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Aspen Celebrity Downhill

May Eynon

A Grassroots Aspen Experience (AGAE) hosted its seventh annual Aspen Celebrity Downhill in early March. AGAE is a nonprofit organization dedicated to “empowering at-risk youth from America’s inner cities and the Roaring Fork Valley, to discover, define and reach their potential.”

The action-packed weekend united celebrities from TV, film, sports and music with program sponsors and youth. Included on the list of special guests were former heavyweight boxing champ Evander Holyfield, actor Dean Cain, NFL Hall of Famers Karl Mecklenburg and Nick Buoniconti as well as Denver Bronco Ed McCaffrey.

A series of fund-raising activities began with a casino night at the Caribou Club hosted by Holyfield, and continued with a downhill ski race on Little Nell the following day and a Gala Dinner at the St. Regis that night.

During the week, youth who were participants in the winter program enjoyed various outdoor activities around the area by day and stayed with host families at night.

In the summer, there is a weeklong program where participants spend part of the time with host families and part of the time in Marble, where they camp, rock climb, rappel and engage in nightly rap sessions.

Thirteen-year old Travis Wright from Manhattan is a participant in the AGAE summer and winter programs. “I actually prefer summer to winter, but I like being here anytime,” he said at the gala dinner.

The programs allow the participants to be active in the great outdoors and serve as the catalyst for goal-setting. AGAE also has extensive follow-up programs, which continue to help the youth achieve their goals. “Trust, integrity, diversity, and community are the values we strive to instill in our youth, so they become productive citizens in their communities.”

Xavier Reyes, 24, is an example of a successful member of the AGAE system. He was introduced to the program as a participant and eventually graduated to peer counselor before becoming a group leader. He now works as a mentor for youths in New York City.

Jessie Dunbar, another AGAE alumni, was given the Shining Star award at the Gala Dinner, to her surprise and delight. “I had no idea I was going to win this tonight,” she said. “I am so honored.”

The Gala Dinner at the St. Regis Hotel included live and silent auctions, and a stand-up routine performed by comedian Tony Rock, brother of comedian Chris Rock. “I’m one of eight kids and we’re all pretty funny,” said Tony, who enjoyed his second year onstage at the gala. “It’s been a lot of fun this weekend. I would love to come back next year too.”

To learn more about AGAE, log on to their Web site at http://www.agae.org or call 925-6671.


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