Shopping with her grandma Helen, riding bikes and going to camp and are just a few of the things Codi Mendenhall enjoys. Look beyond her melt-your-heart smile, into her expressive brown eyes and you’ll discover someone determined to make a difference. This is her story.
Because the medical professionals who help treat her Cerebral Palsy practice in Denver, Codi’s no stranger to the Mile-High City. In fact, one particular visit changed everything.
Waking up in Denver about 250 miles from her home in Grand Junction, Colorado, on a seemingly ordinary winter day, it started snowing. What began innocently enough with just a few snowflakes became a relentless storm, and before they knew it, Codi and her mom Jennifer were effectively snowed-in their hotel.
This isn’t ideal for any traveler but it was particularly challenging for Codi because “The room wasn’t accessible even though the hotel said it would be,” she said with the help of assistive technology that conveys her thoughts. Unfortunately, not getting the accessible hotel room travelers with disabilities need is all too common.
The fourth-grader at Tope Elementary School didn’t get mad. Instead, she started dreaming the only way a 10-year-old should — big. Within minutes, she experienced the euphoria of her “eureka!” moment and boom; she became an entrepreneur.
“I want to design and build a hotel where all kids can play,” she said. Codi’s hotel emphasizes the tenants of universal design more than accessibility because she wants everyone to enjoy staying at Hotel Codi IZ, named after Codi’s favorite singer, Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole.
When asked what makes her hotel design stand out in the crowded hospitality space, she thoughtfully replied, “Our sideways elevator.” Designed to help people navigate the common areas of her property like the lobby and meeting rooms, the sideways elevator is something competitors certainly don’t have and that’s important to this budding business titan.
What’s the only thing more important than having a competitive advantage to Codi? “I want everyone to have fun when they visit my hotel,” she said, punctuating her sentence with contagious laughter.
While she’s completed more than 100 room themes, one of her favorites is the “Ryan Seacrest studio,” where the pop culture icon can host his radio show and interview hotel guests. She’s also a fan of her sustainable rooftop garden concept.
As far as next steps are concerned, Jennifer is hoping to find a program for young entrepreneurs so that Codi can continue pursuing her passion. In the meantime, Codi’s not worried about the future. She’s too busy spending time with her friends at school and enjoying her favorite subject — recess. Now that’s a creative process everybody can respect.
“This hotel is Codi’s dream and we’re behind her 100 percent,” her mom, Jennifer said. “Everybody’s just so proud of her. It’s amazing.”