Shining Stars in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Shining Stars in Aspen

R.J. Gallagher Jr.
Philantopia

“I went home after the week feeling like I was able and willing to face the challenges of the world in my own way. Shining Stars Winter Games showed me the tip of the iceberg of something I had forgotten: living!”

— Shining Star Asher

I’ve always looked forward to the week that the Shining Stars are in Aspen. They create a completely different atmosphere and culture on the hill and around town when they are here. I can honestly say I think the participants give more than they receive during their short stays in our valley, and that’s saying something.

The Shining Stars Foundation was founded in 2001 by a group of dedicated and experienced volunteers who saw an unmet need in the Rocky Mountains for a program that would provide emotional support to children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses through adventure and recreational programs. Originally focused on providing an adaptive ski experience through the Aspen Winter Games Program, the foundation has grown to provide five key programs and more than 60 events each year.

In its first year, the foundation had only a handful of participants, and just from the state of Colorado. It has now served more than 1,750 children and 5,500 family members from 21 states, and it continues to grow each year, expanding their geographic reach, offering additional services and providing much-needed support for more families in need.

The Shining Stars Foundation is currently the only nonprofit in Colorado — and one of the few nationally — providing long-term, year-round care for children and their families through recreational programming at any stage in their cancer battles. It continues to be groundbreaking in its ability to safely adapt a diverse range of outdoor adventures to meet the needs of children with pediatric cancer or other life-threatening illnesses. Its focus is on children ages 6 to 18.

Its reach goes far beyond just the child with the illness through extended outreach and involvement with the entire family, including siblings, parents and grandparents. A guiding principle of the foundation is to meet needs not addressed by medical treatments, mainly the devastating emotional, social and psychological toll that cancer takes on the entire family. The foundation believes that cancer and other life-threatening illnesses are a family concern. Amen.

The Shining Stars Foundation provides year-round services centered on unique recreational and social activities, including adaptive skiing and snowboarding, outdoor education, adventure sports, music, cultural and community events, animal-based therapy and more. Services are delivered through overnight, weeklong programs and single-day events.

The Aspen Winter Games is an adaptive snowboard and ski recreation program held every year for more than 200 participants, including children, their medical teams, instructors and volunteers. The Shining Stars are taken to the slopes in Aspen and given everything they need to ski or ride, including lift tickets, gear, lodging, meals, transportation and one-on-one adaptive lessons. This year’s Aspen Winter Games began Saturday and will run through March 20. Along with the outdoor adventures, the kids and their families also enjoy dance parties, music lessons, movie nights, swimming, campfires, snowmobiling, yoga, crafts and games. It’s truly a magical time for all involved. Make sure you reach out to touch a Shining Star this week. You’ll be all the better.

More than 80 percent of participants at the Winter Games are on active treatment for their illness. The emphasis of the week is on empowering each child and giving them a sense of hope by pushing them to accomplish things on the mountain that they never thought possible. Activities also bond children with one another, giving them lifelong relationships through which they gain strength and support for the journey ahead.

The Shining Stars Foundation shines a bright light on all who are involved. It’s actually life changing, not only for the participants, but also for their family members and for the volunteers. Especially for the volunteers. Did I mention how rewarding this is for the volunteers? Get my hint?

For more information on how to change your life and become involved with the Shining Stars Foundation through donations and volunteering, visit its website at http://www.shiningstars foundation.org. More than 95 percent of every dollar donated directly supports programs for the children and their families.

The Shining Stars Foundation will tell you that it creates smiles. It renews spirits and ignites hope. In essence, it lets the sunshine in, and it’s so bright, you’re gonna need shades.

R.J. Gallagher Jr. is a three-decade resident of the Roaring Fork Valley community. He proudly serves on numerous nonprofit boards, including the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, Aspen Community Foundation and Komen Aspen. His firm, Forte International is a supporter of local philanthropy that makes a difference on a global level. “Philantopia” is a monthly column of the Aspen Times focused on philanthropy and community involvement. R.J.’s always open for ideas. You can reach out to him at rjg@forteinternational.net.


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