Be better, help children | AspenTimes.com
Roger Marolt
Aspen, CO Colorado

Back to: Columns

Be better, help children

Most human beings do not get better with age. Those that do are an inspiration.

It is among the most wondrous miracles that all of us are born with every single ingredient necessary to be great, and we are, until adults demonstrate to us all of the well-intentioned, yet ill-conceived ways to only appear better. There is certain to be special punishment for parents in the next life.

In the meantime, it is imperative that we try, with everything we’ve got, to truly help children. It is my honor to write this column on behalf of two local organizations that do so in big ways with little fanfare, asking that you consider them when deciding how to make a difference in this community and in this world. Connecting with these organizations will not net you a high-profile table at a gala event or a full-color head shot in the any of the high-gloss local gossip columns. … Well, maybe that.

Regardless, what you will receive is a pancake breakfast with many optimistic people at the summit of Buttermilk Mountain after a long hike up to it, or a preview film screening of brain-frozen Marolt brothers attempting, once again, to ski from the summit of Mount Everest. With the aerobic pump of the former and the adrenaline pump from the latter, your heart is sure to be warmed.

The Hike for Hope Foundation, raising money to find a cure for muscular dystrophy, and Aspen Middle School eighth-grade outdoor education program offer you opportunities in the next two weeks to profoundly help children. The goal of the first program is to find a cure for a fatal disease that primarily strikes down children just as they are becoming young adults. The goal of the second program is to show children that they can accomplish many things that they may not have previously believed they were capable of through better understanding of their place in the natural world. The goal of both is to instill in children an optimistic and empowering vision of the future.

Every single Aspen Middle School eighth-grade student is given the opportunity to hike one of various multi-day routes through our surrounding wilderness to eventually congregate as a group at a base camp in Marble. There, they participate in group and individual activities that promote teamwork, trust, reflection, problem solving, along with developing physical, emotional, and (self-selected) spiritual strength. This is accomplished through strenuous (self-sufficient) backpacking, rock climbing, rappelling, a 24-hour outdoor solo living experience, maneuvering a challenging ropes course, group discovery exercises, games, wilderness ethics discussions. Basically spending a week out of everyone’s comfort zones.

The program has existed mostly unchanged since 1967 and nearly every kid who has gone through it will tell you that it was the highlight of their entire educational experience, including college! I went through it. My oldest daughter has been transformed by it. I hope that my grandchildren will someday be enriched by it. Dollar for dollar, it is difficult to imagine one experience having a more positive lifelong impact on a child. … Except discovering a cure for a disease that slowly and cruelly cripples a child before eventually taking away their life. The Hike for Hope Foundation, started by a local family whose child is afflicted with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), aims to do just that. In terms of commitment and efficiency, there are no better causes to fund with your dollars than those run by people with a profound personal interest. The commitment of this foundation is beyond description.

This past fall, these two great programs experienced the common touch of an exceptional kid. His name is Ian Sharp. He is an eighth-grader at Aspen Middle School. He has DMD. Simply knowing him and his family has given me far broader perspective on my own life.

The words of his mother describing his participation in eight-grade outdoor education moved me to tears and presented me with the opportunity to tie these two worthwhile causes together:

“I do know that this year was a milestone for our family. Ian ‘survived’ his eighth-grade outdoor education trip, with a smile on his face. Yes, they had perfect weather. Yes, they let the ‘need more time’ kids go a day or two earlier than all the other years prior, but all this did was make the special bond stronger and healthier. As you know the packs the kids carry weigh the same, if not more than they do! Ian isn’t supposed to be able to hike long hikes, let alone with a huge pack, but he did. He even felt he helped some of the kids that just had a hard time because it is a hard thing for anyone to accomplish. For Ian it was everything. He thought about all the kids that would never, ever do something like what he just did. Not because they didn’t want to, but because they couldn’t get their wheelchairs up and over Trail Rider Pass.

“Our ODE program is basically off the charts. … What we have [in this community] is so very special and unique. … In Ian’s short 14 years, he has truly lived a lifetime.

“… We don’t want to make the Hike for Hope to be about Ian, it is about Jack, Sam, Derrick, Joey, Chris, Samantha, and so many more children that don’t have what Ian has, they are compromised and are looking at their mortality before their mid twenties. Ian is the lucky one.”

Now it is your turn. Thursday evening, Jan. 3, at 7 p.m. in the Wheeler Opera House, Danny Brown and Mike Marolt will show their latest mountaineering films, including an attempt to ski from the summit of Mt. Everest. Admission is free, but 100 percent of all donations received at the door will go to these two causes.

Ten days later, early Sunday morning on Jan. 13, the Hike for Hope will take place. The annual community hike to the top of Buttermilk Mountain has grown into an outpouring of caring and local involvement of epic proportions. You can get more information at hikeforhope@comcast.net.

Be better. Be inspiration. Be at both of these events!