“It’s on us”: Challenge Aspen facilitates virtual connection among athletes, volunteers
Last week, Challenge Aspen created a new private Facebook group to help its staff, volunteers and athletes stay connected during the coronavirus pandemic.
This week, the Snowmass-based nonprofit is taking it a step further, rolling out a daily virtual programming schedule that promotes interaction, creativity and overall wellness through the new Facebook group and other social media platforms.
“There’s just nothing we can do physically right now,” said Deb Sullivan, Recreational, Educational and Cultural (REC) Program director for Challenge Aspen. “We’re trying to do something that’s social but doesn’t require connecting physically and have a long list of things to pull out of the hat in the weeks to follow.”
On March 12, Challenge Aspen announced it was canceling all of its remaining winter programs, lessons and retreats for veterans and individuals faced with cognitive and/or physical disabilities.
Since then, Sullivan and Callie Dickson, REC Program coordinator, have headed brainstorming on ways the nonprofit’s participants — mainly the 30 in the local program but national participants, too — volunteers and staff can continue to spend time together in a way that’s safe and respects the county’s “stay at home” order.
“We’re really in a trial-and-error period and plan to throw a lot at them,” Dickson said of the new virtual programming.
“We want to normalize this weird time for everyone and make sure our participants know Challenge Aspen is still here as resource for them.”
Last week, Sullivan and Dickson did “drive-bys” to each local participant’s home, dropping off art kits donated by the Art Base in Basalt.
The REC program administrators said that many participants have underlying health conditions that may put them at a higher risk for getting the novel coronavirus, which is why it’s so important they limit in-person contact with people outside of their homes.
However, Sullivan and Dickson also said many participants rely mainly on their weekly social interactions through Challenge Aspen to connect with others and may completely self-isolate otherwise.
“This is really important because a lot of our participants come into Challenge Aspen one or two times a week to see their peers and coaches,” Dickson said. “It’s on us to make sure they’re still able to have that connection.”
During its first week of new virtual programming, Challenge Aspen plans to host fun surveys, story chains, art museum tours and a themed drive-by visit. There also are plans for Netflix watch parties, musical therapy, book clubs and interactive cooking with Sullivan in the works.
But beyond the nonprofit’s virtual initiatives, some volunteers and staff are already maintaining connection with Challenge Aspen participants on their own.
Esteban “Steve” Ferrer said he calls and texts the Challenge Aspen athlete he usually skis with at least once a week.
Chris Tullar, who skis with the same athlete as Ferrer, said he also checks in on his “buddy” and hopes to set up a Wii game session via Zoom with her and his family.
Both men referred to their efforts as simply checking in on a friend.
“A big part of your overall wellness is being socially connected,” Tullar said. “I encourage people to reach out to grandparents or others in the higher risk demographic and in more isolation to help keep this connection.”
For Chris Guay, who has been skiing competitively with Challenge Aspen for roughly eight years, these friendly virtual interactions and connections make all of the difference.
Since Challenge Aspen canceled its remaining winter programming and the NASTAR National Championships — which Guay was looking forward to competing in — were called off, Guay said he’s kept up with the new Facebook group, gone on lots of walks and hikes and is working on an art project with a “The Greatest Showman” theme.
He also said it hasn’t always been easy.
“This sucks. There’s really not a lot to do,” Guay said.
However, Guay expressed gratitude for still being able to virtually connect with his friends at Challenge Aspen and is doing his best to stay positive while in self-quarantine.
“It’s great to see how people are doing,” Guay said. “I just keep thinking positive and hope it goes away soon.”
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