Crosstown Showdown Highlights

George scores basket
George scores a basket in the championship game for the Tryin’ Lions!

It was a beautiful morning on March 5 as teams from the west and east sides descended to The Garrity Center in Berea, Ohio, for the 2022 Crosstown Showdown. Finally, the stage was set; it had been two years since the last shot of madness in 2019 went up. The signs were up, the hoops were up, and the lines were drawn as eight teams of eager participants and volunteers worked so hard to get this moment… and they did not disappoint.

For four weeks, participants and volunteers met on the west and east sides to practice their skills and build their team chemistry for the big dance. The fourth week was used to determine the seeding for the eventual double – elimination bracket. Coming out of the west side, the 4th seed, the Purple Raining Raptors. The 3rd seed, the Terrifying Tigers. The 2nd seed, the Pink Panthers. And the number 1 seed coming out of the west, the Tryin’ Lions! Coming out of the east side, the 4th seed, the Green Slime Monsters. The 3rd seed, the J Team. The 2nd seed, the Blue Buckets. And the number 1 seed coming out of the east, the Red Rocket Rollers!

The journey wasn’t easy. These teams had to learn new rules and styles of playing basketball for YC. Teams had to adapt to the defensive 3-second box, adapt to new traveling violations, adapt to volunteers playing in a basketball wheelchair. But, with the help of their coaches, the teams made significant progress, and it showed on the big day.

There was no shortage of close games and overtimes. Game after game, the action was almost as non-stop as the concession stand fundraiser managed by the YC Volunteer Committee. The crowd in attendance and those who watched the stream got quite a final game! The two top seeds from the West, the Pink Panthers, and the Tryin’ Lions, met in the championship game in front of a packed gym. The Panthers took a 4 – 0 lead into halftime. But in the second half, the Tryin’ Lions made a run and went up late with 8 seconds to go, with a score of 8 – 6. The Panthers drew up play, and Deegan sent the game into overtime with a last-second shot to make it 8 – 8. However, in overtime, George and his volunteer Luke were too much for the Panthers to handle. They scored twice to give the Tryin’ Lions the victory of a score of 12 – 10.

The nets were cut down and trophies handed out to the teams. The “I Just Hope Both Teams Have Fun” Bracket winners were the Red Rocket Rollers. In the 3rd place, the Terrifying Tigers. In 2nd place, the Pink Panthers. And your champions of the 2022 Crosstown Showdown, the Tryin’ Lions!

YC Alum to Co-Host Brats, Beers and Brackets

Brandon Lewis with broadcaster headphonesYC alum Brandon Lewis always had a competitive spirit, whether watching sports on TV or competing on teams at YC. Brandon, who is a sportscaster with Believeland Media,  is co-hosting Brats, Beer and Brackets on March 15 alongside Bob Hale from Benefit Auction Services.

“I love this opportunity to come back and see everybody and help YC out and give my expertise on March Madness,” Brandon said.

Brandon and his brother Ryan have been involved with YC every summer from the time they were four years old to when they graduated high school. Brandon said he values the connections he’s made with fellow participants, volunteers and staff.

“Even though I’ve only returned for a few brief stints upon graduating high school, every time I return, it feels like I never left,” Brandon said.

When Brandon was in college at Kent State, he worked at Black Squirrel Radio, eventually rising the ranks to being general manager. He graduated Kent State University in 2021 with a degree in journalism, and now co-hosts Believeland Media’s “All Things Cavalier” podcast. Believeland Media LLC is a startup sports media company with podcasts and written content about the Browns, Guardians, and Cavaliers.people at tables at previous Brats, Beer and Brackets

Don’t miss Brandon and the rest of the YC gang at Brats, Beer and Brackets on Tuesday, March 15, from 5:30-9:00 in the YC gym. Grab a beer or two with your friends, enjoy a catered bratwurst dinner from Italian Creations, and place your bids on the teams you think will reign victorious in the NCAA basketball tournament (so that you can win big)! You can purchase one ticket for the event for $35 or two tickets for just $60.

Only 75 tickets will be sold, and all tickets must be purchased in advance. This event is hosted by the Young Professionals for Youth Challenge. Grab your tickets today!

Board Highlight: Matt Lay

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

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

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

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

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

Team YC’s Trip to the Chicagoland Regional Boccia Tournament

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

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

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

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

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

Fall 2021 Program Highlights

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

Megan Smith helps Alijah with his project during Creative Constructions.

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

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

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

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

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

Why You Should Support the 2021 Annual Fund

Jen, left, working at Battle of the Bartenders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you,

Jen Taggart
Development Associate

Nuts and Bolts and Duct Tape and Zip Ties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris

Team Sports Highlight: a Season of Comebacks

It’s been a Team YC takeover this fall!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Board Highlight: Charlie Koch

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

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

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

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

Team YC goes to NATIONALS!

Written by Sara Steimle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Spotlight on Katrina Frei-Herrmann

Katrina and Jim danced the night away at YC Prom!

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

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

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

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

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

Katrina (second from left) poses at a program.

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

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

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

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

Board Highlight: Greer Gibbons

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Volunteer Committee!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer 2021 Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YC’s 2020 Annual Report: The Time is Now

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

 

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

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

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

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

Chris Garr, CEO

Board of Trustees Feature: Mark Dvoroznak

Since the 1980s, Youth Challenge has had a relationship with Sherwin-Williams. Through this partnership, we are privileged to have Mark Dvoroznak on our Board of Trustees! In 2020, Mark retired from his position of Vice President, Enterprise Risk Management at Sherwin-Williams after more than 30 years. He’s been on the YC Board of Trustees for eight years.

At Sherwin-Williams and beyond, Mark has been a tireless champion of Youth Challenge. He’s never afraid of a challenge, from fundraising for YC’s Annual Fund to creating exciting auction packages for the Annual Benefit and Auction. Notably, Mark facilitated the introduction of Youth Challenge to the Sherwin-Williams Women’s Club, which plans the Where Will Color Take You? 5k Race & 1-Mile Walk & Roll. Thanks to Mark’s leadership, and the hard work from the Women’s Club, the race has raised more than $150,000 for Youth Challenge in the last two years!

Both Mark and his wife, Sue, grew up in families where they were raised to be simple, humble, and care for others. Their parents were involved in service-related projects and with their church communities. By serving Youth Challenge, the couple sees a way to honor their parents’ legacy while also passing on the importance of giving to their children and grandchildren.

Their support is making a difference for Youth Challenge today but also focused on the future. They established the Dvoroznak Family Charitable Fund in 2014 to ensure sustainability for the organization. “Being on the board, we are very aware that the funds are needed to support the Youth Challenge mission. Hopefully, our endowment will help so that the organization will be able to provide consistent and reliable services.”

Now retired, Mark and Sue enjoy spending lots of time with their three children and their families. He’s blessed to have his grandchildren local, and he’s already preparing them to be future YC volunteers! Mark is also a huge Cleveland Sports fan. While he enjoys all the teams, he and Sue love watching the Indians at Progressive Field most of all!

ADA Cleveland: Advocacy & the Call for Access

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

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

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

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

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

Board Highlight: Dr. Chris Hardesty

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

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

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

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

Winter-Spring 21 Highlights!

Talk about a whirlwind! YC’s 2021 Winter-Spring season has been a wild one. Participants, volunteers, and staff have gone through a variety of programs during this 2021 season already. In true YC fashion, we saw our participants and volunteers adapt to all these changes and make the best of them. This season, while dynamic, to say the least, has been full of highlights!

Sean pitches to RJ during an individual baseball session.
Sean pitches to RJ during an individual baseball session.

The season started completely virtual on Zoom after the holiday season. As much as we love Zoom for keeping us connected, in February, we decided that it was time to see people’s faces directly and not over a computer screen. It had been way too long (since mid-November) that we had seen participants and volunteers at YC, and the building had been too quiet. We kicked off the in-person program season with our individual sessions. Our individual sessions, as the name implies, focused on one participant’s interests. These sessions ranged from playing baseball with Bald Sean (we miss you already, Sean!) to theater with Megan. While it was an excellent opportunity to get to know everyone on a more personal level, when May came around, everyone was ready to be in a group again. May was spent enjoying some of YC’s favorite program themes, from Sports Around the World to Recess Games.

YC participants sit in a distanced circle in the YC gym
A return to in-person YELP programs.

For Bre Sprenger, YELP and Board Intern, her highlights of the Winter-Spring Season centered around YELP (Youth Empowerment and Leadership Program). For most of the season, we met every Wednesday night on Zoom. Each week was dedicated to various topics, but they were mainly focused on building our resilience and tips and tricks for better mental health. Bre particularly enjoyed talking about Brene Brown. If you do not know who she is, look up her TedTalk on “The Power of Vulnerability,” it is amazing. She encourages people to live life authentically and vulnerably; things that can be hard to do but are so worth it in the end! The best part for Bre might be coming back to in-person programs. Feeling life return to normalcy in healthy and safe ways has been huge. Like many of the YC staffers, Bre is eagerly waiting for a summer full of fun and in-person connection!

 

Youth Challenge: The Power of Inclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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