Rising to the challenge
Since 1991, an Aspen nonprofit has provided youth with opportunities for self-empowerment.Originally named A Grassroots Aspen Experience, the organization was founded by John Reid. Reid’s concept of bringing at-risk youth from inner cities across America to the Roaring Fork Valley for weeklong outdoor experiential programs was instantly met with support. One of Reid’s original supporters was Glenn Frey of the Eagles, a part-time resident of Old Snowmass. Glenn and his wife Cindy often opened their home to youth visiting for the programs. Glenn raised money by performing concerts at local venues, shared profits from his nationwide tours, and eventually served on the organization’s honorary board. After years of confusion with the organization’s name and that of its neighbor in the Red Brick Center, GrassRoots TV, the board of directors voted for a change. This past summer, the nonprofit became known as Aspen Youth Experience. Though a new logo replaced the original one and the mission statement was revised, the focus of the organization stayed consistent – to save lives while empowering young people to make positive choices.Today, Aspen Youth Experience (AYE) conducts a variety of activities to fulfill its mission, including summer and winter programs, a Latino youth camp, a college scholarship program, and monthly follow-up sessions available to all participants and alumni.Participants engage in activities they may have never before attempted such as skiing and snowboarding in the winter or rock climbing in the summer. Their nights are spent in intensive rap sessions where, in a safe and confidential setting, they share stories of hardship as well as establish goals for the future.Currently, participants hail from Chicago, Washington, D.C., Kansas City, Mo., San Francisco, and New York City, as well as right here in the Roaring Fork Valley. The programs are structured so participants can take on greater responsibility the more they return, eventually becoming peer counselors, and then group leaders if they so desire.From Jan. 9-16, AYE held its annual Winter Program for approximately 50 youth participants, thanks to the extreme generosity of the community. Local families shared their homes to host everyone; at least a dozen restaurants from the Elks Club to the Woody Creek Tavern provided dinners, and ski and snowboard instructors volunteered their time giving lessons at Snowmass.
Darnell Rose, fondly known as “Mr. D” by his ski school students returned as the snowboarding coordinator, rounding up instructors to teach the AYE youth. “Honestly, this is my favorite week of the entire season,” proclaimed one instructor who has volunteered his time to the program for the past few years. “It’s probably more rewarding for us as instructors to spend a few days with these kids than it is for them to learn how to ride and ski. They are all so appreciative and we just get so much out of interacting with them.”The Aspen Skiing Company has been a longtime supporter of the program, providing complimentary lift tickets for the three days spent on the slopes at Snowmass – this year they even provided participants with picture passes, which the kids happily kept as souvenirs.When the program concluded with a banquet at Bump’s Lodge on Saturday, Jan. 15, the feeling in the air was bittersweet. An integral member of the AYE family was marking his last program as the rap session facilitator. Derek Canty has been involved since the very beginning of AYE and in the process has been a mentor and inspiration to scores of youth. As the evening came to a close, Canty promised to return as a guest at the ropes course this summer in Marble and to remain a part of the organization. Canty was honored for his hard work, dedication and unwavering love for all involved in the programs.
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A ski season surrounded with uncertainty kicks off on Wednesday. The six inches of new snowfall Tuesday will allow opening of an additional 62 acres on Aspen Mountain, bringing opening-day total to about 160 acres.