about Cricut from one of her co-workers. When her colleague decided to sell her Cricut Maker, O’Neill bought it.

“Then another teammate got a Cricut, so on our lunch breaks, the three of us would do projects,” O’Neill said. 

Read more stories about Denver Water’s employees, the work they do and their off-the-clock hobbies.

People would see them crafting together, and once word got out about O’Neill’s talents, requests came pouring in. 

“I’ve done eight different shadowboxes for graduation memory gifts, and other custom wall hangings. One was a series of mermaid tiles for a bathroom, and another was a shadowbox of Cricut succulent plants,” O’Neill said. 

Most of her projects are given as gifts. 

O’Neill loves to make shadowboxes as gifts, and incorporates other items such as seashells, plants and flowers into the designs. Photo credit: Debbie O’Neill.

“People’s faces light up when they get something handmade just for them, which I absolutely love. I’ve learned that people really appreciate the time and the effort that I put into the crafts. They realize these are one-of-a-kind pieces,” she said. 

“That’s been the greatest thing I’ve learned doing Cricut projects,” O’Neill said. “These pieces make a lot of great memories, really fond memories that people hold dear to their hearts. It makes me feel very good that I can do that for them.”

Her favorite clients are her four grandsons, ranging in age from 2 to 5 years old. She loves to create decorations for holiday and birthday celebrations. She’s even used edible paper to make cake toppers for birthday cakes.

O’Neill has created birthday party decorations that carry a theme, such as the Avengers characters. For a Sesame Street-themed party, her decorations included a train with individual cars, created from cardboard boxes, decorated to resemble Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Elmo and Oscar the Grouch.

O’Neill’s Cricut 3-D Tyrannosaurus rex made for a birthday party. It ended up as an office mascot on a Denver Water cubicle. Photo credit: Debbie O’Neill.

“Those cardboard cars were absolutely my favorite project ever. Our grandkids loved playing with them. We also let other people borrow the cars for different parties. It was a joy to see how much fun children have with them.” O’Neill said.

“I’m pretty sure I go overboard for my grandchildren, but I think that’s part of a Nana’s job description!” O’Neill said. 

O’Neill said her hobby has taught her patience she never knew she had. Some of her projects require hours of focus and time. 

“It’s fun to do and I love it, but my projects don’t always turn out great,” O’Neill said. “I’ve had some real train wrecks, but I just go fix it or start over.”