Board Highlight: Krista Allison

Krista Allison, Ms. Wheelchair Ohio 2022, is a new member of the YC Board of Trustees. She became involved after Youth Challenge CEO Chris Garr saw an article about her in the city newsletter, The Berean, and decided to reach out to Krista to share about Youth Challenge.

“Krista is a rockstar at advocacy,” Chris said. “We are honored to have a role model and leader like her as a part of our YC community.”

Since last spring, Krista has been a regular at YC events. Krista has attended various Youth Challenge events, including fundraisers such as Where Will Color Take You? and the Topgolf Outing, as well as programs such as kayaking at Wallace Lake. Her favorite event so far has been the March for Access in Cleveland, which Youth Challenge attended as a member of ADA Cleveland.

“I love that Youth Challenge allows children of all different abilities to come in and feel a part of something bigger and to make friends that maybe they don’t have the opportunity to make at school,” Krista said.

When Krista is not at Youth Challenge, she is a fierce advocate for community accessibility—her chosen platform as Ms. Wheelchair Ohio. In this role, Krista meets with various government and community leaders and works with other organizations similar to YC. Currently, she is working to advocate for communities to adopt a Residential ADA Form so that households can alert first responders if there is a person with a disability living in their home.

“I really think the title [Ms. Wheelchair Ohio] has given me a sense of purpose,” Krista said. “I always knew I had a purpose; I just didn’t know what it was, and as soon as I got the title and started branching out and meeting different people and connecting, it’s just been the best experience of my life.”

Krista lives with her husband, Bob, and her 18-year-old daughter Hannah. She is a federal government employee with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and a master’s degree in Public Administration.

“I’m really grateful to be here [on the YC Board of Trustees,]” Krista said. “I’m really grateful that Chris asked me. I’m grateful for all of you that you’ve all come into my life, and I’m just so happy.”

PREVIEW: Brats, Beer and Brackets is BACK!

Calling all basketball lovers, get ready to win big at Brats, Beer, and Brackets! This event, presented by Charles Schwab and hosted by Young Professionals for YC, will be held once again at Youth Challenge on March 14, 2023, from 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm. Auctioneer Bob Hale of Benefit Auction Services LLC and YC alumni Brandon Lewis and Brandon Larador, who are sportscasters for Believeland Media LLC, will host the Calcutta-style auction, so you can bid on which NCAA basketball teams you expect to win during March Madness. Each time one of your teams wins, you win a portion of the pot. Pool your money with friends to bid on higher-seeded teams!

In 2023, we will not only have the juicy brats, cold beer, and exciting auction you know and love but also several NEW updates, including:

  • Reserved tables: Reserved tables are available! Tables for six guests are just $210 each. Tables for eight guests are $275. Purchase your table here.
  • You Could Win $400: You could win just for participating in the event! When you enter the event, purchase a 50/50 sideboard, buy an auction package, or donate to the Fund-a-Need, you’ll receive a raffle ticket. At the end of the night, we’ll select one winner of $400!
  • Betting Syndicate Concierge: Grab your friends, neighbors, and family! A syndicate is created when everyone in your group pools their money for increased buying power. New this year, we will offer a syndicate concierge to manage group payments and payouts, and provide other needed support. Register your syndicate by clicking here. Contact Carolyn Palmer at [email protected] for more information.
  • Smoothies: Grab a smoothie from YC WOOthies, an initiative of the participant alumni entrepreneurship team. YC WOOthies is an initiative that will teach alumni and YELP participants job skills, promote healthy eating in the Greater Cleveland area and raise funds and awareness for YC. Enjoy a delicious strawberry mango or banana blueberry smoothie and support our alumni at their first big event of the year!

Youth Challenge will receive 50% of all proceeds from the live auction and sideboards. The other 50% will be divided amongst the winners for each raffle and auction.

Tickets for Brats, Beer, and Brackets are $40 each, or you can score two tickets for just $70. Don’t miss this opportunity to celebrate NCAA sports while supporting adapted sports for young people with physical disabilities and teen volunteers! Click here to register online.

 

Alumni Highlight: Kindness Committee

Life as an adult with a disability can sometimes become lonely, but the alumni programs are a great outlet for many YC alumni to stay connected.

Alumni staff members Sara Steimle, Gabby Bova and Sean Walker began sending out cards and care packages to those in the alumni community who may be going through a hard time or are not able to be as active in the YC community as they hope to be. They also created a card-making station in the YC lobby for alumni to make cards for their peers in need. The team decided expanding their efforts would be a great opportunity for other alumni to give back and serve their peers in need, so they formed a Kindness Committee.

“I think it’s important to spread kindness especially in the YC alumni community,” Sara said. “Interacting with other people is vital to our mental health and physical well-being and it can be more challenging to do this for those with disabilities.”

The Kindness Committee meets monthly on Zoom and is open to any YC alum to attend. The committee provides support and spreads joy through phone calls, text messages, emails, cards, and care packages. The Kindness Committee is working toward pairing each alum on the kindness committee with an alum in need of support to check in with one another.

“We want to show that we’re still here for them and that they’re not alone,” Sara said.

From Teen Volunteer to Board President: Greer Gibbons

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

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

Greer’s YC journey began in 2000 when YC staff member Laurel Sweet spoke to her grade school class. Soon after, Greer volunteered at her first program, which was a fishing event. She quickly realized that YC was not only an organization but a way of life. The participants, volunteers, and staff make YC a truly inclusive place for people of all backgrounds to find themselves and their voices.

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

When Greer is not at YC, she works as a Global Project Manager for the Lubrizol Corporation. Greer’s incredible ‘can do’ attitude, coupled with her subject matter expertise and commitment to non-negotiable quality, shines through her work, both at Lubrizol and the boardroom at YC. Plus, she’s flexed her science skills with her Lubrizol colleagues to host fun and educational programming at YC!

In her spare time, Greer is a huge baseball fan and loves going on adventures in the National Parks. Her dream is to visit all 50 states and all seven continents! When she’s not gallivanting all over the world, she can be found at her home in Cleveland reading or spending time with family and friends. Not only has Greer served others at YC, but she is also involved in her community as a mentor through the Greater Cleveland College Now Program, through the Cleveland Zoological Society’s group for young professionals, and through her church.

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

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

 

Intern Highlight: Madi Doletzky

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Holiday Show Highlight: North Pole News

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YC Partner Sherwin-Williams Wins National Philanthropy Day Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alumni Leadership Retreat Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

Participant Highlight: Finn Born-Crow

Finn Born-Crow is a Team YC soccer star!

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

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

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

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

Alumni Highlight: Will Gallup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alumni Highlight: Saphire and Sara Lead ADA Cleveland Advisory Board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saphire Murphy
Sara Steimle

Summer’s End Bash Highlight

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Prize: Natalie Caruso 

Second Prize: Colleen Starr 

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

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

YC Alumni Entrepreneurs to Launch Smoothie Venture

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

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

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

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

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

Team YC Competes in GLASA Tournament in Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

 

Participant Spotlight: George Shepherd

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

From Participants to Professionals: Participant Alumni Employees at Youth Challenge

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

Gabby Bova, Alumni Program Associate 

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

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

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

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

 

Sara Steimle, Alumni Program Associate 

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

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

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

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

 

Jen Taggart, Development Coordinator 

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

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

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

 

Sean Walker, Head Boccia Coach and Alumni Program Associate 

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

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

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

 

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

Board Highlight: Lori Coticchia

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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.