Youth Challenge: The Power of Inclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What YC Means to Kate and her mom, Laura

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

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

Brats, Beer & Brackets Highlights

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

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

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

Sherry Truhlar

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

Will Gallup playing Boccia a few years back.

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

Preview: Brats, Beer & Brackets VIRTUAL!

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

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

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

How’s It Going to Work?

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

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

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

Event Timeline–Tuesday, March 16:

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

Event Add-Ons & Sideboards

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

Sideboard Details:

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

Bracket Bet Details:

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


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


YC Alumni Programming

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

~ Jane Goodall

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

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

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

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

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

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

YELP: Youth Empowerment & Leadership Program and Peer Support


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

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

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

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

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

Janie Rapp: Finding Her Way Back to YC

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

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

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

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

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

Janie’s Ceramic Creations

able to come up with sessions designed just for her.

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

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

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

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

All The Small Things

A note from YC’s CEO, Chris Garr:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!



2020 Virtual Holiday Show

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

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

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

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

Hockey at Youth Challenge

At the beginning of each year, YC participants and volunteers hit the ice to participate in the Paralympic sport of sled hockey. Sled hockey is a unique sport where athletes with physical disabilities sit in specially designed sleds with two hockey skate blades on the bottom. Each player uses two hockey sticks that have metal spikes on the end, so they can propel themselves on the ice. Over the last few years, YC participants have worked hard to develop their skills and have become more independent on the ice, all while having fun with their volunteer partners skating alongside them.

Youth Challenge is planning to further develop their sled hockey program by starting a team of consistent athletes that practices weekly during the season. The need for this adaptive sport team is particularly important because there are limited other sled hockey teams in Ohio, requiring lengthy travel and higher finances from the YC participants who would want to join a team. Youth Challenge wants to break these barriers and provide a recreational hockey team that is accessible for the participants and volunteers to continue to grow in such a remarkable sport.

Blake Weakland has been participating in Sled Hockey since he was a young boy. Now 18, Blake still loves hockey, especially when YC and Shaker Heights High School Hockey players come together for the Adapted Ice Breaker, an event usually held every fall to help unofficially kick off the hockey season! While this event couldn’t happen in 2020, Shaker and YC hockey players alike look forward to getting back on the ice soon. “The Shaker Players respect me as an athlete and I respect them for supporting my teammates at YC,” Blake said with a smile.

YC and Shaker players are still coming together online for a great cause – hockey at YC and Shaker. Through December 12, you can donate to help YC purchase new hockey gear while also supporting Shaker hockey! Click here to donate.

In previous years, YC participants have worn old protective hockey gear that was generously donated. With safety and sanitation at the forefront now more than ever, YC recognizes the critical need for the athletes to have their own brand-new gear that fits them appropriately before getting back onto the ice together. Each athlete will need their own helmet, gloves, elbow pads, and shoulder pads. Having new protective gear that fits athletes appropriately will allow Team YC Sled Hockey athletes to safely take their talents to the next level and you can help make that happen with your donation today.

For Blake, sled hockey is just one of the many sports he loves to participate in at YC. “I like the physical aspect of sled hockey, scoring goals, competing with friends. It’s cool to wear a helmet and check people,” Blake says laughing. You can help Blake and his teammates get back on the ice in 2021! Visit to make a donation today and help us reach our goal of $2,500!

Highlights from YC’s First Topgolf Outing

Transitioning to a new kind of golf outing is a perfect metaphor for 2020. What will work and what won’t? When can we hold an event? How can we hold an event? How can we have fun and be safe at the same time? How risky is fundraising? Who will be on board with a totally new take on a traditional event?

YC CEO Chris Garr with his daughter, Emma, at Topgolf in November 2020.

These questions weren’t only part of CEO Chris Garr’s welcome message to our Topgolf attendees last week, they were also the questions Team YC had been pondering for months. Now, as we reflect on our Topgolf Outing held on November 5, we’re so grateful for the outpouring of support for Youth Challenge!

For more than three decades, golfers have been coming together to support Youth Challenge at a traditional golf outing held in the summer. As our event schedule changed in 2020, we looked forward to a new kind of golf outing held in November. To avoid searching for a lost ball in the snow, YC set out to forge a new partnership with Topgolf in Independence, an open-air, heated driving range.

On November 5, more than 250 people arrived at Topgolf ready to swing a club in support of Youth Challenge. The fun of Topgolf is that the game can be exciting for the most experienced golfer or the novice picking up a club for the first time. Groups of six people, socially distant in bays, enjoyed delicious food, drinks, and amazing weather for November in Ohio. Our guests found the sweet spot of having a blast while staying safe!

An attendee takes a swing at Topgolf during the TopContender Tournamant.

During the outing, attendees competed in the TopContender Tournament – each vying for the prize! Nick Smedira was our TopContender, winning a three-month platinum membership to Topgolf. CooksonPeirce, one of our wonderful bay sponsors, took home $100 each as our winning bay!

In all, YC’s first-ever Topgolf Outing raised more than $23,000 for Youth Challenge! We are so grateful to everyone who attended and gave to the event – especially our sponsors.

  • Presenting Sponsors: First Federal Lakewood, Oatey Co.
  • Corporate Sponsors: WTWH Media, BakerHostetler, Fleet Response, Kelly Insurance Group, MMI Textiles, Inc.
Our fantastic golf committee – Steve Nock, Tom McIntyre, & John Petersen.

We can’t forget our fabulous “golf committee.” Together, Tom McIntyre, Steve Nock, and John Petersen gave their time, talent, and treasure to help ensure this event was a smashing success. We couldn’t have done this without them!

If you missed out this year, don’t worry, we’ll be back at Topgolf next fall for another swinging good time! You can sign up for YC’s e-newsletter to get notified of upcoming YC events by clicking here.

Margaret Biehl: From shy participant to confident alumni leader

Margaret (right) with fellow participant, Bre Sprenger, in 2018.

If it weren’t for her older brother volunteering at Youth Challenge, we would have never had the opportunity to get to know – and love – our dear friend Margaret Biehl. In 1997, Margaret became a YC participant at the young age of three. 23 years later, we’re happy Margaret is still around, and taking on leadership roles at YC!

“At first, I felt uncomfortable,” Margaret explains about her participation at YC. “I was so insecure and trying to find my place in the world. I didn’t know where I fit, and it was tricky.” Despite feeling uncomfortable, Margaret found some solace in her interactions with the people she met at YC. “From the staff to the volunteers, everyone I interacted with was kind to me,” she explained, smiling.

Margaret (left) hanging at a YC program in 2000.

“YC forced me to get comfortable in my own skin and become more confident,” Margaret explained. “Beyond that,” she continued, “even at a young age, YC helped me become comfortable with my peers in this community. We’re all equal.” As Margaret moved on from traditional YC programming in 2003, she took the skills she gained from programs as she grew. In 2014, Margaret graduated from St. Joseph Academy and started school at John Carroll University, where she earned a degree in Communications.

During her last year in college, Margaret was searching for internship opportunities to build her resume. One day, she happened to see Mary Sue Tanis, YC’s founder, at the Westlake pool. They got to talking and, like clockwork, Margaret was back at YC! She served as our Development Intern in the summer of 2018.

After graduating from John Carroll the same year, Margaret continued to engage with YC as a member of Young Professionals for Youth Challenge, a group who works together to fundraise for and expand knowledge of YC’s mission. Now, Margaret serves on the Leadership Council of YP4YC.

Then, in 2019, YC launched a new initiative, the Alumni Community Team (ACT!). Made up of alumni participants, ACT! works to advocate for people with disabilities across Northeast Ohio (while also having fun). Margaret joined this group in the beginning and served on the Executive Committee until mid-2020.

Margaret “hangs out” at a YC program in 2000.

“I’m really glad I got involved again,” Margaret says with a smile. “I wasn’t confident in myself at first. I didn’t have a full-time job. I felt like I didn’t have it figured out. Then, as I got to know the groups better, I got more comfortable.”

Margaret got the full-time job, too. In early 2020, she connected with MMI Textiles through a YC board member. “It started as an informational interview,” she explained with a laugh. “Then, I got a paid internship. Now, I’m a customer service representative. It all fell into place and I’m so grateful. I credit YC for making this connection!”

From uncomfortable young girl to confident young woman, Margaret has truly transformed. “Now I sit at the table and participate in the conversations,” Margaret said, “it’s cool to be involved!”

From an early age, YC works to break down barriers and allow children of varying abilities to engage in meaningful recreation. The immediate result? Fun. The long term goal? More young people like Margaret in the world! With YC as the catalyst, Margaret was set up, from an early age to reach her goals. We’re so glad to have her on Team YC leading the charge with our alumni and young professionals!

PREVIEW: Battle of the Bartenders on Wheels!

Last November, three teams battled it out behind the bar at Around the Corner in Lakewood. Mixing cocktails, clinking beer glasses, and uncorking wine, YC staff, Board, and YP4YC bartenders fought for tips from 100+ guests in attendance. At the end of the evening, the YC staff emerged victorious, taking home the crushed beer can medal and all the bragging rights. The true winner – YC’s participants and volunteers who benefited from all proceeds. In all, Battle of the Bartenders 2019 raised $5,000 for YC!

In 2020, while we can’t pack the bar and cheer on our favorite guest bartender, we can still have some fun and support YC during Battle of the Bartenders on Wheels! That’s right, Team YC is bringing the fun to YOU on October 23, 2020 from 5 pm to 8 pm.


Battle of the Bartenders on Wheels, presented by Minotti’s, is just $50 for two people. Your purchase includes:

  • Two 8 ounce cocktail mixers from Simple Times All-Natural Cocktail Mixers
  • Four mini bottles of alcohol for mixing (will be paired to match your mixers)
  • Charcuterie tray for two hand-crafted by Sweet Brie Co.
  • Two YC cookies
  • YC koozie
  • Free delivery – in style – from one of our YC “bartenders” | Pickup also available at YC’s headquarters in Westlake

Visit to place your order now! Don’t wait – we are only accepting orders until October 19 and delivery sales may sell out sooner! Delivery is available in Cuyahoga County and eastern Lorain County.


On October 23, six of YC’s vans will hit to road to deliver your delicious drinks and delectable eats. Each van will have a staff, Board, or YP4YC member serving as your “bartender,” delivering your package in style. Please tip your bartenders based on the creativity of their delivery! Tips can be made in cash or at 100% of tips go to YC. All bragging rights go the winning team.

Picking up your order? You’ll have a chance to tip there, too, as a “bartender” from each team will be handling your pickup.

We hope you’ll join us for Battle of the Bartenders on Wheels October 23! While we can’t pack the bar this year, you can still support YC and enjoy some amazing cocktails, delicious snacks, all with an entertaining presentation from YC upon pickup or delivery. Don’t forget to grab your tickets today at Contact Carolyn Palmer, YC Communications & Events Manager, with any questions at 440.892.1001 x 13 or

Reconnecting with YC from Afar: Mariam Tadross

When COVID-19 caused YC to put a pause on in-person programming, it was disappointing for a lot of participants and volunteers. But for someone like Mariam Tadross, switching to virtual activities presented the perfect opportunity to re-connect with the YC Gang!

Mariam, a 2018 graduate of St. Joseph Academy, has often referred to Youth Challenge as her second family. Between 2014—when she first began volunteering—and the end of her senior year, Mariam gave over 500 hours of service to YC’s participants and mission. She helped at everything from Krazy Kamp to YELP, was a member of YC’s Volunteer Committee, and served as a Student Intern on YC’s Board of Directors. She was a model volunteer, coach and friend, always focusing on her partners’ strengths and encouraging them to see those abilities in themselves.

After her graduation, Mariam’s family moved to Florida and she started her freshman year at U of F. While she was excited for her next chapter, moving away from Youth Challenge was very difficult. She has stayed in touch with several participants and fellow volunteers, but it just isn’t the same as being part of a program.

When YC went virtual a couple months ago, Mariam re-engaged with her second family through our social media posts and then signed up for our virtual programs taking place this summer.

“It’s been so great having Mariam back at YC,” says Sarah Cooney, Director of Volunteer Services. “She’s is a truly extraordinary volunteer whose positivity is contagious. You can’t help but smile when you’re around Mariam because you see the joy she so clearly feels helping at YC. We’ve missed her greatly and these virtual programs give us the chance to connect with her—and many other YC grads—despite the physical distance.”

“Virtual programming has been the best thing that’s happened to me in the quarantine,” Mariam says. “These times are very worrisome and lonely, but even for just an hour a day, we are reminded by this community of people who we love and care about that we are all still together even if we are miles apart. I am very grateful for the efforts that the YC staff has put into keeping programs running while putting the safety of participants and volunteers first and how it has allowed me to be active at YC again.”

YC Takes Part in ADA Cleveland’s Call for Access

Just 30 years ago, the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. Since that day, July 26, 1990, the ADA has thrust the United States towards equal access and rights for people with disabilities in all areas of public life. Today, Youth Challenge is a member of ADA Cleveland, a coalition of disability related organizations that share in the mission to provide greater access and opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

You might remember YC taking part if ADA Days at Wade Oval for the past few years. In 2020, in addition to the fun-filled gathering at Wade Oval, ADA Cleveland was planning a March for Access at Public Square where people could come together to demand further access and rights beyond the mandates in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic forced ADA Cleveland to change course and put on a 30-day virtual event – the Call for Access!

From July 26 through August 26, ADA Cleveland put together a series of webinars, activities, and advocacy opportunities for anyone to participate in – from anywhere! YC staff, alumni, and participants took part in many of the activities. In all, when the event wrapped up on August 26, the Cleveland community stepped away with new knowledge, skills, and abilities to help advocate for further access for people with disabilities. You can view the archived videos from the Call for Access here.

Some of the wonderful ways YC took part in the 2020 Call for Access:

  • YC Alumnus Darrien Fann gave a rousing speech to kick off the Call for Access! You can watch the kickoff at this link. His speech starts at 44:15.
  • Our very own Program & Arts Coordinator, Megan Smith, co-led a De-stressing Crafts activity! Check it out on Facebook Live. She also led a video to inspire artists through ADA Cleveland’s Chalk Art Challenge (video here).
  • Carolyn Palmer, our Communications & Events Manager, helped educate advocates through the Advocacy 101 webinar. Watch here.
  • Sarah Cooney, our Director of Volunteer & Outreach Services, led a wonderful panel on Making Volunteer Service Opportunities Accessible! Watch her here.
  • Sean Walker and Will Gallup, two of our amazing alumni, presented as Good Life Ambassadors for the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Watch them here.
  • CEO Chris Garr, Director of Programs Services Mackenzie Vecchio, and Bocce Coach Sean Walker had a blast talking about Finding Access Through Adaptive Recreation. They were joined by some of our fabulous partners at Rec2Connect, Empower Sports, LEAP, and Achievement Centers for Children. Catch the video here.
  • Former Program Staff Member Gaby Martinez moderated a engaging panel, including Alumnus Darrien Fann, about Black Disability History and Activism. Watch the powerful conversation here.

Just because the formal event is over doesn’t mean we’re done calling for access! As we move forward from our 2020 Call for Access, our advocacy for greater access for people with disabilities doesn’t end. You can help make a difference – visit today to contact your elected officials and tell them that you support access for people with disabilities.

Thank you to all the members of the YC family who supported ADA Cleveland’s Call for Access and to everyone who continues to advocate for people with disabilities! The world is a better place because of you.

In Memory of Bruce Giberson

We are all incredibly saddened by the news that Bruce Giberson, a YC driver and so much more, passed away on July 25, 2020. Bruce was a driver for 8 years, but has been a part of our family for over 3 decades, volunteering countless hours at YC when his daughter, Grace, was a young participant in the 1990s / 2000s.

Nobody had a bigger heart than Bruce. He was foremost a father, but his duties as such extended far beyond his daughters, Grace and Emily. He was a father to every baseball and football player he coached at Lakewood, from middle school to high school. His passion for youth sports extended to his work at YC, particularly in our football programs! He was loved by YC participants and worked hard to make sure that every day at YC was a great day! He was a brother to many at the USO, Kiwanis, multiple church groups, and so many more philanthropic and service-based organizations. In his Lakewood community, he is an institution.

On our staff, Bruce was a loving friend, an amazingly hard worker, and a man so dedicated to our mission that he had a hard time not working exceptionally hard. From driving participants to programs, to emptying the recycling bins, to sharing his expertise with an Instant Pot, Bruce helped in any way he could and before anyone could even ask. He showed love through work – and it is clear he was loved back.

YC alumni, current participants, and volunteers, please reach out to staff members if you need a space to process Bruce’s departure and express your feelings.

Like almost every drive he ever made, Bruce left for this route a little early. His destination, however, is a place of peace and comfort. There are few people on this Earth with a heart as big as Bruce’s.

Rest in Peace, Coach Giberson 💜💛

Click here to read Bruce’s obituary.

COVID-19 Update from Youth Challenge

Dear Friends,

YC’s mission of bringing joy and laughter through sports and art will never change. While our brand of adaptive recreation is important, the health and well-being of our community is far more critical, and we proceed prudently by operating in the best interest of Team YC.

We happily bring children from all corners of Greater Cleveland together for fun! In most instances, that is a great thing. Relative to the recent events, that model is not a “healthy choice” now. In that light, we have decided to suspend regular programming for participants and volunteers through March 26. At that time, we will digest the information available and reassess.

Due to the mandate put in place by the State of Ohio this afternoon, we will be canceling Brats, Beer, and Brackets on March 18. An email will be sent out tomorrow with details for people who have already purchased tickets.

Our Annual Benefit & Auction on April 4 will be transitioning into a virtual event.  We will have details available next week about the online auction and for those who have already purchased tickets. In the meantime, if you have any questions about our events, please call Carolyn Palmer, YC’s Communications & Events Manager at 440-892-1001 x 13.

Make the best of an unfortunate situation. Enjoy some time with family. And if you feel so inclined, you can donate to support YC by clicking here.

Yours in hygiene,
Chris Garr, CEO

The Rite Aid Foundation Designates Youth Challenge as a KidsCents Charity

The Rite Aid Foundation has selected Youth Challenge participate in its 2020 KidCents program, which annually supports a select group of nonprofit, kid-focused organizations committed to improving the health and wellbeing of children living in the communities Rite Aid serves.

“We are so grateful to the Rite Aid Foundation for their continued support of Youth Challenge through the KidsCents program,” said Chris Garr, Chief Executive Officer. “These vital dollars will support our recreational programs for hundreds of children with physical disabilities and their teen volunteers.”

In addition to being selected as a KidCents charity, Youth Challenge will receive a $5,000 grant, which will be used to support Youth Challenge’s sports and recreation for children with physical disabilities and their teen volunteers. Each year, Youth Challenge offers adapted sports, recreation, art, and life-skills training to hundreds of participants and their teen volunteers. Seasonal programs include basketball, baseball, swimming, skiing, tennis, arts and crafts, music, sailing, bowling, nature programs, dancing and field trips. Activities are tailored to fit the needs of children with physical disabilities. YC offers three program seasons – fall, winter/spring, and summer. No family is every charged for participation in YC programming.

Since 2015, Youth Challenge has received KidsCents funding, which has allowed YC to expand and continue vital programs. We are very grateful to the Rite Aid Foundation for their support. The Rite Aid Foundation welcomed a total of 481 nonprofits to its 2020 KidCents class – its largest class ever.

The number of KidCents charities has more than doubled since the program’s inception in 2014, when 204 nonprofits comprised the inaugural class. Over seven years, The Rite Aid Foundation has contributed a total of more than $34 million to KidCents charities across the country, thanks to members of Rite Aid’s loyalty program, wellness+ rewards, rounding up their in-store or online purchases to donate to KidCents.

“More than 3 million Rite Aid customers actively choose to make meaningful contributions to help children in their communities through KidCents. The program’s growth is a testament to their generosity and commitment to building safer, stronger and more supportive communities for youth across the country,” said Jessica Kazmaier, president of The Rite Aid Foundation and Rite Aid chief human resources officer. “The 2020 KidCents class has the opportunity to prove that change adds up exponentially, and we look forward to helping them achieve their goal of giving kids better lives and brighter futures.”


About Youth Challenge

Founded in 1976, Youth Challenge is a privately-funded 501c (3) nonprofit corporation that serves more than 100 children with disabilities and nearly 400 youth volunteers each year. The organization brings together children with physical disabilities and youth volunteers who enrich each other’s lives through one-on-one participation in adapted sports and recreational activities. Youth Challenge currently serves more than 300 families in Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lake, Summit, Medina, and Geauga Counties.


About The Rite Aid Foundation

Since its inception in 2001, The Rite Aid Foundation has awarded more than $68 million to nonprofit organizations. Additionally, Rite Aid, through the efforts of its customers, supplier partners and associates, has also raised more than $92 million for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals across the country since 1994.

About the KidCents Program

Through the KidCents program, which is The Rite Aid Foundation’s charitable giving program dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of children living in the communities Rite Aid services, members of Rite Aid’s loyalty program, wellness+ rewards, can round up their in-store or online purchases to the nearest dollar and donate their change to KidCents. Members can also choose to direct their change to a specific KidCents charity by visiting For more information, visit

About Rite Aid Corporation
Rite Aid Corporation is on the front lines of delivering health care services and retail products to over 1.6 million Americans daily. Our pharmacists are uniquely positioned to engage with customers and improve their health outcomes. We provide an array of whole being health products and services for the entire family through over 2,400 retail pharmacy locations across 18 states. Through EnvisionRxOptions, we also deliver pharmacy benefit management to approximately 1,900 clients and 3.4 million members. For more information, visit

Have your donation matched when you give Dec. 8-14!

Youth Challenge has partnered with Ver-A-Fast By The Hand Foundation to participate in “FastScratch for Charity,” a virtual scratch-off game that provides donors the opportunity to “win” additional funds for Youth Challenge! This offer will only last for one week, starting Sunday, December 8th and running through Saturday, December 14th.

Once you make a donation, you will have the opportunity to play the FastScratch game and win up to 200% of your donation amount for Youth Challenge! Uncover three matching squares to reveal your donation match percentage. Donate and play as often as you wish on a computer, tablet or smartphone! All donation matches, processing fees, and credit card fees are paid for by Ver-A-Fast By The Hand Foundation, which means each dollar donated goes directly to fund Youth Challenge’s mission.

We hope you will take advantage of this unique opportunity to help us raise the funds needed for Youth Challenge’s adapted sports and recreational programs.

Our goal is to raise during this $20,000 one week of giving!

Click here to make your donation today!