Board Highlight: Greer Gibbons

In 2000, Laurel Sweet, a YC staff member came and spoke to a classroom about volunteering at Youth Challenge. Sitting in that class was Greer Gibbons. Just a short time later, Greer attended her first YC program – fishing! There, she quickly realized that YC was not only an organization but a way of life. The participants, volunteers, and staff make YC a truly inclusive place for people of all backgrounds to find themselves and their voices. Fishing was Greer’s first program, but most definitely not her last!

Since 2000, Greer has held multiple roles at Youth Challenge: teen volunteer, summer staff member, YP4YC member, and now Trustee! For more than two decades, she’s been a passionate, engaged member of our community and we couldn’t be more grateful! Greer explained that Youth Challenge helped shape values that have stayed with her and are the reason she believes in the YC mission and vision.

When she’s not at a YC meeting, Greer serves as a Global Project Manager for The Lubrizol Corporation. Greer provides leadership to deliver best-in-class technical solutions that improve the success of customer products. Greer’s incredible ‘can do’ attitude coupled with her subject matter expertise and commitment to non-negotiable quality shines through her work, both at Lubrizol and the Boardroom at YC. Plus, she’s flexed her science skills with her Lubrizol colleagues for some fun and educational programming at YC!

In her spare time, Greer is a huge baseball fan and loves going on adventures in the National Parks. Her dream is to visit all 50 states and all seven continents! When she’s not gallivanting all over the world, she can be found at her home in Mentor, reading or spending time with family and friends. We’re grateful to have her as part of our YC family!

Thank you, Volunteer Committee!

The volunteers at YC are some of the best around, but there’s a group of these young leaders who go above and beyond for our participants and mission.  Since 2009, YC’s Volunteer Committee (VC), comprised of high school-aged veteran volunteers with proven dedication to YC, has worked to plan and run their own programs for Youth Challenge each season.  Activities have included holiday parties, mixers, service projects, and theme days like Harry Pottery, Disney, Survivor, CSI Mystery, and MORE!

VC members take ownership of programs from start to finish, creating the plan, organizing equipment, and running the show for their participant and volunteer peers.  In 2013, they added fundraising to their repertoire and have been holding special events like open mic nights, game nights, movie nights, dine & donate days at local restaurants, and their annual car wash to their planning efforts.  This year’s car wash, held on July 24th, raised $1303.14 in total!

When COVID-19 affected YC programming in the spring of 2020, this group found other ways to engage with YC participants, including creating interactive social media content like Instagram bingo, hosting a virtual game night on Zoom, and sending Secret Santa and Valentine’s Day gifts to participants.  Last fall, they hosted a Halloween-themed drive-in movie so people could be together but safely spaced out.  And last spring, when participants were coming to YC for individual programs, VC members led an art project where participants and their partners decorated puzzle pieces that were then pieced together for an installation that can now be seen on the wall in YC’s Makerspace.

By: Volunteer Committee, Staff, Participants and Volunteers 2021
Due to Covid separating us physically this past year, we created this piece to show that the YC community is always connected no matter what.

Over the summer, VC members led a Krazy Kamp and an evening of YELP that included decorating pieces for two Free Little Libraries—one that will be placed at our building in Westlake and the other that we’ll station out in the community (location TBD).  VC members, along with other YC volunteers, collected books to stock the libraries, including stories, memoirs, and information specifically about disabilities.  This creative group of young leaders will start planning another fundraiser for the first part of the fall and a program toward the end of 2021.

Since the group first began, over 90 young men and women have been a part of this incredible, dedicated, hard-working team!  Their commitment to YC and willingness to give 110% has created some memorable experiences for participants and volunteers alike and we can’t wait to see what the 2021-2022 crew comes up with next!

Summer 2021 Highlights

A Krazy Kamper and his volunteer partner, Vinny, toss bean bags during a summer program.

The Summer of 2021 at Youth Challenge absolutely flew by with all the fun being had! Our participants, volunteers, and staff had a blast being back together in bigger groups enjoying Greater Cleveland’s wonderful Metroparks and outdoor scenery. YC offered a variety of programs, including some fan-favorites like Survivor Day, Sports & Swim, Trail Orienteering & Outdoor Survival, Game Show Network, Participants vs. Staff, and more!

There was a little bit of something for everyone this past summer. Our KRAZY Kampers, ages 4-10, had the opportunity to join YC for some fun every Wednesday. We reconnected with old friends and welcomed many new faces to the youngest crew of the YC Gang! KRAZY Kamp is a popular program for our fabulous volunteers who loved hanging with our little ones at programs like Science Olympics, Animal Planet, and Let’s Get Messy!

Marcus, Rosie, and Kate enjoyed painting the sides of the Little Free Library along with their volunteer partners.

Additionally, YC’s Alumni Community Team, or ACT, also had many opportunities to reconnect this Summer. Events included Smoothie Chats, Outdoor Rec Meet-Ups, Virtual Programs, and more! Our Alumni community was able to join with our YELP participants, ages 16-25, for an Outdoor Barbeque Bash to celebrate the summer and build community with one another. The Barbeque Bash was also a great time to be together to celebrate YC’s Jesuit Volunteer, Brittany. ACT and YELP members were able to thank Brittany and commemorate her year of service during the Bash!

The Volunteer Committee, or VC, was also very busy with planning programs and a fundraiser to benefit Youth Challenge. This group of dedicated, young leaders worked on Youth Challenge’s new Little Free Libraries over the summer at programs with participants. The VC collected books about disability or written by authors with disabilities for the Little Free Libraries to educate others and encourage inclusion. Our Libraries should be getting finished soon! The VC also hosted a Car Wash for YC and raised over $1200! We could not be prouder of this group and look forward to working with them more in the Fall!

YELP and ACT members came together to end the summer with a fun backyard barbeque at Youth Challenge.

We will be happy to be back together for more programs this September!

YC’s 2020 Annual Report: The Time is Now

Youth Challenge is pleased to present our 2021 Annual Report! Click here to view the full document. Read below for an introductory message from Chris Garr, CEO.


The ability of our participants and teen volunteers to grow and meet challenges rests at the heart of YC’s Mission. Over the past year, we as an organization have grown in our resolve to vigorously meet challenges, and we eagerly look forward to leading the community with ingenuity, creativity, care, and commitment. Over 45 years, we’ve diligently sustained our commitment to providing opportunities in sport and recreation where access was lacking. That need remains, and, for many, it is more pronounced than it ever has been.

In the wake of recent global and local challenges, the traditional staples of adaptive athletics, arts, and a passionate commitment to fun remain constant, but we must adapt expertly to new circumstances and new opportunities. Now, we present a more dynamic program structure that best meets participants’ and teen volunteers’ unique physical and mental needs. Now, we tap into the endless potential of alumni who are using YC’s platform in the community to make waves as advocates and leaders. Now, we reinvent our fundraising practices to motivate philanthropic action across a broader spectrum and engage donors of all levels. Now, we leverage our immense professional capital to promote inclusion and
in a way that is unique to YC – full of energy and an indomitable will to overcome obstacles.

I want to thank Lori Coticchia for her outstanding leadership as Board President. Her steady hand, trust in the capability of the staff, and openness to growth allowed us to fully deploy a myriad of resources to best serve the community during a time of great need. Effective January 2021, we welcome Christina Hardesty, MD, to the helm as YC’s current Board President. A Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and UH Ahuja Medical Center, Dr. Hardesty is intimately familiar with YC’s ability to provide exceptional opportunities and a unique position for leadership in the disability community.

Now, in 2021, we have the same resolve as in 1976 to meet challenges to access, to deliver inclusion with a hefty dose of fun, and to lead boldly with love and compassion for all.

Chris Garr, CEO

Preview: Battle of the Bartenders at Edgewater Beach House

The battle rages on! Join Young Professionals for Youth Challenge (YP4YC) for Battle of the Bartenders on August 20, 2021 from 5 – 8 pm at the Edgewater Beach House on Lake Erie. During this fun bartending event, Team Board, Team Staff, and Team YP4YC will be competing for your tips once again.

In the past, this event was held in early November at Around the Corner in Lakewood. In 2020, the event was transformed into “Battle of the Bartenders on Wheels” with home-delivered cocktails from Simple Times and charcuterie boards from Sweet Brie Co.

This year, we’re excited to be back to the traditional behind-the-bar battle in a new, open-air venue, the Edgewater Beach House! Click here to learn more about the Edgewater Beach House, located at 7600 Cleveland Memorial Shoreway, Cleveland, OH 44102

Event details:

  • This event is open to anyone age 21+.
  • Admission is free ($5 suggested donation if you can, and you’ll get a beer koozie for your donation while supplies last).
  • Food and drink will be available for purchase at the Beach House.
  • Bring cash to tip your favorite team!
  • This event is outdoors, rain or shine (don’t worry, the Beach House has a roof!).

The team that collects the most tips for Youth Challenge will be crowned the winner! Can’t make it but want to support your favorite team? Donate below! Donations must be received by 7:45 pm on Friday, August 20 to count for your team.

Besides food, drinks, and lake views, there are some great ways to have fun and support YC during the event:

  • Purchase 50/50 raffle tickets.
  • Grab some YC swag. From car magnets to tumblers, you’ll be representing Youth Challenge and making a difference!

Don’t miss Battle of the Bartenders on August 20 at the Edgewater Beach House – a fun night to enjoy the beauty of the C-L-E and give back to YC! Invite your friends on Facebook to make sure they’re there with you!

ADA Cleveland: Advocacy & the Call for Access

Youth Challenge is proud to be a member of ADA Cleveland, a coalition of disability-related organizations that seek to celebrate the ongoing legacy of the Americans with Disabilities Act. ADA Cleveland leads in ensuring access, increasing awareness, promoting independence, and providing opportunity. They engage our community as advocates for positive change.

In 2020, ADA Cleveland celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with a virtual Call for Access. The event brought together the Greater Cleveland Community to learn more about the disability community, the ADA, advocacy, and much more. YC was a large part of this event. You can read more on our 2020 highlight post here.

In 2021, ADA Cleveland continues the Call for Access over a few months, beginning on July 25, 2021. During the events, there will be webinars and educational sessions on a variety of topics, from employment to design. Presentations will be grouped by topic and will happen once or twice per week. For updates and information on the Call for Access, visit or sign up for ADA Cleveland’s newsletter by clicking here.

The event kicks off with a virtual celebration on Sunday, July 25, 2021, at 12 pm ET! The event will feature local speakers, a video presentation, and a live Q&A session. Then, stick around to hear more about ADA Cleveland’s upcoming series of webinars, meet-ups, virtual discussions, and more! The event will be ASL interpreted and captioned. Register by clicking here!

YC encourages our community to take part in this important series of events as we advocate for further access for people with disabilities throughout the Cleveland area, the state, and the world!

Board Highlight: Dr. Chris Hardesty

Dr. Chris Hardesty has been a member of YC’s Board of Trustees for six years and began serving as President in January 2021. When she’s not tearing it up in the Boardroom (or on the Board Zoom), Chris can be found in the operating room at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, where she serves as a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon.

Chris knew she wanted to be a doctor and work with children since she was in seventh grade. Then, in high school, Chris started working with children with disabilities. Thus developed her passion for working with young people with disabilities – she specializes in working with kids with neuromuscular issues. While on her way to becoming an extraordinary surgeon, Chris volunteered in the hospital as a Child Life Specialist (someone who makes the hospital environment more fun and less scary) and ran camps for kids with disabilities.

In her spare time, which doesn’t come often, Chris spends time with her two sons, husband, and their dog and also finds some time to fly airplanes (she’s a pilot). She also loves to work out at OrangeTheory Fitness (YC is a huge fan of OTF!).

We’re lucky to have Doc on our team at YC! Chris brings a level head, all-in attitude, and effervescent smile to each Board Meeting and YC activity she attends – from mini golf with YC alumni to Executive Committee meetings. When we asked her about why she loves YC, she said “YC brings out the best in every life it touches.  Every participant, volunteer, staff member, and board member gets a chance to change the world, and simultaneously changes the world for the better at YC.  How lucky are we to be a part of it?!?”

Where Will Color Take You? 2021 Virtual 5k + 1-Mile Walk & Roll

This summer, YC is ecstatic to be partnering yet again with the Sherwin-Williams Women’s Club for Where Will Color Take You?, a virtual 5k race + 1-Mile Walk & Roll. The race kicked off on June 19 and continues through July 4!

Register today for just $25 at Your registration gets you a race t-shirt, finisher’s medal, and free scoop coupon from Mitchell’s Ice Cream. Registration is open through July 4.

Having a virtual race means that you can complete your 5k or one-mile on your own time and wherever you’d like! Whether you’re running through Cuyahoga Valley National Park on Fleet Response’s sponsored course or rolling your 5k through Rocky River Reservation on Oatey’s sponsored course, we know you’ll have a blast supporting YC! See all the sponsored courses at

Youth Challenge participants and volunteers have had a blast coming together for race meet-ups across Northeast Ohio. Every Saturday, June 19 – July 3, we’ve been hitting the courses at different parks and having a lot of fun! We can’t wait to be all together again at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in 2022.

YC race meet-ups are possible because of the generosity of our donors. And right now, your donation to support Where Will Color Take You? will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $5,000 by the Sherwin-Williams Foundation! Give now at Hurry! The match expires July 4.

We are so grateful to all the 2021 Where Will Color Take You? sponsors making a difference for YC:

  • Presented by: Sherwin-Williams
  • Champion Sponsor: Fleet Response
  • Color Sponsor: Oatey
  • Teammate Sponsor: Invacare
  • Friend Sponsors: Don’s Lighthouse Grille, First Federal Lakewood, Doug & Linda Hardman, Mike’s Kids

Wherever color takes you this summer, we hope you have a blast! Please don’t forget to share your photos on social media by tagging @YCSports1976 and using #WhereWillColorTakeYou2021.

Highlights from the Annual Benefit & Auction

In no uncertain terms… the YC community ROCKS! We are incredibly grateful to all the folks who helped make the 2021 Annual Benefit & Auction a cymbal-smashing success!

On May 15, 2021, YC held our second virtual Benefit, YC Rocks! Volume 2. From the home-delivered catering to the fast and furious silent auction bidding and all the way to the engaging livestream, the event was truly a rockin’ good time.

The afternoon started with fresh, delicious meals from Italian Creations and delectable charcuterie boards from Sweet Brie Co. loading onto YC vans to head out to folks anxiously awaiting to DIG IN! Included with each meal were a bottle of wine and a token of appreciation from YC in the form of a cookie, made by the talented Sister Project Co.! Dozens of event attendees also stopped by YC to pick up their meals to enjoy at home.

Then, the YC crew snapped into motion to put on an entertaining live show for all our guests at home. With rock n’ roll in mind, special guests including Trustee Sara Steimle, Board Interns Bre Sprenger and Sophia Needham, and YC program staff joined YC CEO Chris Garr in the gym to showcase Youth Challenge. You can watch the full livestream at, but here are the highlights:

  • Chris Garr wore three different and fantastic wigs.
  • Bre and Sara shared how impactful YC has been on their lives and encouraged folks to donate to YC’s $25,000 Fund-a-Need match. More than $26,000 was raised!
  • We sold out the $10,000 Cash Raffle and drew our two winners (Congrats Heidi Taylor and Aubrey Christ)!
  • We had a special cameo from a future YC volunteer (Baby Liam Cooney).
  • We had a GREAT TIME!

While our second virtual Benefit wasn’t quite as fun as seeing all of our community in person, we are still on cloud nine! Thanks to the incredible generosity of our community – and we mean incredible – more than $220,000 was raised to fund our mission. We are so grateful to each sponsor, donor, bidder, and raffle ticket purchaser!

We’re looking forward to 2022 when we can rock out yet again!

Youth Challenge: The Power of Inclusion

Lindsay O’Keefe, a Senior at Laurel School, has been volunteering for Youth Challenge since she was twelve years old. Lindsay is an avid filmmaker and plans to study Film & TV at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts this fall. As part of her senior capstone at Laurel, Lindsay created a beautiful documentary film about Youth Challenge!

The film, entitled “Youth Challenge: The Power of Inclusion”, will air at the end of the YC Benefit livestream on Saturday, May 15. You can watch the livestream beginning at 8 pm ET at Below is the information poster that accompanied her film presentation at Laurel late last month:

Introduction: My project is a 15-minute documentary on a non-profit organization called Youth Challenge. I have been volunteering there since I was twelve years old. Youth Challenge pairs teen volunteers with children who have physical disabilities to do a range of activities together. Youth Challenge has proven that the power of inclusion is life-changing.

Objective: Since Youth Challenge has given me so much, I wanted to give something back to them. Through the documentary, I want society to become more accepting of people with physical disabilities because they are just as capable as any able-bodied person. My documentary shows that YC is so much more than a non-profit and that the impact is truly immeasurable.

Motivation: I am very passionate about ending ableism. Ableism is defined as “discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.” I hope this documentary is one small step closer to a more accepting, inclusive, and accessible world for people with physical disabilities. I am changed forever by the incredible people I’ve met through YC.

Summary:  I interviewed five people: Chris Garr, the CEO of Youth Challenge; Mary Sue Tanis, the founder of Youth Challenge; Breanna Sprenger, a student intern and former participant; Gabby Bova, an alumni executive committee member and former participant; and Sean Walker, the YC Boccia Coach and former participant. They all explain how Youth Challenge has changed them for the better.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank my amazing mentor Hollie Brubaker for letting me use her sound equipment, Chris Garr for sending me old YC pictures and helping set up interviews and every person I interviewed for the documentary. Thank you for making this possible and allowing me to share my love for Youth Challenge through this film. This has been a phenomenal experience and I’m so grateful to be a part of this extraordinary non-profit organization.

Preview: YC Rocks! Volume 2, Annual Benefit & Auction

YC will have yet another rockin’ good time on May 15, 2021 during the Annual Benefit & Auction, YC Rocks! Volume 2! For one night only, YC will join with you online for an electrifying virtual benefit, including a fun livestream show, fund-a-need, $10,000 Cash Raffle, and exciting auction! There are lots of ways to get in the action and support Youth Challenge.

Catering tickets are available for purchase through May 7, 2021. Purchase dinner to pick up or have it delivered to you (no charge!). Delicious meals are available from Italian Creations, or you can grab a snack ticket including yummy and beautiful charcuterie from Sweet Brie Co. Both dinners and snack tickets are for two people to share and come with a bottle of wine. Order today,

Join in the livestream action on May 15, 2021 at 8 pm ET at to enjoy the YC Rocks! party. Grab some food and drinks and sit back while you watch Chris Garr, CEO, guide you through this year’s exciting lineup. During the program, we’ll be raising funds for our Fund-a-Need, supporting alumni programming at Youth Challenge. Will you help us hit our goal of $25,000? You can tune in early, too, to watch the pre-stream show beginning at 7:30 pm. Donate today at

The $10,000 Cash Raffle winners will be pulled during the livestream on May 15, 2021 (starting at 8 pm ET). The first prize winner will receive $7,500, and our second-place winner will get a cool $2,500. Tickets are just $100 each, and only 300 tickets will be sold. Purchase your tickets today – they sold out before the livestream last year!

On May 10, we’ll launch the bidding on this year’s silent auction! There’s truly something for everyone this year, from a Tribe Suite for 10 to an evening cruise on Lake Erie to cases of wine. Bid high and bid often beginning May 10! Make sure you’re registered at to get notified when the auction goes live.

In all, there is a myriad of ways to get your groove on Saturday, May 15, 2021! Mark your calendars, folks – this isn’t one to miss. We hope you’ll join us for this exciting Virtual Benefit and help us celebrate you and all the support you provide to the young people of YC! Our Annual Benefit & Auction is so important to our mission; the annual event accounts for approximately 25% of our yearly budget. Thank you for rockin’ out with us!

What YC Means to Kate and her mom, Laura

When Kate Soder is at Youth Challenge, the room is electric with energy and smiles. Kate started coming to YC in 2019 as a Krazy Kamper and has been nothing but a ray of sunshine ever since. One of the many things we love about Kate is that she is always up for any activity and signs up for a variety of programs. Whether it is soccer, ceramics, art, or swimming, she has a great time participating alongside her volunteer partner.
It is without question that volunteers get extra excited when they find out they are paired with Kate for program because they know that they will be thoroughly entertained. Known for her good old-fashioned pranks, she always keeps the YC gang on their toes and gets them rolling in laughter. Typically, at the other end of the pranks are the YC program staff, but they would not have it any other way.

Kate’s most recent shining moment was her featured role in our virtual Holiday Show (click here to watch!). When first brainstorming the act with the group of volunteers and staff, Kate’s personality showed by choosing a theme called The Vampire Reindeer Diaries. Laura, Kate’s mom, said “We’ve watched The Vampire Reindeer Diaries so many times, that we all have the lines memorized!” Kate was the star of the act as her expressions and charades told the story better than any lines could.
Laura also expressed to YC how much Kate loves coming to programs. Laura explained “She can’t get enough of her friends at YC. She would go every day if she could! I think she would sleep there, honestly. Her excitement when she’s waiting for the van to pull up and the joy she shares when she arrives home is priceless. We can’t imagine life without YC and we look forward to more opportunities this summer!” Youth Challenge is also looking forward to the summertime shenanigans with Kate and are thankful to have Kate and her family be part of the fun.

Brats, Beer & Brackets Highlights

On March 16, the competition was heating up! Not yet on the NCAA Basketball court, but on Zoom during Brats, Beer & Brackets! That evening, basketball fans and YC friends came together for a virtual version of our beloved NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament team auction.

The event, typically held in YC’s gym, took place via Zoom for the first – and hopefully last – time. After having the tournament cancelled in 2020, coming together in the name of basketball was a welcome change! Plus, we got in some of the beer and brat action.

More than 100 people enjoyed delicious brats, beers, and sides at home, courtesy of the fabulous team at Italian Creations! YC vans rolled out across the Cleveland area packed with delicious meals, while some YC friends stopped by the Westlake office to get their food, and  a smile and greeting from Young Professionals for Youth Challenge (YP4YC) volunteers.  The fan-favorite? The baked gruyere mac n’ cheese.

Sherry Truhlar

After the brats were polished off and the beer was still flowing, event attendees logged on for a fun auction of the teams! Sherry Truhlar of Red Apple Auctions joined YC from her home in Arlington, VA to conduct the auction. Over the next couple of hours, LOADS of fun ensued. From Zoom chat smack talk to more than $5,000 in donations made during the Fund-a-Need program, there was something for everyone during the event. Attendees heard from YC Alumni Sean Walker and Will Gallup, as well as YC athlete Huston Nagy. Plus, there’s more than $10,000 up for grabs during the tournament for those who purchased 50/50 sideboards and auction teams.

Will Gallup playing Boccia a few years back.

While the tournament winner hasn’t been decided yet, YC was the real winner in this event, with more than $13,000 raised to support programs, including purchasing two brand new basketball wheelchairs! YC is incredibly grateful to everyone who enjoyed the event with us. We can’t wait to be back in the gym for a live auction in 2022!

International Women’s Day Spotlight: YC Founder Mary Sue Tanis

This article originally appeared in YC’s Winter 2020 Challenger Newsletter. On International Women’s Day, we’re publishing this wonderful piece again to celebrate a wonderful woman!

Upon Retirement, Beloved YC Founder Mary Sue Tanis Reflects on the Little Nonprofit That Could

Written by YC Trustee Vince O’Keefe

The life-changing nature of Youth Challenge is hard to explain. In our recent interview, YC founder Mary Sue Tanis, who is retiring after 44 years leading the nonprofit organization, reflected on the unlikely alchemy that led to its creation and still fuels it today.

In the early 1970s, Mary Sue majored in recreational therapy at the University of Colorado. She also loved swimming and often shared a pool lane with Greg, a Vietnam veteran who had arms but no legs. When one of Mary Sue’s professors asked her if she would like to assist people like Greg, she said yes in part because her brother had also recently served in Vietnam: “I just pictured that Greg could have been my big brother.”

Upon returning to Cleveland, Mary Sue noticed a Fairview Women’s Club swim program that included children with disabilities. She called the woman in charge to join and quickly learned “it was nothing but fun.” So in 1976, through a combination of her tenacity, resourcefulness, and vision, Mary Sue spearheaded her own program through the Fairview Park Recreation Department.

Remarkably, Mary Sue went door-to-door on foot and on bike in her parents’ community to find participants and volunteers! Soon the recruits started meeting twice a week in the local park. Mary Sue noted: “I used to train teen volunteers in my parents’ basement in the beginning . . . we were very much like the little engine that could.” She laughed when recalling that some neighbors questioned the project (and her can-do attitude).

By 1983, Mary Sue’s little-nonprofit-that-could incorporated. It had no vehicles and not much of a headquarters, but that didn’t stop the number of participants, volunteers, supporters, and activities from growing. As she stated, the “kids” kept coming, trying new things, making new friends, and gaining self-confidence. But make no mistake—the work was invigorating but also exhausting. Mary Sue admits that during the first decade, “I had a hard time separating where my life began and Youth Challenge ended.” Gradually, she realized she needed to find capable people who “would own Youth Challenge with me.”

An important side note about the early years of YC involves its absence of a physical building. Apart from avoiding overhead, Mary Sue always wanted to “project” the participants and volunteers into public spaces like parks to raise awareness of disability and access issues. In the process, participants gained social interaction beyond their families and teen volunteers “bridged the gap” with the public by explaining to curious onlookers what they were doing. Mary Sue noted: “We were sowing the seeds of inclusion and we didn’t even know it.”

Over the past few decades, Mary Sue’s desire to find people who “would own Youth Challenge with me” has been fulfilled with abundance. “There’s a saying,” she explained, that “‘we measure success by the ones who come back.’” Today, Youth Challenge is a large family with a beautiful facility and many staff and Board members who were involved at YC in their own youth. Mary Sue beamed with pride when she said “they passed it on and it has multiplied . . . we’re into two to three generations with some families.” For that reason, “the future of Youth Challenge is nothing but bright” and the goal remains the same: “Create that big smile and vibrant atmosphere that makes them want to come back . . . there’s no reason these kids can’t touch the stars.”

Preview: Brats, Beer & Brackets VIRTUAL!

March 2020 was disappointing for lots of reasons. At YC, one of a series of bummers was having to cancel Brats, Beer & Brackets – one of our favorite events of year! And while things aren’t quite back to normal, we’re so excited that the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is BACK and so is Brats, Beer & Brackets!

Join us for an online Zoom auction of NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament teams on March 16 at 7 pm. There is no cost to attend, but registration is required at

If you’d like to get in on the beer and brat action (YOU SHOULD!!) you can order a delectable brat meal – with potato salad and gruyere mac n’ cheese included, plus two beers, for just $30. Score two meals and a six-pack for $60. All food is crafted by the wonderful folks at Italian Creations! All meals can be home delivered for free in Cuyahoga and eastern Lorain County, or you can pick up your meal at YC in Westlake. Don’t miss this! Catering orders will only be accepted through March 9. ORDER NOW at

How’s It Going to Work?

In the past, we’ve packed the gym at YC and had a rousing live auction for team pairings. While we won’t be packed in the gym, we’ll still be able to gather on Zoom and host a live auction with Auctioneer Sherry Truhlar (read her bio).

The auction for NCAA Men’s Basketball teams will be hosted via a Zoom meeting where all attendees will be able to see each other. Live auction bids will be taken via the chat function during the meeting. Guests are encouraged to pool their money to bid on their favorite (and potentially more expensive) teams. In order to participate, you must be registered with the event. Don’t worry, we’ll cover all of the logistics before the auction begins.

Food delivery is available to Cuyahoga County and eastern Lorain County, or you can pick up your meal at YC in Westlake. Delivery and pickup will be available prior to the event and purchasers will receive details via email. Must be 21 or older to order.

Event Timeline–Tuesday, March 16:

  • Food Pickup and Delivery: 4 pm – 6 pm ET
  • Online (Zoom) Auction: 7 pm – 8:30 pm ET

Event Add-Ons & Sideboards

The live auction is just a part of your chance to WIN BIG during the tournament. Starting now, you can purchase 50/50 sideboard tickets or join YC’s NEW bracket bet. You do not need to be attending the live event to participate.

Sideboard Details:

  • Available sideboards:
  • Purchase details:
    • Purchases can be made until 9 pm on Tuesday, March 16. If the sideboard sells out, another can be offered.
    • YC will randomly assign teams to purchasers. You will be notified of your team assignment via email on March 17, 2021 (March 25 for Sweet 16).
    • If your assigned team wins the tournament, you will receive your payout the week of April 12.

Bracket Bet Details:

  • $5/bracket. Unlimited purchases.
  • Open for sale through March 17, 2021.
  • Bracket entering information will be sent on Monday, March 15 through March 17, 2021 and all brackets must be filled out by 9 am on March 18, 2021.
  • Half of the proceeds will go to YC and half the proceeds will be paid out in cash prizes to the top three winners.
    • First Place: 70%
    • Second Place: 20%
    • Third Place: 10%
  • This bracket league will be operated through CBS Sports. You must have a free account to participate. Winners will determined by CBS sports.


There’s something for every basketball lover during this event! For any questions, please contact Carolyn Palmer, YC’s Communications & Events Manager at 440.892.1001 x 13 or


YC Alumni Programming

We have the choice to use the gift of our life to make the world a better place.

~ Jane Goodall

Ode to YC Alums, by Alumni Engagement Manager Lisa Friel:

Last fall, I had the privilege of facilitating a Team Building Leadership Retreat with the Alumni Community Team Executive Committee.  Guided by the principles of the Jane Goodall Roots & Shoots Toolkit, our team explored ways to strengthen the YC Alumni Community by becoming compassionate leaders.  Throughout the retreat we developed skills and traits such as being hopeful and optimistic, collaborating and communicating openly, thinking critically and being introspective, acting with a purpose, inspiring peers, and being empathetic, adaptable, resilient, and team players.  The Alumni Executive Committee committed to being leaders of the YC Alumni Community, guided by compassionate, educated thought to make good decisions for our community.

I want to personally thank the YC Alumni Community Team (ACT!) Executive Committee for their compassionate leadership this Fall.  This team was formed by Steven Kyman and consists of leaders and friends– Sara Steimle, Sean Walker, Gabby Bova, and Janie Rapp.  Together they spent numerous hours collaborating, planning, adapting, and zooming to support the alumni of YC, rooting their efforts in one message:  You are not alone!  They worked to develop meaningful programs that offered virtual support to their peers during the roughest times of the pandemic.  And they brought joy, laughter, comfort, support, and purpose to so many people during the holiday season.  Thanks for all you do to make the world a better place!

Thanks, too, to the many YC Alumni who shared their lives with the YC community last fall.  YC Alumni gave over 25 hours of service, strengthening Outreach efforts in creative ways.  ACT! provided virtual support by collaborating with engineering students of Mayfield HS through the Service through STEM Design Challenge, and by assisting Sarah Cooney with filming for Virtual Volunteer Training Sessions.  Alumni participants promoted Advocacy by partnering with non-profits like SIL and ADA CLE, sharing their experiences as Good Life Ambassadors, and helping improve accessibility to public transportation through RTA 25 Connects.  Alumni participation at our Social outings at Euclid Beach, Edgewater Park, and Mill Stream Run Reservation made our time together memorable.  And your participation in our virtual Wellness Initiative enriched programming and enabled us to form a supportive network of friends.  Thank you for making ACT! awesome!

We look forward to connecting with even more alumni in the Winter/Spring session.  Information about programs for YC Alumni can be found on our YC website and alumni Facebook page.  Please consider joining us for a session!  All virtual alumni programs can be accessed with this link:

If you have any questions, please contact Lisa Friel, Alumni Engagement Manager (

YELP: Youth Empowerment & Leadership Program and Peer Support


Read below from YC’s Jesuit Volunteer Program Coordinator, Brittany D’Souza about YELP and all the wonderful programming happening at YC!

YELP, Youth Empowerment and Leadership Program and Peer Support is one of Youth Challenge’s most attended programs. This program is a type of peer support for both volunteers and participants aged 16 to 25. Every Wednesday night, participants and volunteers gather virtually or in-person to talk about different topics. Through our discussion and reflection, YELP fosters an environment where anyone – participant, volunteer, or staff member can come to and leave feeling empowered and supported.

As a form of empowerment, we encourage a participant every season to take on more leadership in the form of an internship. For the Fall 2020 season, we had the fabulous participant intern, Gabby Bova. As a new member of the YC family myself as the new Jesuit Volunteer, I loved having Gabby show me the ropes of YELP and learn alongside her. It was even more of a pleasure to watch Gabby grow in confidence as she took on more leadership roles within YELP and handled leading discussions with ease.

In contrast to prior years, YELP has shifted from having an overall season theme to keeping a general theme for 2 to 3 sessions. This change has allowed for a wide breadth of topics to be covered over the past year. In particular, the last season covered a lot of ground from the importance of voting and the disability vote to healthy habits, including meditation, the practice of gratitude, and eating well. These topics were influenced by current events and the passions of our participant intern. Gabby is enthusiastic about health and wellness and has been trying to incorporate some of the tips we have discussed at YELP into her lifestyle. This includes eating a more balanced diet and adding more plant-based foods. Gabby has discovered that this has made her a happier person!

This last season was a blast, and we are looking forward to so much more during this coming Winter-Spring season. Bre Sprenger (pictured at the top on the right) will be our new intern for this season, and we could not be more excited to have her! She will bring a new lens on disability justice, the Paralympics, advocacy, and independent living, as these are some of her personal passions. We will continue talking about goal setting, healthy habits, implicit bias, and other topics that will empower both our participants and volunteers. As I have learned, the goal of YELP is to foster an environment where everyone can lean on each other during tough times and to empower everyone into living a life where they feel confident and supported. I, for one, am glad I have had this group of strong, wonderful participants, volunteers, and staff to chat and check-in with one another every Wednesday night. I am looking forward to more engaging conversations during this upcoming season!

Janie Rapp: Finding Her Way Back to YC

Jane Rapp, an alumna of Youth Challenge, was and continues to be a bright spot in what was an eventful year for Youth Challenge. Jane, or as some people call her Janie, is a 24-year-old young woman living with Cerebral Palsy. A Cleveland Heights native, Janie attended Beaumont School and went on to study Psychology at Edinboro University, finishing her undergraduate degree at the University of Toledo. Jane is currently pursuing her Masters of Science in Psychology at Mercy College.

Those who know Janie know her as a caring, fun, and extroverted person who, if you let her, can carry a conversation till the day is gone. Still, she sought to challenge herself during her time in school. “One of my main goals, when I started at Toledo, was to get involved,” she explained. “I was afraid of not being social ‘enough.’ When I graduated, I was very happy with how involved I got while in college.”

She first got involved with Youth Challenge during the summer of 2007. Janie says how important it is to be an alumna of YC. “Youth Challenge has helped me so much. YC has helped me gain some perspective, a rockstar support system, and a much-needed confidence and empowerment boost.”

Wanting to get back involved, Jane reached out to Youth Challenge to see what she could do.“I was a new post grad in the middle of the pandemic. I was feeling a little defeated with the job search and the craziness in the world. So, I emailed Chris and we set up a time to chat (socially distanced and outside). During our conversation he mentioned ACT! – the Alumni Community Team, and new programs for YC alumni.” Jane took advantage and before you know it was participating in multiple activities.

Over the summer and early fall, once a week, Jane would come to YC for a unique hour-long appointment. One week it would be fitness, the next art. Janie and the staff at YC were

Janie’s Ceramic Creations

able to come up with sessions designed just for her.

Jane was able to use the fitness center in YC to challenge herself physically. “I have always been interested in fitness but never found the right fit. So, I was excited to give it a try!! I love the personalized approach. Jimmy’s main goal was to focus on my strengths, and to help me expand on my strengths.”

Likewise, Jane was able to test out her artistic capabilities through drawing, painting, and ceramics all while at YC. “Megan took the time to get to know me and learn my interests with the art program, no one session was the same, and I loved it.  Both Jimmy and Megan wanted to hear my thoughts and helped me make my goals a reality.”

Always wanting to help and to become more of a leader as a YC alumnus, Jane became involved with the ACT! Using her experience and interests in community, service, and self-love, Jane became an ACT! Executive Member at Youth Challenge. “Living back at home, I really wanted to get more involved. Being an ACT! Executive Member gave me the perfect opportunity to express my ideas while being a leader and encouraging the importance of support and community.”

Through all the many ups and downs this past year has brought us, Jane was a constant source of inspiration and perseverance. “Coming back to Youth Challenge was the best decision I have made in 2020.  In particular, coming back to Youth Challenge during a pandemic was great because I stayed active and connected. Connection during this time is essential.” Youth Challenge hopes to stay connected with Jane and all the great work she and her YC family achieve.

All The Small Things

A note from YC’s CEO, Chris Garr:

I heard the Blink 182 song “All the Small Things” on the radio a few days ago. Generally, a song like that makes my car go faster, but not this time. I, Chris Garr, started to slow down. I actually paid attention to the lyrics and it made me think about all of the small things… that make a big difference.

A virus is among the smallest of things. So small we need a powerful electron microscope to see the nucleic acid molecule. By now, the image of the coronavirus is permanently etched in our mind. Looks like the microscopic version of the planet Venus grew an orchard of Truffala trees. Small things make a BIG difference in our lives. The current pandemic is a tragedy of epic proportion, but while this virus continues to spread devastation, it also spawned a myriad of countless small acts of love and kindness throughout our communities.

So I Googled the song and watched the video. Admittedly, I have not viewed any music video in about 15 years, (remember MTV?) but I was curious. My curiosity peaked when the video opened with Blinks 182’s lead singer Tom DeLonge dancing in his tighty-whities. Of course, I kept watching.

Essentially, the song is a reminiscence of small acts of kindness, and an acknowledgement of appreciation.

All the small things
True care, truth brings
I’ll take one lift
Your ride, best trip

Always I know
You’ll be at my show
Watching, waiting

Say it ain’t so
I will not go
Turn the lights off
Carry me home

Na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na
Na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na
Na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na
Na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na

Late night come home
Work sucks, I know
She left me roses by the stairs
Surprises let me know she cares

Say it ain’t so
I will not go
Turn the lights off
Carry me home

My mind immediately wandered to all of the “small things” done in 2020 by YC’s community. These tiny acts, taken as singular moments of empathy and care, are part of a collective tidal wave of kindness that defines who we are and what we believe. We’ve been a caring community since day one, forty-some years ago, but in 2020 Covid was the catalyst for reaching a deeper will to do good and be our best for each other.

Here are a just a few of the many small things that made a BIG difference in 2020.

A smile. So many smiles and so much laughter on Zoom, underneath the mask, on the phone, or and “lol” in a text, strengthened the connections within our community. Hopefully, the smiles carried on, reverberating from friend to friend and family to family.

A card. Our volunteers created hundreds of hand-written cards, just to say “Hey, we’re here and we care.” These were homespun acts of kindness and solidarity, lovingly delivered inside of a care package, by YC’s staff and drivers all over Greater Cleveland.

A car ride. Often in the form of a parade, to drive by the home of a participant to lay on a horn and scream “Hello friend! We miss you and we can’t wait to see you again soon.” That “soon” is around the corner, and there is eager anticipation and hope in the air for those high fives, hugs, and group fitness sessions!

A phone call or a text. We care deeply for our community. The check-ins and texts. “Hey, are you good?” or “Need anything?” inquiries remind each other that we are “in this together” acknowledging that we all have good days and bad, and little pick-ups are welcome and, indeed, needed.

An appearance. We were present and we showed up We stayed “in the moment” and we didn’t need to be heroes as much as we just decided to be humans. Maybe not always in-person, but we were there to listen, to hear, to help, to cry, to laugh. In person, volunteers hungrily ate up in-person opportunities to help in any way they could, knowing that the typical YC formula was temporarily altered. You showed up on Zoom to say “hello” or play a game or connect with a teammate or lend support. Particularly, YC’s alumni have come together to forge what appears to the root of an active and effective movement with a collective purpose of advancing access, but more profoundly, for motivating each other to make a meaningful contribution to good.

A march. The pandemic emphasized the glaring disparities in our community. As the Black Lives Matter movement brought racial injustice to the forefront, YC emerged as a leader in the local disability rights scene. YC’s staff along with alumni participants and volunteers led ADA Cleveland’s Call for Access which continues to advocate for disability rights and tighten the bonds that tie organizations together for the purpose of positive change and meaningful dialogue and social justice.

A vote and a letter. There is not a smaller act with bigger consequence than engaging in the democratic process. It underscores the significance of many small acts culminating in a massive shift. We continue to push our elected representatives towards inclusion, equality, understanding so that disability rights, civil rights, and human rights are fully appreciated and realized.

A little extra. This is the defining reality of YC’s staff always giving a little more attention to detail, one more game, one more joke, one more rep, one more phone call, one more pick-up or drop-off, one more meaningful program, one more reminder, one more smile, one more mile, one more “what’s next” or “anything else?” This culture of “the extra mile” is a testament to Mary Sue’s perseverance (one more day of work before retirement) and remains a prime example of the “little things” making all the difference.

A “thank you!” to our entire family. This is a resounding “thank you” from the art room in the back of the building to the parking lot in front, from participants from Geneva to Vermillion and Shaker Heights to Alliance, from Minnow to Vanimal, from V-Rex to Vanzilla, from every school we serve and every family we count among our own, from every one-dollar donor to every thousand-dollar donor, you have made a huge difference by your love for YC.

As we put a wrap on 2020, let us not forget to do the little things. Keep showing the love! Happy New Year! Rock on YC!

All the small things
True care, truth brings
I’ll take one lift
Your ride, best trip

Thank you!



2020 Virtual Holiday Show

For decades, the Youth Challenge family has gathered in December for the annual Holiday Show to close out the program year. Participants and volunteers would spend 9 weeks in our Dance & Drama program writing, choreographing, directing, and producing original skits for their adoring fans. All of this hard work culminated in an onstage performance showcasing their many talents. While 2020 has certainly tried to derail our plans for spreading holiday cheer, YC has found a new way to continue this time-honored tradition.

In the fall of 2020, YC used our individual sessions model- one participant, their volunteers, and a staff member- to safely provide concurrent programs in separate parts of our building. One of these sessions was Cinematography which replaced the large group rehearsals of Dance & Drama with intimate, COVID-friendly filming. Cinematography has been a favorite among participants and volunteers the past few years, and for good reason. Whether you prefer to be behind the scenes or the star of the show, there’s a role for everyone! Our six iPads capture the creativity and hilarity of our brilliant onscreen talent in the style of “grandma’s home video gets a glow up.” Costumes, props, and a little iMovie magic can transform the YC gym into an old-timey saloon, or even the moon made out of cheese!  Programs like Dance & Drama and Cinematography offer the creative outlet and artistic freedom for our young people to fully express who they are.

Halfway through filming for this year’s Holiday Show, the newest stay-at-home advisory was issued and YC once again had to cancel all in-person programming. It seemed like 2020 would end on a ho-ho-horrible note. However, ’tis the season for adapting, and the program staff swiftly adjusted to an online format to finish the production. In just two hours apiece, our small movie crews devised one-of-a-kind short films that contributed to this year’s Holiday Show- “North Pole Netflix.” This cinematic masterpiece takes the imagination and festivities of the annual Holiday Show and brings it to life right in your own living room!

It’s been quite a year and Santa feels like the world could use some extra joy and entertainment this holiday season. As a special Christmas present, he gets the whole North Pole gang together to film spoofs on classic TV shows for the world’s viewing pleasure. Dispirited and drained from time in quarantine, kids open up their Netflix accounts to discover that it has been replaced with “North Pole Netflix” instead! The kids scroll through and watch previews of the many magical tv shows and movies, all starring our favorite North Pole characters. You can watch “North Pole Netflix” now on YC’s Facebook page! So, grab your hot cocoa, put on some fuzzy socks, and join us in celebrating the magic of the holiday season in a new way!