From Teen Volunteer to Board President: Greer Gibbons

Greer Gibbons began her term as the first volunteer alumna Board President of Youth Challenge this January. Over the last 20 years, Greer has served in nearly every capacity at YC—as a teen volunteer, summer staff member, Young Professionals for Youth Challenge (YP4YC) member, trustee, and now as Board President!

“Greer has grown up with YC and truly lives the mission,” Chris Garr, CEO at Youth Challenge, said. “With a unique and fully encompassing perspective, she brings decades of knowledge to her role as president.”

Greer’s YC journey began in 2000 when YC staff member Laurel Sweet spoke to her grade school class. Soon after, Greer volunteered at her first program, which was a fishing event. 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.

“YC is a place where people can come as they are, belong to a part of something bigger than themselves, and be valued for who they are and what they bring to the table,” Greer said. “It’s a safe environment for participants and volunteers to learn, grow, laugh, and have fun.”

When Greer is not at YC, she works as a Global Project Manager for the Lubrizol Corporation. 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 to host 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 Cleveland reading or spending time with family and friends. Not only has Greer served others at YC, but she is also involved in her community as a mentor through the Greater Cleveland College Now Program, through the Cleveland Zoological Society’s group for young professionals, and through her church.

“We have a lot of amazing talent at Youth Challenge,” Greer said. “I want to be able to do my part in contributing to a collaborative and inclusive environment where everyone feels valued, and they can be their authentic selves.”

Greer works on an art project with Deb as a teen volunteer in 2000.
Greer smiles with Ricky as a summer staff member in 2005.

 

Intern Highlight: Madi Doletzky

Madi Doletzky, a senior psychology major at University of Akron, loved connecting with YC participants as a program intern this past fall.

 

“It was great getting to know the kids and see their different ways of life because I had never been in their shoes,” Madi said. 

 

Madi plays Division 1 lacrosse for the University of Akron. She is also the Vice President of the Outdoor Adventure Club and does intermural sports at the university. Last but not least, she took sign language classes and has been involved in the deaf community since her freshman year of high school. Madi aspires to one day be a sports psychologist so that she can help college and professional athletes through mental blocks, such as challenges with coaches or teammates.

 

“Sports are so much more than going out and playing,” Madi said. “They teach you how to work with other people, they teach you how to push through things, they teach you how to not give up when it seems like that’s the only option.”

 

Youth Challenge’s Westlake office was a 50-minute commute for Madi, a trip that she found worth the while. Madi described her role at YC as somewhere in between being a staff member and a volunteer. She helped lead programs and interpret for participants who are deaf but also served one-on-one as a volunteer to participants when needed. Madi got to experience a whole gamut of programs, ranging from Football to Court Sports to Net Sports to the YELP camping trip. One of her favorite things was simply talking to participants and getting to know them on a more personal level as a van aide.

 

“Every moment that I’m there, it doesn’t matter what else is going on in life,” Madi said. “I can just be so present and be with all the participants there and just have so much fun.”

 

Madi has been an athlete for most of her life. After facing the performance pressures of college athletics, Madi said it was powerful for her to be able to help make sports accessible for young people with disabilities at Youth Challenge, allowing them to experience athletics and being on a team without focusing on their limitations.

 

“It really just gave me a fresh look after 18 years of me playing sports,” Madi said.

Why Your Annual Fund Gift Matters

Dear Friends of Youth Challenge,

Thank you for supporting YC! I hope you consider giving to the 2022 Annual Fund; here’s why:

Your contribution will make an impact on hundreds of young participants with physical disabilities and teen volunteers who play, compete, and have fun together through adapted sports, recreation, and social growth activities.

George  is one of these participants. George, age 7, loves sports. He has taken part in YC basketball, football, and sled hockey. George’s Dad, Matt, says “Youth Challenge has given our son who loves sports more than anything a chance to compete like every other kid his age. He has also learned that he is part of a larger community of children with physical challenges just like him. All of the athletes at Youth Challenge events have great things to offer the community if given a chance, and Youth Challenge helps to give athletes like George an opportunity to show the community what they can do.”

George also loves to play boccia, the adaptive form of bocce. He recently competed with Team YC Boccia for the first time at the 2022 Great Lakes Games. George has now set his sights on someday playing on the U.S. National Boccia Team and going to the Paralympics! Matt explained how George has transformed through his participation at YC, “I have never been prouder of him than the way he was able to direct me during boccia matches at the tournament in Chicago.  He was growing up right before my eyes. He has gained in confidence and has become more outgoing!”

From team sports and outdoor recreation to art and wellness programs, Youth Challenge offers something for everyone. Here’s a snapshot of what your support of the Annual Fund helps to provide:

  • Year-round adaptive recreational and team sports for young people with physical disabilities
  • Creative arts activities, including a dance & drama program
  • A training program for a strong and active corps of hundreds of compassionate teen volunteers
  • Activities promoting independence and wellness for young adults with physical disabilities
  • Opportunities for advocacy among YC alums working to advance disability rights and awareness
  • Free, accessible transportation to and from programs for all participants with physical disabilities

Youth Challenge is able to offer a wide expanse of programming free of charge because your donations make it happen!

Your kind and generous contribution to our Annual Fund allows us to engage hundreds more exceptional participants like George! Please join many others in our community by making your gift to the 2022 Annual Fund.

With most sincere gratitude,

Mackenzie Vecchio
Director of Program Services

 

Click here to make a secure online donation. Your donation will be matched December 27 – 31 by our Board, up to $30,000!

While you’re there, you can also make your gift monthly. If you have any questions or would like to make your gift via phone, please call Carolyn Palmer at 440-892-1001 x13.

 

 

Holiday Show Highlight: North Pole News

 

The YC family gathered on Friday, December 9, for the film premiere of the first in-person holiday show in three years, North Pole News! Instead of having a traditional live theatre performance we’ve done in the past, this year’s show was prerecorded during rehearsals, and holiday show guests got to watch the premiere of the final product.

 

Over the course of five weeks, participants and volunteers worked together to write, direct, produce and perform their own version of what a news segment at the North Pole would look like, complete with the latest breaking baking news, candy cane crimes, and all the grinchy gossip. During the premiere, participants and volunteers got “star treatment” complete with a red carpet and photo ops, courtesy of cameraman (and YC board member) Dan Douglas! Before the film began, holiday show cast members were asked questions in front of the audience such as “Can you tell us about the character you play?” and “What is your favorite part of filming?”

 

During the holiday show, Youth Challenge recognized endowment funders, the top 10 teen volunteers, and the volunteer of the year. The volunteer of the year was former Board Member Dave Lowery. He was chosen for the award because of his leadership in Youth Challenge’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. 

 

Not only did holiday show guests get the chance to see a WOO-nderful film, but they also got to view artwork created by participants and volunteers. One of those art pieces was an abstract painting by Nautica Sullins, who submitted her piece to Art Expressions Ohio.

 

Thank you to the Cyrus Eaton Foundation for funding the holiday show and the participants and volunteers for working hard to put it together!

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.

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

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!

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!