Challenge Aspen to wrap up its annual music camp |

Challenge Aspen to wrap up its annual music camp

Scott Schlafer
Special to The Aspen Times
Rochelle Broughton, left, co-director of the Challenge Aspen performance of "The Sound of Music," with her best friend since second grade, Lauren Jackson.

Every person is challenged in some way or another; it is up to him or her to decide how the challenge affects or impedes daily life. Some use it as an excuse to underachieve, while many push through it to enjoy life no matter the circumstance. Challenge Aspen is a nonprofit organization aimed at allowing individuals of all ages with special needs to do exactly that — enjoy living.

With 32 participants ages 8 to 47 with disabilities ranging from Down syndrome to autism to cerebral palsy, the 15th annual Magic of Music and Dance Camp concludes Friday with a performance of “The Sound of Music.” The event is free to attend and is scheduled for noon at Basalt Middle School.

The music camp is managed and organized by Sally Anne Harrell along with 40 volunteers. Beginning as a summer intern, Harrell is now in her third year as program coordinator of Challenge Aspen’s recreation division. Harrell, 24, is from Nashville, Tenn., and said her job position is a perfect culmination of all her interests.

“I’ve always been a people person; I was a camp counselor for many years, and outdoor activities are a big passion of mine,” Harrell said. “So being able to take all of that together was a great opportunity all at once.”

Harrell majored in human development and family studies at Auburn University and was determined to pursue a career with special-needs children. Having grown up with a learning disability, she understands the importance of both family and community support for people with disabilities.

“What makes this job so great is getting to see how families and friends get involved and witness these amazing kids do things they may not have expected them to be able to do,” Harrell said.

Aside from a staff of fewer than 10 people, volunteers run the various Challenge Aspen programs. Each music-camp participant is paired with their own “buddy” to aid with memorizing their lines and eating and to engage them in afternoon activities such as swimming and whitewater rafting.

Mack Bailey, 53, has been volunteering with his wife, Rachel, for the past six years. They live in Denver but commute four hours to Aspen just to take part in the music camp. Bailey initially heard of Challenge Aspen while performing at the Wheeler Opera House in a John Denver tribute band with proceeds benefiting the cause.

“It’s an amazing program. I really do love it,” Bailey said. “I look forward to this one week more than anything. This is like my Christmas.”

After first getting involved as volunteers, Bailey and his wife took over the position of musical director last year. He said there is nothing as rewarding as watching the campers enjoy themselves while greatly improving their theatrical skills with each rehearsal.

“It’s all about the success of each and every individual that gets on stage, and that’s what we aim for — making sure that everyone is always shown in their best light, and we work on everybody’s strengths to make them even stronger,” Bailey said. “I know I’ll have tears coming down at the performance, and hopefully anyone who comes will notice the hard work these campers put into it.”

Having attended the music camp every year since it began, Rochelle Broughton, 23, has taken on the role of co-director in addition to acting in the musical performances. Broughton will be playing the role of Maria on Friday in “The Sound of Music” and previously took the spotlight as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” a couple of years ago.

“I love being able to play someone else’s life for a day and getting to experience someone else’s way of seeing things,” Broughton said. “I also like the unpredictability of theatre — things are going to happen and get messed up sometimes, but that’s all part of the production. Every day something different happens. It’s like putting a puzzle together to get this together in only five days.”

Broughton has spastic diplegia, a rare form of cerebral palsy. She said she looks forward to returning to the music camp every summer to reconnect with old friends and follow her passion for theater. It is participants such as Broughton who really bring the music camp to life as she arrives each day with unwavering enthusiasm and excitement.

“There are always moments that just jump out. You don’t know when they are going to be or where they’re going to be. You have an idea, but you are always surprised when it happens,” Bailey said. “That’s what you live for; that’s why I volunteer — for those special moments. ‘The Sound of Music’ will be one of those moments.”

Scott Schlafer is an editorial intern working for The Aspen Times through July.

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