Mini Camp: Our “Littles” are the Future of YC!

Mini Camp is a joyful, energy-filled program for the youngest members of the YC Family. Many children, ages 4 to 8, are first introduced to the fun and excitement of YC through these experiences. Mini Camp gives young participants a chance to make friends, try new things, and start building social skills from an early age. Teen volunteers are always quick to sign up to help at Mini Camp programs. The youngsters and teens work together to make crafts, play sports, swim, and enjoy fun field trips throughout Greater Cleveland. We had a blast with an animal-themed day at Acacia Reservation in Beachwood, an art-focused program at Wade Oval, and Farm Day in North Olmsted.

“The health of YC is demonstrated by the amount of young participation,” says Alumni Participant and YC Boccia Coach Sean Walker. Sean began coming to YC programs when he was a Mini Camper at four years old himself in 1992. He recalls the feeling of being “at home” with the YC crew from the very beginning.  We continue to serve young people and provide a “home” for our little ones to this day!

Teddy gets a hand from his volunteer partner Maddie during a Mini Camp program in Westlake last year.

This past summer, we hosted Mini Camp programs every Monday at various locations throughout Northeast Ohio. These Monday Mini Camp Programs were one of our busier program days, with up to 14 young participants joining us for a program along with their teen volunteer partner. As Sean alluded to, we feel hopeful for the future of YC programming with this wonderful group of participants. Mini Camp is a great way to ease into YC programming and the world of extracurriculars. For many kids, this may be their first experience with a recreational program outside of their school and home.

We are happy to have so many young kids enjoying programs at YC and finding a home in the community here!

Your Annual Fund gift makes programs like Mini Camp possible. Please donate today at YouthChallengeSports.com/Donate.

Topgolf Outing Highlights

YC alum Sara Steimle gets ready to putt.

It was an unusually warm fall night at Youth Challenge’s Topgolf Outing on Thursday, November 3. Around 300 people came together at Topgolf to take a swing and support Youth Challenge – and what a wonderful evening it was! In the end, a record-breaking more than $25,000 was raised to support YC, and fun was had by all.

Groups of six to eight people per bay spanned nearly two floors of the venue, taking up 47 private golfing bays. Uproarious laughter, the whoosh of clubs, and the clinking of glasses filled the space as YC supporters enjoyed a rousing tournament, food, and drinks.

When they weren’t eating, drinking, or socializing, guests competed in the TopContender Tournament, each vying for one of two great prizes. Matt Drockton scored 222 points and was crowned the individual TopContender. He took home $200. The Perez-Stable Family won the Team Prize with a score of 289 and took home a three-month platinum membership to Topgolf.

New this year, Bobby King, a pro at GolfTec, was at the event to pass along his expertise and advice. He volunteered his time and helped a few folks improve their swings. Other special guests at the event included a couple of YC’s own participants (Deegan and James) and teen volunteers (Sandra and Sean) who helped sell raffle tickets! They even got the chance to take a few swings themselves. YC alum Will Gallup was there as well to greet guests.

Hitting targets was not the only way to win at the Topgolf Outing. Drew Kowalski won $1,315 in the 50/50 Raffle, and Mike Norehead won a Foursome at Firestone Country Club in our raffle.

We are so grateful to everyone who showed up to swing a club with us earlier this month! This event would not have been a success without our wonderful sponsors, who provided valuable support to YC:

  • Presenting Sponsors: First Federal Lakewood, Oatey Co., WTWH Media
  • Food Sponsors: Charles Schwab and Team Kasler
Board/Golf Committee Member John Petersen of WTWH Media poses with his guests at Topgolf.

We would not have had such a fun evening without our tremendous trio of gentlemen making up our “golf committee,” Steve Nock, John Petersen, and Tom McIntyre. We are grateful to them for devoting their time and effort to this event and showing up with a big crew of friends!

To view photos from the event, click here!

YC Partner Sherwin-Williams Wins National Philanthropy Day Award

Sherwin-Williams was awarded the Corporate Leadership Award at the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Greater Cleveland Chapter’s National Philanthropy Day Luncheon on Friday, November 4. Youth Challenge nominated the organization for its over 35 years of support.

“Support from Sherwin-Williams has allowed YC to grow to serve more participants and teen volunteers,” Chris Garr, CEO of Youth Challenge, said, “In addition to providing funding, Sherwin Williams’ support has also spread awareness of our mission amongst their employees and the community at large. We are so grateful to be championed by such a fabulous institution with local roots and a global reach.”

In 1986, Sherwin-Williams Women’s Club made their first gift of $500 to Youth Challenge. Since then, the organization has continued to find new ways to help YC thrive. In 2018, the Women’s Club selected YC as the beneficiary of their annual golf outing. Then, in 2020, they selected YC as an ongoing partner for their annual 5K race. For the event’s first two years, Sherwin-Williams Women’s Club held virtual races for Youth Challenge and raised more than $60,000 each year. Finally, in 2022, Sherwin-Williams Women’s Club and Youth Challenge were able to host the race in person. More than 1,400 runners registered for the event. The event was a record-breaker for YC, with net proceeds of more than $83,000 raised to support the organization. (Before the Sherwin-Williams Women’s Club began to provide leadership for the event, Youth Challenge’s annual 5k averaged $15,000 in revenue.)

Not only has the Sherwin-Williams Women’s Club provided three decades’ worth of support, but Sherwin-Williams Company as a whole has also been a strong partner of YC. Youth Challenge has two board members from Sherwin Williams. Mark Dvoroznak, the retired VP of Enterprise Management at Sherwin-Williams, now serves on the Executive Committee as the Board Vice President and Chair of the YC Philanthropy Committee. Allen Kitchen, the VP of IT of the Sherwin-Williams Company, also serves on Youth Challenge’s Board of Trustees.

In addition, Sherwin-Williams employees have volunteered through service projects, taking on various needs around our headquarters in Westlake. For example, in 2022, they donated their time and supplies to repaint the YC offices, helping to brighten up the spaces that our staff, participants, and volunteers use daily.

The Sherwin-Williams Women’s Club has provided philanthropic support for 111 years. Recent Women’s Club events have benefitted local organizations such as the West Side Catholic Center and the City Mission, helping to fund programs that help to provide food, shelter, and other necessities to those in the Cleveland community. In 2021, The Sherwin-Williams Company provided 6.4 million dollars in total giving. More than 1,300 nonprofit organizations were supported by employee giving. U.S. employees served on over 120 nonprofit boards.

Alumni Leadership Retreat Highlights

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a beautiful place to enjoy the changing fall leaves and crisp weather. Youth Challenge participant alumni leaders got the chance to visit October 10-11 for the first-ever overnight  Alumni Leadership Retreat! Alumni stayed at the Stanford House, which was initially built in 1843 by George Stanford, the son of one of the first settlers in the Western Reserve. It was purchased in 1978 by the National Park Service.

During the retreat, each alumni participant chose one personal goal to reflect on. The goals alumni expressed ranged from health and fitness goals to independent living-related goals to even goals related to starting nonprofits to help more people with disabilities. Alumni participants had the chance to discuss their goals with a partner as they hiked the trail from the Stanford House to the Boston Visitor’s Center. They discussed what their goals were, the obstacles they had faced in meeting their goals, and how they could overcome those obstacles. In addition, each alumni participant chose an accountability partner to help make sure they were taking steps to meet their goal after the retreat. After their hike, alumni enjoyed a delicious dinner together courtesy of Terrie Garr and Chris Garr, Sr. (our CEO Chris Garr’s parents, who have been supporting YC for almost 40 years!) and Chris Fischer, a dedicated adult volunteer. After dinner, the group sat around a campfire and enjoyed eating smores and spending time with each other.

Park Ranger Rebecca Jones Macko gave a presentation to the alumni on the relationship between historic preservation and disability accessibility at the Stanford House and Cuyahoga Valley National Park. After the presentation, alumni participants had the opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions regarding the accessibility of the Stanford House and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Park Ranger Rebecca gave YC a braille Cuyahoga Valley National Park Visitor’s Guide to keep!

All in all, the alumni retreat was a unique opportunity for participant alumni leaders to take a step back from their busy lives, set personal life goals, and connect on how to make a difference in the lives of others with disabilities.

We’re excited to keep reaching for our goals and hope this is the first of many alumni leadership retreats to come!

PREVIEW: Topgolf Outing is November 3!

 

As the weather gets colder and the golf courses empty out, we’ve got an event “fore” you! Join us on Thursday, November 3, at Topgolf in Independence for a golf outing for everyone! Enjoy a night out with your friends, family, or coworkers at Youth Challenge’s Topgolf Outing from 6 to 9 pm.

For over 30 years, golfers have come together to take a swing in support of Youth Challenge. For the third year in a row, our traditional summer outing is transformed into a Topgolf experience that’s fun for the most experienced golfer to the novice picking up a club for the first time. The event will include driving range-style golf, food, and fun! 

Grab your friends, grab your employees, grab your family and buy a bay (or two) today! You can purchase a $700 bay for up to six golfers. Each bay includes delicious food, unlimited non-alcoholic beverages, and two alcoholic beverages (beer & wine) per person. Up to two non-golfing guests are welcome per bay for $50 each. 

Guests will compete in the TopContender Tournament during the outing. The goal of the TopContender Tournament is to hit designated targets and accumulate the highest score. Some targets will be worth double points, and others will be worth single points. If a player hits the designated target on their 20th ball (last ball,) the player will receive triple points! The individual winner of the TopContender Tournament will win $200 cash, and the winning bay will receive a Topgolf three-month platinum membership for six people. 

Even if your swing needs a little work, there are still opportunities for you to win! Purchase tickets online for the 50/50 Raffle and the Foursome at Firestone Country Club Raffle. Can’t make it to Topgolf on November 3? You are not required to be present at the event to win either of the raffles. 

Don’t miss your opportunity to enjoy a unique and fun golfing experience with Team YC! Register for the Topgolf Outing today. Bays are available through October 28. 

Participant Highlight: Finn Born-Crow

Finn Born-Crow is a Team YC soccer star!

He is a versatile player in offense and defense positions. Since joining the Team YC soccer team last fall, Finn has grown in confidence and speed. Finn is an outgoing and fun-loving kid who has embraced every opportunity YC has had to offer. Last fall, he and his family even got to go with Team YC to see U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team beat Paraguay 9-0!

Finn has proven his athletic prowess in the March Madness program. His team, the Tryin’ Lions, were the first-place winners of the Crosstown Showdown!

Watch Finn and other YC players take on the Empower Sports team on October 22 from 10 a.m. to noon at St. Mary’s Church in Berea! (In case of inclement weather, the game will be held at Force Sports in Rocky River.)

Finn kicks around the ball with his volunteer Guillaume during soccer practice.
Finn throws the ball into play during March Madness.

Alumni Highlight: Will Gallup

If you’ve been a part of the YC community during the last two decades, chances are, you know Will Gallup.

He joined us in the summer of 1999 when he was just 13-years-old. Since then, Will has participated in just about everything YC has to offer. Currently, he is a member of the boccia team, the alumni entrepreneurship team, and Young Professionals for Youth Challenge (YP4YC.) He also is a regular in Adult Community Team (ACT!) programs.

“Regardless of what we all do together, I just like being around everybody,” Will said. “We’re all family no matter what we do.”

Will’s early years did not allow much time for social activities. But, once he got older, Will’s mom looked for ways for him to make new friends, create new hobbies, and have a more normal life outside of physical therapy. That’s when Will and his family learned about YC.

“I had some pretty nice classmates when it came to school, but I didn’t know until now that I didn’t have that magical connection that I had with YC,” Will said. “Socially, I would not be where I am without YC because I’ve made so many friends with alumni participants and with volunteers.”

As Will participated in YC programs, he grew a passion for empowering others in the disability community and their families. In 2016, he joined the Human Rights Committee of the Rose-Mary Center, a local organization that serves those with developmental disabilities. From there, a door opened for Will to serve as a Good Life Ambassador (GLA) through the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities. As a Good Life Ambassador, Will and his team (including fellow YC alum Sean Walker) present on topics such as inclusion, employment for people with disabilities, and support services for people with disabilities. Since 2016, the Good Life Ambassadors have given over 250 presentations to the local community.

“My goal is to leave the disability community better than it was when I came into the world, better than it was 32 years ago [when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed],” Will said. “I’m confident that when my time is up, or I can no longer do it, [the disability community] will be better off.”

Will tosses the ball during a recent boccia match.
Will enjoys a trip to Niagara Falls during his early years at YC.

Alumni Highlight: Saphire and Sara Lead ADA Cleveland Advisory Board

YC alumni Saphire Murphy and Sara Steimle are leading the ADA Cleveland Advisory Board. ADA Cleveland, formed in August 2014, is a coalition of agencies and organizations that share in the mission to provide greater access and opportunity for individuals with disabilities. The Advisory Board is a group of individuals with disabilities who determine the advocacy focus of ADA Cleveland.

“They’re a very diverse group, they’re advocates,” Sara said. “So they’re going to have very strong, positive opinions and they want to make a change.”

This year, the focus is on transportation, housing and voting.

“The people you vote for not only affects how your transportation runs, but also how your housing system is distributed,” Saphire said. “If you can improve one area, you can drastically improve other areas.”

Members of the Advisory Board will serve as conversation leaders at information tents at March for Access on September 10. March for Access is a rally at Cleveland Public Square for better access to transportation, housing, and voting for people with disabilities.

In addition to the March for Access, the Advisory Board is working on creating other opportunities for those in the disability community to engage with each other and discuss other issues that matter to them.

“We’re trying to get out in the community and engage as much as possible to see how we can be more proactive,” Saphire said.

Sara said she is proud to be able to speak up for those in the disability community who may not be able to—those who may not have the confidence or the resources to stand for their rights.

“I think it’s important to just be a voice and be a positive impact on the disability community,” Sara said.

Join Saphire, Sara, and others in the disability community at March for Access on September 10 at Cleveland Public Square. Check-in and sign-making starts at 9 am, and the rally and march start at 11 am. Register here.

Saphire Murphy
Sara Steimle

Walleye Regatta Highlight

If you happened upon the Huron Boat Basin on August 20, you couldn’t miss the laughs, smiles, and fun the Lake Erie Grady-White Club and Youth Challenge participants and volunteers had. For the second year in a row, YC participants and pros from the Lake Erie Grady-White Club took to the blue waters of Lake Erie in search of walleye and fun – and we found both! 

At 10 am, all the boats were loaded up and headed out of the basin for the open water. Each boat carried a YC staff member, participant,  and volunteer, along with generous volunteer captains and first mates. For three hours, participants had the chance to fish for walleye and other fish native to Lake Erie. Immediately, the lines were reeled in – catch after catch was measured and returned to the water. 

Quickly, Alijah grabbed a decent-sized walleye for our first catch of the day; then, the fishing picked up speed. Bre snagged a 23-inch walleye, and Madde caught two large fish. Deegan finally caught his first fish about 30 minutes later – using a worm soaked in Mountain Dew. He named the fish “Jeff Bezos” in honor of the Blue Origin docking at the Huron Boat Basin. After so many catches on so many boats, we lost count of the total number of fish caught, and it was time to head in for lunch. 

A wonderful group from Walleyes for Wounded heroes cooked hot dogs and burgers for the ravenous crews coming ashore. Smiles, stories from the water, and laughter abounded the lovely pavilion up the ramp from the boat launch. 

After the burgers and dogs were scarfed down, it was time to announce the winners of the largest walleye caught, and largest fish caught. Measuring 24 inches, Brayden won the largest walleye caught! Koltyn took the crown for the largest fish caught with an impressive 28-inch catfish! All the YC kids were winners with goodie bags from Grady-White. 

We are incredibly grateful to the Lake Erie Grady-White Club and Walleyes for Wounded Heroes for everything they did to make a fun day for YC participants and volunteers! Click here to watch a full video slideshow about the day. We can’t wait until the next time we hit the water. 

Summer’s End Bash Highlight

 

At the end of every summer, Team YC hosts a celebration for volunteers, participants, and families. This program allows everyone to come together one more time before the summer comes to a close. This year, the Summer’s End Bash was fire! It was a HOT one. But even the warm temperatures did not keep this crowd from having fun. They came with smiling faces and were ready to play.

At this event, volunteers ran multiple game stations. Each table had prizes to win, and anyone who wanted to play could play for free! Participants had a wonderful time dunking the bucket over the staff person’s head at the Dunk Bucket station. Many free play activities were on hand, too, such as four square, bubbles, chalk, basketball, and corn hole.   

Megan ran an Art Station where participants could leave a fingerprint using paint “to leave their mark” for a collective community piece we started at Where Will Color Take You? 5K Race & 1-Mile Walk & Roll earlier this summer.  

The Alumni Smoothie Stand was on hand to keep everyone cool with their delicious fruit smoothies. The stand included a naming contest to see what the alumni would call this new entrepreneurship program. Near the end of the Bash, the alumni team counted all the votes, and the name of the Alumni Smoothie Stand will be called YC WOOthies! 

Participants and volunteers had the opportunity to get four staff members messy by turning them into Human Sundaes. Each person had the opportunity to pour an ingredient on a staff member, such as chocolate syrup, caramel, whipped cream, sprinkles, and others!

Senior volunteers from left to right: Mykenna Roy, Kelsey Hearns, Anna Williams, Sophia Kontak, Claire Ginley, Emma Hvizdos and Arianna DiMenna

At the end of the program, we recognized the Senior Volunteer class of 2022. Abbie, our Volunteer Coordinator, gave out graduation survival kits to eight of our seniors that attended the Bash. Altogether, we have 48 seniors that volunteered at Youth Challenge. We also recognized our summer program intern, Evelynn “Evie” Beyerle. Evie is a soon-to-be Miami University of Ohio graduate in 2023, coming all the way from Alabama.  

Last but not least, we drew the winners of the Summer Raffle. Congratulations to the winners: 

First Prize: Natalie Caruso 

Second Prize: Colleen Starr 

Thank you to everyone who bought a ticket! Nearly $14,000 was raised to support young people with physical disabilities and their teen volunteers. 

All-in-all, the Summer’s End Bash was a VANtastic celebration of many of the people that make YC unique: staff, volunteers, alumni entrepreneurs, and participants! 

Alumni Highlight: Alex Martinez

Alex Martinez is a star on and off the stage at Youth Challenge. As an alumni participant for over 20 years, Alex is known for her passion for arts and for the theater. She has choreographed the YC holiday show this past year. She is also involved with local community theater group Near West Theater and has raised money for YC through her own produced show.

Not only is Alex involved in the arts at YC, but she also does powerlifting. Alex represented YC at the Great Lakes Sports Association (GLASA) Games this past June and cleared 110 pounds!

“Now I’m getting back into it and doing fitness again and working out consistently, I really enjoy it,” Alex said. “It’s one of my biggest passions. [YC Staff Members] Mackenzie and Jimmy are really great inspiration and trainers and I just love the environment.”

When Alex is not at YC, she works as an ambassador for the Rollettes Experience, an international dance organization that empowers women who use wheelchairs. Alex also works as a Gallery Guard for the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Alex said the support of the Youth Challenge staff, volunteers, and her fellow participants have helped her to become the confident woman she is today. She is also grateful to be connected to the disability community through YC.

“I love YC, it’s my home, it’s fantastic,” Alex said. “I’ve met all my greatest friends there. It’s family.”

Volunteer Committee Invests in YC Endowment

On a Tuesday evening in May, the Volunteer Committee, comprised of ambitious teens, gathers in the Resource Room at YC’s Westlake headquarters. They are working to figure out how to creatively and meaningfully support YC’s mission. Their recent focus was on ways to make fundraising efforts more effective.

Across the lobby, the Philanthropy Committee, a crew of current Board members and seasoned benefactors, ponders investment strategies related to endowment funds. All focus on driving the YC mission forward, emphasizing social justice, broad representation, and equity. YC has a modest endowment through the Cleveland Foundation. The Philanthropy Committee learned about an opportunity to diversify those investments in Socially Responsible and Racial Equity Funds through the Foundation.

Here is where two seemingly disparate worlds collide. What if the cash generated from the traditional fundraising efforts of the Volunteer Committee (car washes, bake sales, movie nights) contributed to the principal of the Socially Responsible and Racial Equity Funds? Volunteers raise money, then use the magic of compounded interest to grow funds that ultimately work to support the participants who call YC home.

Chris Pease, a financial professional and Philanthropy Committee member, wanders across the lobby into the Volunteer Committee meeting, launching into an impromptu financial literacy lesson for our teens. Volunteer Coordinator, Abbie Hair, guides this heat-seeking missile of philanthropic potential to an easy resting place – and the socially conscious teens respond affirmatively.

Through the July 21 Volunteer Committee Car Wash Fundraiser, the group raised $1,230 for the Endowment Fund, allowing participants to enjoy free programs and transportation for years to come.

The Volunteer Committee poses in the YC gym before competing in a friendly game of wheelchair basketball. Pictured from left to right: Grace Mattimore, Kelsey Hearns, Kristina Telban, Emma Garr, Sandra Argalious, Arianna DiMenna, Sophie Petrus, and Izzy Miller. Not pictured: Megan Rammuno, Sophia Needham, Claudia Walsh, Nicole Lavelle, Sean Wilson, and Molly Hanna

YC Alumni Entrepreneurs to Launch Smoothie Venture

Looking to get your car washed? How about a delicious smoothie? The Youth Challenge alumni entrepreneurship team is excited to launch its smoothie venture at the Volunteer Committee Car Wash fundraiser on Thursday, July 21 from 10 am-2 pm in the YC parking lot! (Check out the Facebook event here.) 

In October 2021,  YC alumni Sara Steimle and Sean Walker traveled to Gardner, Kansas for the Boccia National Tournament. On the way there, they stopped at The Golden Scoop, a nonprofit ice cream and coffee shop that provides meaningful employment for individuals with developmental disabilities. From there, an idea was born.

A group of YC alumni has been meeting every other week for the last several months to develop a social venture. This venture will teach YELP participants job skills, promote healthy eating in the Greater Cleveland area, and raise funds and awareness for Youth Challenge. The team is working towards a smoothie stand that participants and volunteers will use to sell smoothies at YC events, and other community events in the Greater Cleveland area. As a result of the smoothie venture, the Greater Cleveland community will learn about healthy eating options and the full potential of employees with physical disabilities.

The alumni entrepreneurship team has a vision to develop an internship to teach YELP participants skills such as communication, time management, problem-solving and financial literacy. In addition, interns will also learn about job accommodations, and where they can find transportation and personal care resources. ACT! participants (ages 26 and up) will manage the smoothie venture, and YELP participants (ages 16-25) will be on the front lines making smoothies

You have the opportunity to help name the smoothie venture! Send us your name ideas on Facebook or Instagram. You will have the chance to vote on a final business name at the Alumni Smoothie Stand at Summer’s End Bash at YC on August 6 from 1-4 pm.

Team YC Competes in GLASA Tournament in Chicago

Team YC competed June 7-12 in the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) Great Lakes Games presented by The Hartford. This annual competition includes a variety of sports including track, swimming, powerlifting, air rifles, archery, basketball, and boccia. YC was super excited to bring seven athletes to compete in powerlifting and boccia this year.

Nicole, Megan, Sara and Sean pose in front of The Bean.

The team arrived in Chicago in a fleet of YC vans, including our brand new van the Martha Mobile. They spent the first day exploring downtown Chicago by touring the waterfront, taking pictures at The Bean, visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, strolling through Millennium Park, and of course, sampling some deep-dish pizza! They finished the first day by watching Blake Weakland and Alex Martinez compete in the bench press event for powerlifting. Blake ended up clearing 100 pounds and Alex cleared 110! The team then headed back to the hotel for some quality team bonding with loud laughter, great music, and silly games.

On Saturday, athletes competed in the boccia tournament. Will Gallup and Bob Vitko competed in the BC1 division with Bob taking home second place and Will taking home third. Sara Steimle competed in the BC2 division against a tough field of competitors. Sean Walker and George Shepherd competed in the BC3 division with Sean taking home first place and George taking home second place. Blake Weakland also competed in the BC4 exhibition against strong opponents including former Paralympians. George, who is only 7 years old, exhibited great mental strategy and skillful execution. It will be exciting to see where his boccia career takes him!

All around, it was an amazing experience for Team YC with strong athletic showings, great new experiences in Chicago, and wonderful memories made with a truly supportive team.

 

Participant Spotlight: George Shepherd

As soon as George hit the ice, the rest was history. Last July, Youth Challenge and Gilmour Academy came together on the ice to launch Gilmour’s new adaptive hockey program. At this event was George, a bright-eyed seven-year-old who had not yet attended a Youth Challenge program. George immediately fell in love with YC – and the feeling was mutual!

For the last couple of months, George has found a home with YC’s Boccia team. Boccia is a Paralympic sport and the adapted form of bocce ball. George is a BC3 (click here to learn more about boccia classifications) player and his dad, Matt, is serving as his sport assistant.  With the help of Coach Sean Walker and fellow players, George has learned very quickly and enjoys the sport! George won second place for his classification (BC3) at the Great Lakes Adapted Sports Association (GLASA) Games in Chicago, losing only to his Team YC coach, Sean.

“It was my hardest match of the day,” Sean said.

In the fall, George became a regular at YC programs including football! George’s excellent playing lead his team, the Spooky Western Whales, to victory and earned him the title of MVP as his adoring family cheered from the bleachers.

This spring, George found even more programs to love at Youth Challenge. In April, George hit the ice with us again during Sled Hockey at North Olmsted Recreation Center. Jimmy Abraham, YC’s Program & Athletics Coordinator shared that George “loves being a hockey player and falling on the ice.” Don’t worry, he wears a helmet!

Youth Challenge is grateful to have George as an active and bright participant. Since we met him less than a year ago, George has become such an integral part of Youth Challenge and it’s changed him, too. His dad, Matt, shared that “through Youth Challenge, George has learned to be a good teammate, practiced good sportsmanship, and has shown off his personality. For a kid like George who loves sports, but has physical challenges, Youth Challenge has given George the opportunity to compete in sports that we never thought he would be able to play.”

 

Spring Program Highlight: Sled Hockey and Rock Climbing!

This spring, the Team YC was able to get back into two VAN-tastic sports that we haven’t been able to experience in two years!

Sled Hockey

In April, both our east and westside crews got back on the ice for a month of sled hockey. The eastsiders partnered up with the Gilmour Academy hockey team to form new friendships and take advantage of their excellent facilities and a brand-new fleet of sled hockey sleds. We had so much fun getting to know the Gilmour team and cannot wait to partner with them again! The west siders worked with our volunteers at the North Olmsted Recreation Center to complete drills that sharpened their skills and then competed in intense scrimmages. Both groups showed tremendous improvement from the first practice to the end of the month. We can’t wait to get back on the ice and keep growing in our sled hockey skills!

Rock Climbing

The east and westsiders also got back into the gym for a few WOO-nderful weeks of rock climbing. We started on the eastside at Shaker Rocks in Shaker Heights. The participants and volunteers learned about different belay systems, and everyone was able to make significant progress on their climbing skills throughout the season.The westsiders climbed at On the Rocks Climbing in Elyria. They enjoyed the technical and strategic side of climbing. A couple of our climbers researched different climbing holds and came back ready to put their new knowledge to the test! We saw so much improvement from our west siders. We had such a great experience at both of these gyms and look forward to partnering with them again in the future.

 

We’re excited to join our participants and volunteers for more fun adventures this summer!

From Participants to Professionals: Participant Alumni Employees at Youth Challenge

For over 45 years, Youth Challenge has empowered young people with physical disabilities to try new things and reach their full potential. YC has left a lasting impact on every young person it serves, and many choose to give back once they become adults. YC has several alumni participants on our staff team. 

Gabby Bova, Alumni Program Associate 

Gabby Bova is an Alumni Program Associate. In her role, she creates and leads programs for alumni participants and volunteers, and helps manage the alumni Facebook group. 

“My favorite part of working at YC is how during these times our virtual programs have brought a sense of togetherness, worth, and joy to both participants and volunteers from a safe distance,” Gabby said. “I enjoy collaborating with other staff members and learning how to adapt games for everyone to play at our virtual game nights.” 

Gabby is a very familiar face at YC. Not only has she been a participant since 2000, but she also served as a student intern on the Board of Trustees from 2013 to 2014 and was the YELP intern in 2020. Gabby is a true go-getter and plays on the Team YC soccer team! 

In addition to her work at YC, Gabby is also a member service representative at YMCA. 

 

Sara Steimle, Alumni Program Associate 

Sara Steimle works at Youth Challenge as an Alumni Program Associate. In her role, she creates and leads programs for alumni participants and volunteers, manages the alumni social media group, and assists alumni participants with applications for waivers, housing, and transportation.  

“I would have to say my favorite part of working at YC is being able to work with such great, supportive, and dedicated co-workers and alumni,” Sara said. 

Sara has been a YC participant since 2000. A natural-born leader, Sara served on the YC Board of Trustees from 2019 to 2021. She also plays on the Team YC boccia team! 

Sara holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Rehabilitation Services from Wright State University. In addition, she brings previous experience helping people with disabilities learn vocational skills through a Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities provider agency.  

 

Jen Taggart, Development Coordinator 

Jen Taggart is the Development Coordinator. She uses her journalism degree to manage YC’s social media accounts, manage the Challenger e-newsletter, write grant proposals and sponsorship letters, and help with fundraising events. Jen has been a YC participant for over 15 years and is still involved in the Alumni Community Team. She also serves as a peer mentor to our YELP participants. 

“As a member of the development team, I love learning about all the different foundations, companies, board members, volunteers, and donors that support YC,” Jen said. “I know there are many needs and social causes in the world, and I am always encouraged by the number of people who choose to use their time, talent, and treasure to support my friends and me.” 

Jen said she also loves connecting with the YC community on social media.  

 

Sean Walker, Head Boccia Coach and Alumni Program Associate 

Sean Walker is the Head Boccia Coach and Alumni Program Associate. His responsibilities include organizing Alumni Community Team (ACT!) programs, coaching the Boccia team and competing in Paralympic tournaments, and engaging with YC alumni in the community. 

“I love being able to see alumni and be able to be a part of a team because a lot of people with disabilities don’t get that,” Sean said. “My favorite part about ACT! is that we’re able to build it from the ground up with very little involvement from other staff.” 

In addition to his work at Youth Challenge, Sean also serves as a Good Life Ambassador for the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities where he advocates for people with developmental disabilities in the Greater Cleveland area. 

 

Not only do alumni participant employees offer an important perspective into the operations of Youth Challenge, but they also serve as role models to their peers. Many Youth Challenge alumni are employed at other organizations across northeast Ohio. Follow us on social media to read more YC stories, including how many of our alumni went from being “participants to professionals.” 

Volunteer Highlight: Ethan Spies, Eagle Scout

Ethan Spies, a junior at Rocky River High School, completed an Eagle Scout project to benefit Youth Challenge. Together with his Boy Scout troop (Troop 421, based in Fairview Park), he worked to build easels for art programs, birdhouses for the courtyard and the front of the building, and trophies to use for competitive programs such as Crosstown Showdown or the Superbowl Showdown. Ethan has volunteered at YC since his freshman year of high school and has been in Boy Scouts for around six years. Ethan first approached YC staffer Sarah Cooney about the project pre-pandemic.

“The planning and thought that went into this really shows Ethan’s dedication to Youth Challenge and we are thrilled and honored that he chose YC as the beneficiary of his project,” Sarah said. “He’s been an outstanding volunteer and a great leader.”

Ethan said that several of the adult leaders in his troop have experience in construction management and that his troopmates have experience in other woodworking service projects, such as building a donation shed for clothing to be given to local shelters, and shelving units for a local church. He said he is grateful he and his fellow scouts had the opportunity to use their skills to benefit YC.

“It’s just an amazing organization,” Ethan said. “It’s one of the places in the world that does nothing but bring good and joy to people.”

From Athlete to Artist: YC Alumna Bre Sprenger

Trying new things can be intimidating for a young person, but YC provides a comfortable space for everyone to express themselves and find their passions. Whether that’s joining an adapted sports team for the first time or testing out your singing chops, YC is a safe space for participants and volunteers to get outside their comfort zones.

One such participant alumna, Breanna Sprenger, found a new passion in the arts and went from accomplished athlete to award-winning artist. Growing up, Bre was a dedicated student-athlete. She swam for Team USA at two international competitions and was a member of our YC boccia team. In 2021, Bre ended up in the hospital for a long stay and couldn’t participate in athletics like she used to.

Thanks to an art therapist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, she discovered newfound joy, distraction, and comfort through art! Bre continued to hone her creativity through adapted art at YC. Her piece, Beautiful Intertwined Colors, was recently accepted into the Accessible Expressions Ohio art exhibit and won 3rd place in the youth category! Bre was even able to sell her piece at the exhibit. Bre’s work with alcohol inks represents many aspects of her life as a person with a disability such as dealing with uncertainty and letting go of control.

“I would like to thank Youth Challenge for this opportunity and would also like to thank Rainbow’s Art Therapy for helping me discover my artistic abilities and playing a major role in the recovery process,” she said.

Bre’s piece and the rest of The Accessible Expressions Ohio art exhibit will be on display at the Springfield Museum of Art until May 15. More information can be found on the Springfield Museum of Art’s website.

Board Highlight: Lori Coticchia

As a mother of five and the administrator of Ruffing Montessori School, Lori Coticchia has devoted her life to serving children.

When Lori’s oldest son Pierce signed up to volunteer at a bowling activity at Youth Challenge, Lori realized the impact YC not only makes on participants but also volunteers. Each of Lori’s five children followed in their older brother’s footsteps and became volunteers, and she got to see firsthand how teens learn compassion, empathy and patience while helping at YC.

“The participants and volunteers become friends, equals,” Lori said. “What other organization can brag about the lasting effects volunteerism has on the volunteer? I suspect not many.”

Lori has served as a trustee at Youth Challenge for almost 20 years. When her husband Michael passed away in 2014, her family created the Michael L. Coticchia Memorial Fund as part of YC’s endowment, designated for teen volunteers. Lori has held a variety of roles over the years and was elected as president of the board of trustees in 2019. She served until Dr. Chris Hardesty took office in 2021 and is still a member of the executive committee. When Lori is not working, she enjoys spending time with her family, scrapbooking, traveling, and cheering on her alma mater, the University of Notre Dame.

Each of Lori Coticchia’s children has served as a YC volunteer.