Dropping donations threaten Challenge Aspen’s program offerings | AspenTimes.com

Dropping donations threaten Challenge Aspen’s program offerings

Courtesy photo Veterans participate in a recent retreat put on by Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities at Snowmass ski area.
Jim Mallouk |

There’s a difference between Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities and the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, but their similarities can make it difficult to distinguish the two.

For starters, both provide active servicemen and women and military veterans therapeutic outdoors opportunities. Second, each program holds strong presences in Snowmass Village. That’s where Challenge Aspen is based along with its military program, while the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic returns to Snowmass on March 26 through 31.

The programs, however, are not affiliated with each other.

“There are over 300 nonprofits (in the Roaring Fork Valley), and it’s interesting trying to fight for those dollars,” said John Klonowski, the director of CAMO who has been with Challenge Aspen since 2006. “And some people have a really hard time differentiating between the two programs (CAMO and the Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic).”

Donations to CAMO have been down significantly over the past year, Klonowski said, putting some of the nonprofit’s offerings in jeopardy. CAMO plays host to about 20 retreats each year — 13 during the winter and seven or eight in the summer — with between 10 and 15 disabled vets attending each retreat, he said. During the winter they participate in adaptive sports on the mountain; summer means fishing, rock climbing, hiking and other pursuits.

The goal of the retreats, according to CAMO’s description on the Challenge Aspen website, is to provide “adaptive therapeutic recreation and wellness experiences for military personnel diagnosed with cognitive and/or physical disabilities. CAMO offers an opportunity for veterans, their spouses/partners and caregivers to reconnect with outdoor recreation activities through professional adaptive instruction for summer and winter sports.”

The number of retreats will be reduced if CAMO’s contributions keep dropping.

“We’re looking at the possibility of canceling them because we’re down in donations,” Klonowski said. “We’re at the point that I have to look really hard at what we’re doing.”

Part of the slide in donations is because the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which has given grants to CAMO in the past, rejected a grant application last year for $100,000, Klonowski said. In 2015, Veterans Affairs gav.e $79,000 to CAMO, he said.

CAMO covers the costs for its participants, who visit Snowmass and can take in winter or summer sports as part of the retreats the nonprofit offers throughout the year. CAMO has partnered with Mountain Chalet for the five nights of lodging participants receive; it also pays for meals and the $300 to $400 airfare on Southwest Airlines, according to Klonowski.

“The camaraderie and the ability to hang out with each other — they miss that,” Klonowski said. “It can really change their lives in a lot of cases.”

The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic’s website bills it as “the largest rehabilitative program of its kind in the world today. It utilizes adapted physical activities as well as workshops and educational sessions to aid in the rehabilitation of severely disabled veterans.”

Last year, its 30th clinic, and 16th in Snowmass, drew more than 300 veterans from 43 states.

There’s certainly enough room in Snowmass for both organizations, Klonowski said. But he wants donors to know the difference.

“I think it comes down to educating our valley,” he said. “We are up there year-round.”


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