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Banner year for Aspen Youth Experience

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The executive director of the Aspen Youth Experience said 2007 was one of the best years the organization has had, citing successful fundraising efforts that put it “in the black,” a feat that escaped the organization in 2006.

The AYE was founded in 1991 as A Grassroots Aspen Experience by former Aspenite John Reid, under the nonprofit umbrella of the Grassroots community-access television station. The AYE offers a variety of programs designed to help “at-risk youth to confront and overcome the obstacles they face at home, in school, among their peers and in their neighborhoods,” according to a statement provided by David Wiedinmyer.

The name was changed four years ago to reflect AYE’s separation from the television station, although AYE’s office is next to Grassroots in the Red Brick Arts and Recreation Center on Hallam Street.

The AYE programs are based around outdoors activities such as skiing, snowboarding, hiking, rafting and other challenging efforts. They also include “rap sessions,” in which the youths talk about their circumstances, dreams and ideals, and translate the things they learn from the outdoor activities into lessons they can apply to their daily lives back home.

The AYE works with teenagers from the valley in its annual Latino Youth Camp, and with teens from a number of inner-city neighborhoods around the U.S.

Beside programs in Aspen, and in such “partner cities” as New York, Kansas City, Chicago and Washington, D.C., AYE conducts “follow-up sessions” for participants, distributes college scholarship money to qualified youths and runs leadership training sessions to give participants the skills to become leaders in their own communities and skills to further involvement in the AYE organization itself. Wiedinmyer said the nonprofit has distributed more than $500,000 in scholarships since 1998, including more than $44,000 in 2007.

The organization earned $668,241 in 2006, the latest year for which the Internal Revenue Service Form 990 is available. The income was from contributions, public grants and income from its main fundraising event, the Celebrity Downhill race weekend, which this year is scheduled for Feb. 29 and March 1. The 2006 Celebrity Downhill alone reportedly took in $386,796 in net proceeds.

The organization’s expenses for that year, according to the Form 990 , came to $722,790, leaving a deficit of $54,549 that Wiedinmyer said was covered by early revenues from the 2007 Celebrity Downhill.

According to the Form 990, expenses included $425,341 on program services and a total of $172,827 in management costs. The organization also spent $124,622 on fundraising efforts.

For 2007, Wiedinmyer said, the organization believes it will “finish in the black” once all accounting adjustments have been factored into the budget.

He said he believes the organization will end up having taken in more than a million dollars in donations, although a significant portion of that is in the form of in-kind donations, which ultimately are not reflected as cash income.

Once all the adjustments are made, he said, the net income likely is to be about $820,000, and expenses are expected to come in at about $780,000, for a positive year-end balance of cash. Wiedinmyer said AYE “successfully increased revenue (to support programs) by 22 percent over 2006. I’d say 2007 was kind of a break-out year, one of the best years we’ve ever had.”

The different fundraising efforts, he said, were highly successful as were the changes and additions to the organization itself and to the list of programs offered by AYE.

The organization is adding new staff and programs, expanding its sphere of influence to other partner cities and making plans to continue operations in the future with financial cushion of cash reserves to help it over any hard times that might occur.

But, Wiedinmyer emphasized, “We are not trying to grow too fast.”

Currently operating with a staff of five full-timers, including Wiedinmyer, the organization currently is seeking a sixth employee and, perhaps by next year, a seventh full-time worker.

“The life’s blood of this organization is the people I work with,” Wiedinmyer said. He was referring to the staff as well as his board of directors, the roughly 40 volunteers who regularly help put on AYE events, and the host families who provide shelter for the 250 to 300 youths served at AYE’s various events and programs that take place throughout the year.

Wiedinmyer first joined AYE as a volunteer in January 2005, and soon was elevated from volunteer to full-time, salaried employee. That year, then-director Bennett Bramson was paid a salary of more than $95,000, according to federal tax records.

Wiedinmyer was named interim director when Bramson resigned in August 2006, and became the permanent director in February 2007.

Although the Form 990 indicates Wiedinmyer was paid only $14,500 in 2006, he said the form apparently is inaccurate and reflected only his salary in the part-time position he held when he first joined the organization. He said he was paid about $52,000 in 2006, and in 2007 he was paid about $54,000.

In 2008, Wiedinmyer said, the AYE will continue to offer its core programs as well as a few new ones, such as a ski trip to the Benedict Hut in the 10th Mountain Hut Association system.

At the upcoming Celebrity Downhill, he said, the organization is planning four events over two days, including a VIP Patron Party at a private home and then a concert at the Belly-Up nightclub Friday night; the traditional ski race at the base of Aspen Mountain on Saturday; and the annual gala for 500 or more supporters at the St. Regis Hotel on Friday night.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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