A Message from CEO Chris Garr: Pondering Things Utilitarian and Humanitarian

Dear Friends of Youth Challenge,

I took a hike with Darwin, our festively plump Beagle, on this brisk morning. Needed to spend quiet time reflecting, with gratitude, on the beauty and serenity of nature. Living in close proximity to the Cleveland Metroparks in Berea, I am blessed with the ability to experience its wonder in my backyard. On the trail, I thought of the strides we’ve made at YC in allowing so many to experience the majesty of the outdoors up close.

We are grateful for the gift of ingenuity, creativity, vision, and challenge. The very essence of adaptive activities relies on athletes who engineer, educators who innovate, and coaches who create. With amazing tools at our disposal, we’ve made awesome strides in 2022.

With a renewed focus on outdoor recreation, we substantially expanded the arsenal of adaptive adventure equipment, enhancing activities like hiking, camping, paddling, cycling, archery, and fishing. We spent every possible minute outside from May through October!

Adaptive equipment has a specific purpose.

We are grateful that the Joelette (adaptive hiker) makes mountain tops and canyon bottoms reachable to people who use wheelchairs. The Joelette is a one-wheeled game-changer opening a vast array of hikes to the broadest population.

We are grateful that outriggers on adaptive kayaks stabilize while allowing the paddler to remain in full control, while also allowing for independence and building confidence.

We are grateful that hand-cycles make pedaling possible, without the use of legs. With pedals and handles linked, riders use their upper body for power and steering. Three wheels, two hands, and a bit of determination are the recipe for adaptive cycling success.

If only we had a pickup truck to help lug all this cool stuff around…

We are grateful to have such unique public lands available to us. Our presence at East Harbor State Park and Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as well as partnerships with the Cleveland Metroparks, helps large public bodies understand how the outdoors can be experienced by diverse populations. We’re proud to provide feedback, learn about opportunities to enjoy nature, and educate the public about how best to consider public access and accessible recreation. It’s our responsibility to utilize parks, making it clear that universal accessibility is necessary and beneficial to everyone.

This Thanksgiving, we pause to give special thanks to those who allow us to adapt our world, and for their entrepreneurial and innovative spirit.

But most profoundly, on this day we thank the greatest adaptive tool we know: Our volunteers!

Hundreds of teens and thousands of YC alumni volunteer who decided, at a young age, that it’s more fun to play when everyone is part of the team. Life lessons are learned at YC. Lifetime relationships start and grow at YC. Magic happens on the court, in the classroom, on the trail, and in the woods. Without a doubt, volunteers are the most perfectly utilitarian and quintessentially humanitarian adaptive equipment.

We remain most thankful today, and every day, for those generations of helping hands, open minds, and warm hearts. I am grateful for the things we’ve used to make our Mission a reality at YC but most thankful for the people who continue to move our Mission forward!

In gratitude,
Chris

Chris Garr
CEO
Youth Challenge

Board Highlight: Matt Lay

Board member Matt Lay can empathize with Youth Challenge participants in a unique way.

When he was just 20 years old, Matt was involved in a serious car accident. He was life-flighted and underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain. After he was released from the hospital, he went through a 6-week outpatient therapy at a clinic specializing in brain injuries so that the medical staff could assess the severity of his injury. He was fortunate to have no long-term effects.

In 2014, Matt started working as the Vice President, Commercial Relationships Manager at First Federal Lakewood and attended YC events through his workplace. First Federal Lakewood has been a supporter of Youth Challenge for over 30 years. As soon as Matt first walked through the door at YC and saw the young people with disabilities engaging with volunteers, he was brought back to the therapy clinic he attended as a young adult. He decided to become a YC board member in 2019.

“I walk away from every YC event feeling energized and proud of the positive impact I have made on young people’s lives,” Matt said. “Hearing the stories of obstacles participants have overcome and all the great things YC has done to change people’s lives keeps me coming back for more.”

Matt lives in Avon with his wife Angela, and his two daughters. His oldest, Claire, is a YC volunteer. When Matthew and his family are not at YC, they enjoy visiting his parents’ summer cottage in lower Michigan. At Devil’s Lake, they all swim, kayak, water ski, paddle boat, jet ski, and enjoy slow pontoon rides.

Team YC’s Trip to the Chicagoland Regional Boccia Tournament

Team YC traveled to Chicago January 15-17 to compete in the Chicagoland Regional Boccia Tournament. Synergy Adaptive Athletics hosted the Tournament at the Fort Hill Activity Center. They arrived in Chicago Friday night after a long van ride and enjoyed a Chicago classic together: deep dish pizza! Saturday was the main competition day, with athletes competing in matches from 9 to 5.

The four athletes, Will Gallup, Bob Vitko, Sarah Steimle, and Sean Walker, worked extremely hard in all of their matches, and their effort paid off. Everyone won at least one match against challenging opponents. Boccia competition is divided into classifications based on one’s disability. Sean brought home bronze for the BC3 pool, Sara won bronze for the BC2 pool, and Will captured the bronze for the BC1s. Youth Challenge is proud of our athletes’ progress with their boccia skills, and they’ve proven that they are competitive with some of the best boccia players in the country.

That night, the team took the vans downtown to spend some time in the city. They ate dinner together at the Urban Market and then visited Willis Tower. The tower hosts an immersive museum experience where they learned about the history of Chicago, famous city traditions, and all the things that make Chicago unique. After the museum, Team YC traveled up 108 stories to visit the SkyDeck. They made their way out onto the glass ledge to look down at the city from 1,350 feet! It was such a cool experience, and they were all so grateful to experience it together.

Before heading back to YC on Sunday, the athletes participated in a skills clinic hosted by Team USA Boccia coaches. They worked on throwing techniques, discussed ball placement, and mastered the skill of grunting on each throw. It was great to receive one-on-one feedback from the coaches on ways the athletes can improve individually. Team YC also learned how it could continue to expand its boccia team.

Team YC looks forward to weekly boccia practices in the YC gym to continue developing the athletes who competed on this trip and a new group of Youth Challenge athletes who are just starting their boccia experience. This tournament was a great opening to the winter/spring season, and the YC boccia team can’t wait for more fun adventures!

Fall 2021 Program Highlights

Fall of 2021 was jam-packed with all kinds of fun at YC! We began the season with outdoor programs in September and October. As the weather cooled down, we moved programs inside for more fun. The YC Gang was happy to be together in whatever capacity we could!

Megan Smith helps Alijah with his project during Creative Constructions.

The season started with a bang at the Walleye Regatta. YC continued the fun with sports including boccia, ambulatory soccer, sled hockey, and football. Team YC soccer competed in a match against Empower Sports (phot above) and emerged victorious, while our East and West siders battled it out at our SuperBowl Showdown. The West siders brought home the “W” this year in the annual football game. Other recreational activities consisted of handcycling, hiking, outdoor exploration, and more!

While the YC Gang got active outside, we also made sure to have our fair share of arts programs planned. Our crew enjoyed programs like Creative Constructions, Printmaking, Lego League, and Dance & Drama. YC was able to offer many activities where our artistically inclined folks could create artwork for the community to enjoy.

Teddy shoots a hoop during Krazy Kamp’s Fall Ball.

Our program calendar was full of programs for all kinds of people with different interests, along with people in different age ranges! We had a blast with our KRAZY Kampers, ages 4-10, at Fall Ball and Friendsgiving. We also enjoyed time with our older crew in the fall Season. YELP, or Youth Empowerment & Leadership Project, ages 16-25, met up for Outdoor Sports and YELP Peer Support virtually. Our participant intern, Bre, was a wonderful leader in this group. ACT, or our Alumni Community Team, also had their fair share of fun with different activities in-person along with all of the wellness-related virtual programs offered during the day throughout the week. Several times, our YELP and ACT! groups met up to join in community with one another for events like Bowling and a Holiday Party!

Fall of 2021 was a season for the books! We look forward to seeing everyone again this winter!

Why You Should Support the 2021 Annual Fund

Jen, left, working at Battle of the Bartenders.

A message from Jen Taggart, YC Alumna and Development Associate:

I hope you will consider a gift to the Youth Challenge 2021 Annual Fund; here’s why:

As a person living with cerebral palsy, Youth Challenge has given me a place to belong over the last 17 years. I have two older brothers who were very physically active. When I first heard about the opportunity to play sports like my brothers, meet other kids like me, and have fun, my elementary school-age self was ecstatic!

When I was a kid, Youth Challenge was about having the opportunity to play and try new things—swimming, ice skating, sail boating, and skiing, to name a few—without feeling like the “odd kid out” for whom the group had to slow things down. *As a teenager, Youth Challenge gave me a place to fit in and friends to relate to when I was bullied at school for my cerebral palsy. Through YC’s alumni program, I am currently learning how to manage my physical and mental health, advocate for myself, and be independent as an adult living with a disability. I am also able to connect with other adults with similar challenges and goals as my own.

As I grew up, I became more and more aware of how Youth Challenge could provide great programs for kids like me. When I was a high school freshman at Race Day 2010, I felt humbled not only to see my friends—fellow participants, volunteers, and YC staff—participating, but also other members of the community, people who didn’t even know me, supporting Youth Challenge. Gratitude for that community support, and realizing the impact donations can make, are some of the major reasons I chose nonprofit development and fundraising as a career. In my role as development assistant at Youth Challenge, I feel empowered to use my skills to help other young people with disabilities in the Cleveland area have the same great experiences that I have been given.

I hope you will join me in investing in the YC community to provide even more life-changing opportunities for children, teens, and adults living with physical disabilities by donating to the 2021 Annual Fund.

Thank you,

Jen Taggart
Development Associate

Board Highlight: Jud Cummins

Joining Young Professionals for Youth Challenge (YP4YC) was the impetus Jud Cummins, now a YC Trustee, needed to become more involved in his community. At first, Jud thought that getting engaged with YC would be great professionally. Almost a decade later, Jud is still highly active with YC, and we are better for it! “Personally, I’m thankful and proud to be a part of Youth Challenge,” Jud said.

Jud has been involved in sports from a young age, so he was immediately drawn to the connections YC makes through sports.  Now a coach for his son’s various sports teams, Jud still finds time to connect with YC through sports. He was right in the action during our recent Adapted Ice Breaker Hockey Program with Shaker Varsity Hockey, slinging sleds and helping athletes get on the ice.

Jud (right) volunteers with fellow YPs at a past YC Race Day.

In his work at a medical equipment company, Jud met families across the country who could use the services provided by Youth Challenge. He’s certain that programs like YC’s are needed in many communities across the country. And it’s not just about the sports – Jud has also been involved with awarding college scholarships to YC volunteers through the Shining Light Program. He told YC he’s constantly impressed with the quality of the young people that give service to Youth Challenge!

Jud (right) volunteers with fellow YPs at a past YC Race Day.Jud now serves as the Director, Category & Product, at Vitamix, where he’s worked for nearly eight years. In his spare time, he loves coaching his son’s sports teams, attending Cleveland Guardians games, and watching his all-time favorite TV show “The Wire.”

Jud (left) gets right in the action assisting participants and volunteers on and off the ice at YC’s Adapted Ice Breaker!

Youth Challenge is lucky to have Jud on our team. From helping direct our organization in the Boardroom to connecting with participants and volunteers at programs, Jud constantly shows his passion for our mission. We look forward to when his son is old enough to volunteer at programs, too!

Nuts and Bolts and Duct Tape and Zip Ties

“Nuts and Bolts and Duct Tape and Zip Ties” | A Message of Thanksgiving from CEO Chris Garr

A few weeks ago, I was part of a panel discussion for a very unique engineering class at Cleveland State University. The course, Disability, Empathy, and Technology connects aspiring engineers to a more human side of their field of study. I was eternally grateful for the opportunity to engage with Professor Eric Schearer’s passionate students, but even more grateful to learn about their collective zeal for improving the human condition with their ingenuity, creativity. I shared much of the technical jargon that makes adaptive sports work for people with disabilities, and in turn, the students connected the concrete adaptations with a lens of empathy and understanding of not just HOW technology improves lives, by WHY it is so very critical to allowing all people to be part of a team.

Sara Steimle competes in the Jack Attack Boccia Tournament in Columbus this summer.

We are grateful for the ramps, head pieces, and tactile balls that allow us to play boccia.

We are grateful for the caster wheels, the cambered wheels, and the push rims that allow us to play basketball, football and tennis and turn on a dime.

We are grateful for the mono ski, the sit-ski, and the outriggers that allow us to speed down snowy slopes.

We are grateful for swivels, transfer chairs, more outriggers, and stability seats that help us to drift and slice through the water.

YC’s 2020 Goalball Team poses at a February practice.

We are grateful for the eye shades, beeps, bells, and floor markers that allow blind athletes to be blind teammates.

We are grateful for lifts, ramps, tie-downs, grab bars, and busses that allow athletes of any ability to access trails, parks, courts, and fields.

We are grateful for the pulleys, weights, bands, collars, and bars that help us to push ourselves to the limit or just get ourselves moving in the right direction.

We are grateful for toolkits, metal guards, back up batteries, and extra seat belts and size 11 soccer balls that make “the beautiful game” a reality for power wheelchair users.

We are grateful for parallel blades fixed on the bottom of sledges and for twin sticks with ice picks that give us an opportunity to play hockey… on ice, in pads.

Darnell, with the help of some amazing volunteers, enjoyed a hike on a Joëlette this summer.

We are grateful for handcycles, Joëlettes, suspension, and mountain bike tires that allow us to hike trails that reach the rocky tops of mountains and the cool pools at the base of waterfalls.

We are grateful for the OTs, PTs, engineers, coaches and teachers who understand the value of adaptive sport and know that being included on a team can mean a massive boost in a child’s self-confidence, physical health, and overall growth.

Finally, we are grateful for ALL OF YOU who support our mission and understand that the technologies we employ are a means to and end. All of the volunteers and participants who walk through the doors of our facilities and our vehicles are presented with these innovations, but without love, care, empathy, and compassion, the nuts and bolts and duct tape and zip ties are little more than hardware.

Team YC brings all that hardware to life and continues to ignite the human spirit with love! For that, we are all most grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris

Team Sports Highlight: a Season of Comebacks

It’s been a Team YC takeover this fall!

The 2021 fall calendar has been one filled with many programs, highlighted most notably by team sports. This can only mean two things—lots of practice and new Team YC shirts! Boccia, football, soccer, and sled hockey saw an energetic return to play thanks to all of the support and encouragement from the participants, volunteers, alumni, and many more.

BOCCIA: From midsummer to October, the boccia team put in many hours of practice. Coaches Chris Garr, Sean Walker, Jimmy Abraham, and Abbie Hair, and players Sara Steimle, Bob Vitko, and Will Gallup were all eager to get back in the swing of things. In Columbus, Team YC was able to showcase their skills against tough competition. The team performed well, most notably Sara Steimle and Sean Walker, who placed in the competition and qualified for Nationals in Kansas City. The two were given a hero’s send-off to Nationals, where they fought hard against some of the best competition in the country. The team looks to resume practice and play early next year in Chicago.  Click here for a full report from our trip to Nationals!

FOOTBALL: Are you ready for some football?! Once a week for five weeks, participants and volunteers gathered on both the west and east sides of Cleveland to fine-tune their skills in preparation for the coveted YC Superbowl Showdown. This isn’t your typical football, rather an adaptive form of wheelchair football. The rules are slightly different from standard American football and accommodate athletes of various abilities. Initially,  it was a challenge to become familiar with the pace of play. Yet, after a couple of practices, participants and volunteers showed much improvement. Quick routes to gain a first down and deep shots down the field for long gains were developed and displayed during the big game. If you like offense, you saw quite the barnburner between the West Side Spooky Western Whales vs the East Side Flying Killer Sharks. With a score of 63 – 56,  the Spooky Western Whales held on late for the win as the Flying Killer Sharks made a valiant comeback.

SOCCER: Speaking of comebacks, what a comeback it was for our soccer team in its third annual match with Empower Sports! Similar to football, participants and volunteers gathered on both the west and east sides of Cleveland for practice once a week for five weeks. With a larger team this year, Coach Abbie Hair was encouraged and excited to get to work. Athleticism, dribbling, and passing were all evident early in the season, yet it was the teamwork that would give Team YC the best shot at coming out on top in the big game. It was a chilly morning at St. Ignatius High School when Team YC took the pitch against Empower Sports. The energy was high, not only from both teams but also from the many families, friends, and fans who came to show support. The game was a high-scoring back and forth bout between two evenly matched teams. Players from both sides were able to control the ball and make smart plays for one another. With goals from Gabby, Jarret, and Deonte, Team YC was able to hold on late in an 11 – 9 victory.

 

HOCKEY: After a long wait, YC was able to hit the ice once again for sled hockey with Shaker Heights High School Varsity Hockey for the 7th Annual Adapted Ice Breaker. With new gloves, pads, and helmets (purchased with funds raised in 2020 – thank you!), the participants and volunteers took to the ice not only looking the part but also with enthusiasm. In a sport like sled hockey, it can be frustrating to find your balance and keep up with the pace of play, yet the boys from Shaker Heights were not only great supporters but also great competition once the game began. It wasn’t long before goals were being scored! Fun was had by all, and more than $7,000 was raised to support YC and Shaker Heights Varsity Hockey.

Providing an opportunity to play a new sport in an open and fun environment is what YC is all about! GO, TEAM!

Board Highlight: Charlie Koch

Sometimes, it is simply a casual conversation that can cause a major shift in one’s personal direction and involvement.  As a young financial professional in the early 1980’s, Charlie had such a conversation with then Youth Challenge (YC) Board member, Jim Wooley.  Discussing the organization with Jim, Charlie learned that YC provided sports to children who were physically challenged, and that the organization needed accounting and financial management help to support its growing momentum.  After meeting with YC’s founder, Mary Sue Tanis, and feeling the contagious enthusiasm and smiles as he watched the kids engaged in a program, Charlie was all in. Charlie eagerly shared the mission and activities of YC with his young wife.   She, too, became involved with YC and volunteered her professional accounting services to the organization.

Fast forward almost four decades, and you will still find Charlie and Barb Koch fully immersed in YC, its mission, programs, and future.  Charlie, as the longest-serving trustee at Youth Challenge, has worked in a variety of roles including President, Vice President, and Treasurer as well as on numerous committees.  “For me, giving time and money to an organization as energetic and committed as Youth Challenge is easy,” says Charlie.  “The positive impact [the staff and volunteers] have on the lives of both physically challenged children and the teenage volunteers in Northern Ohio is nothing short of amazing.  How could you not want to be a big part of that once you see the good YC does?”  The positive energy that YC generates and spreads to its committed staff, volunteers, participants, and the broader community keeps Charlie coming back year after year.

Charlie freely admits that Barb is one of the hardest workers at Youth Challenge.  As YC’s volunteer accountant for more than 30 years, employees and vendors rely on Barb to get paid. Her diligence in preparing the financials results in YC’s audited statements each year.  Her tireless dedication in the “backroom” allows others to focus on developing the unique YC programs that inspire self-confidence and enrich lives.

After years of witnessing the delivery of YC’s mission to thousands of participants and countless teenage volunteers, the organization has become a cornerstone in the Koch family.  Both of Charlie and Barb’s children volunteered at YC and the entire Koch Family have become supporters.  When Charlie’s oldest brother passed in 2018, a named endowment fund to YC was established to honor him in a way that is lasting and meaningful.  Barb and Charlie have also included YC in their wills.  YC’s mission renews every year with fresh volunteers and participants; pledging to secure its future is a commitment from the heart that the Kochs continue to support.

Team YC goes to NATIONALS!

Written by Sara Steimle

On Wednesday, October 6th, 2021 members of Team YC’s Boccia Team, Sean Walker and Sara Steimle, headed to Gardner, Kansas along with YC Staff Chris Garr and Abbie Hair to compete in the National Tournament! They were cheered out of YC’s parking lot by some of the YC Staff. Sean’s mom Mary Ann Walker, and Sara’s sister Maddi Steimle came along for the trip as well.

On the way to Gardner, Kansas the team stayed Wednesday night in St. Louis, Missouri. While they were only there for one night, they didn’t miss a chance to have dinner at St. Louis University with former YC  volunteers and current SLU students Kelley Akin and Grace Kanary! After dinner, Kelley and Grace gave a quick tour of the campus. It is always a good time when Team YC gets to catch up with YC Alumni!

The team was back on the road Thursday morning to finally finish out the drive to Gardner, Kansas. As they got close to Gardner, Abbie, who is from Missouri, took the team on a streetcar tour at the border of Kansas and Missouri. Then, Sara headed to the field house to be classified for the tournament. Boccia athletes play in different classifications. You can read more by clicking here.

On Thursday evening, after checking in at the field house, Abbie’s family invited the whole YC gang to their backyard for some Kansas City barbecue and s’mores! It was great food, and everyone had an excellent time getting to know Abbie’s family! Abbie’s mom, Cathy, is a teacher and had her class make Sean and Sara cards. Sean and Sara were also gifted snack bags from the Hair family!

On Friday, Team YC headed back to the field house for orientation. After orientation, they headed to an ice cream shop in Overland, Kansas with a special mission. The Golden Scoop’s mission is to provide meaningful employment for individuals with developmental disabilities. It was a place that hit close to home for YC, and we were glad that we could support them!

Saturday and Sunday were busy competition days. Sean played three games on Saturday and Sara played five games over the weekend. Sean and Sara both won one game each, played well, grew a lot as players, and learned that they can compete at a high level. We can’t wait to bring more Team YC Boccia athletes next year!

The cherry on top of this amazing weekend was all the support from the YC community! During our follow-along Facebook fundraiser, more than 26 people donated $1,200 to support the trip. Thank you!

Sean, with sport assistant Chris, in a heated competition!
Sara, with sister Maddi cheering from the sidelines, gets ready to throw.

 

Spotlight on Katrina Frei-Herrmann

Katrina and Jim danced the night away at YC Prom!

When Katrina Frei-Herrmann was early in her high school years at Hathaway Brown (HB), she learned about Youth Challenge during a fundraiser at HB. During her sophomore year, she attended a volunteer training, and the rest was history!

Katrina began volunteering regularly during east side programs and quickly fell in love, “Volunteering to me was family,” she explained. “I learned so much about how to build empathy with others and the ways connections can occur between people in the world. I absolutely loved it, especially the summer programs where you got to spend six hours a day with YC!”

Soon after she began volunteering, Katrina started making the commute to volunteer on the west side and joined YC’s Volunteer Committee, where she continued her involvement with YC with “a group of passionate friends!” During her time on the Volunteer Committee, Katrina not only volunteered at programs but helped plan programs including YC Prom!

Overall, Katrina enjoyed so much about her time at YC, including the wide range of activities, the meaningful connections that were “on a level higher than at school”, and watching her participant partners grow into adults and hit milestones along the way!

Katrina is now a senior at Claremont McKenna College in California, studying International Relations and Government. She wants to do social impact work once she graduates. She also works part-time at SOURCE Nonprofit Consulting Center in Claremont, California.

Katrina (second from left) poses at a program.

Early in 2020, Katrina decided to start giving a monthly gift to Youth Challenge. “My mother is a director of a nonprofit and she taught me that money helps the most. So, since I started earning my own money after high school, even if it’s a small amount when you can you should share. Plus, a monthly donation becomes part of your budget,” she explained.

Because of her experience as a volunteer, Katrina knows her donation is being put to good use ensuring YC programs are always there for participants and volunteers. “I have a vision that my donations are supporting the snack box,” Katrina said with a laugh, “if I can support the snack box and bringing snacks to programs, that’s joy in itself!”

We’re so grateful to monthly donors like Katrina who bring joy to YC kids – through snacks and so much more! Katrina encourages anyone considering a monthly donation to start one today! “Even if it’s $5 or $10, that little donation means so much,” she said. “When YC is present in the community, the community not only has a better understanding of access, but there’s also a stronger understanding of disability advocacy. YC not only affects the direct participants but has a larger impact on the community.”

Thank you, Katrina, for giving to YC in more ways than one! You can start your monthly donation today at www.YouthChallengeSports.com/Donation.

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

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 www.ADACleveland.org 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?!?”

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 www.YouthChallengeSports.com/Livestream. 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.

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.

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.”