Light It Up Blue Aspen fundraiser aids unique outdoor program for people with autism | AspenTimes.com

Light It Up Blue Aspen fundraiser aids unique outdoor program for people with autism

Aspen's historic Hotel Jerome is flooded with blue light for the Light It Up Blue Aspen fundraiser. This year's event is Sunday.

An Aspen nonprofit organization that prides itself on getting children and young adults with autism into the outdoors is hosting its signature fundraising event at the Hotel Jerome on Sunday so it can keep doing what it does best.

Extreme Sports Camp/Ascendigo will host the fourth annual Light It Up Blue Aspen, which features a reception-style event with curated food and drink stations, music, dancing and a silent auction. The event starts at 6:30 p.m.

"We hope to raise between $400,000 and $500,000, so it's a big deal," said Ron Rash, a longtime Aspen outdoor-adventure guide who is the interim executive director of the Extreme Sports Camp/Ascendigo.

Blue, the color representing autism, will douse the Hotel Jerome in light for the event.

Ticket are $250. Proceeds benefit Extreme Sports Camp/Ascendigo and Autism Speaks, a research and advocacy organization.

While Rash is involved in the administration of the nonprofit, it was working with people with autism that first got him interested in the cause.

Recommended Stories For You

"You can see the joy it brings to people that have never skied before or never climbed," he said.

He has witnessed how the outdoor activities open an avenue of reaching children and young adults with autism.

"The physical activity releases the stress and anxiety," he said.

The Aspen program is unique in the United States because it takes people anywhere on the autistic spectrum and gets them outdoors. Many times, organizations that work with people with autism won't take those with behavioral issues, so they have little opportunity and face institutionalizing.

"Instead of a building with four walls, they're outside, which is fantastic," Rash said.

Extreme Sports Camp/Ascendigo enrolled 155 people in its camps last summer. It offers four core activities over eight weeks: rock climbing, river activities such as rafting, paddle boarding and running water in duckies, horseback riding, and boating activities such as wakeboarding and waterskiing. Separate activities ranging from cycling to gardening are offered during afternoons at the camp.

The camp takes people from 7 to 27 years old. This will be its 11th year.

"Some campers have been with us all 11 years," Rash said.

Extreme Sports Camp/Ascendigo also offers activities year-round, such as skiing in winters.

Extending its invitation to people with autism who have behavioral issues requires additional counselors, Rash said. The program isn't cheap to operate, so Extreme Sports Camp/Ascendigo needs to hit a home run each year with Light It Up Blue. The event's timing was switched to mid-February two years ago to take advantage of a busy time of year. This year, the event is crammed with activities and celebrity appearances Saturday and Sunday to create a "weekend of autism awareness," Rash said.

The highlights include:

• Vertical Blue: Autism Awareness Day at Aspen Highlands on Saturday afternoon. Olympic gold-medal skier Johnny Moseley and Dr. Jennifer Berman, of the CBS television show "The Doctors," will ski with participants with autism and trainers from Extreme Sports Camp/Ascendigo. There will be a scavenger hunt on the mountain. A booth at the base will provide clues starting at 8 a.m. An apres-ski celebration will be held at 3 p.m. at Highlands Ale House.

• Berman will speak at Light It Up Blue Aspen and have a production team covering the event for a feature story about autism on "The Doctors." Berman is a renowned women's-health specialist, author and recurring host of the television show. She has a longstanding interest in autism.

• Sentient Jet, the presenting sponsor of the event, is offering a day of skiing with Moseley. Two sessions were sold in advance of the event and raised $10,000 for the cause. Sentient Jet also will donate $2,000 to the host charities for every event attendee who purchases a 25-hour jet card during the evening. It also contributed a $10,000 flight card for the auction.

Tables, tickets and underwriting opportunities are available through Extreme Sports Camp/Ascendigo at 970-927-3143 or online at http://www.lightitup blueaspen.org.

scondon@aspentimes.com