Challenge Aspen hosts annual gala, golf tournament in Snowmass |

Challenge Aspen hosts annual gala, golf tournament in Snowmass

For Jeff Hauser, the chief executive officer of Challenge Aspen, the best part of its annual gala and golf tournament is that it gets others from outside the organization to talk to the community about what it does.

“We’ve got folks that really understand our mission (and) talking to new people who don’t understand it,” Hauser said Monday from Snowmass Club. “They are not hearing it from me, they are hearing it from each other. It seems to have more power and weight that way.”

Challenge Aspen hosted its 16th annual event earlier this week, which included a gala July 28 followed the golf tournament July 29. Hauser, who took over in June 2017 for co-founder Houston Cowan, said they typically raise about 20% of their annual operating budget in this one weekend each year.

Based out of Snowmass, Challenge Aspen works to create “adaptive experiences for individuals faced with cognitive and/or physical disabilities,” according to their mission statement. This can include rafting during the summer and skiing during the winter, and Challenge Aspen is well-known for its work with military veterans.

The gala and golf tournament are ways for the community to come together in support of that cause.

“Donors are really unique people in that you just have to give them an opportunity,” Hauser said. “It’s great to get 300 people that know and support us in the same room. It’s really gratifying. People are bringing new folks in and they are becoming friends of the organization and it’s part of how we have sustained for 24 years as an organization, is we keep building friends and people keep getting drawn to our mission.”

The gala has long been known for the entertainment provided by musicians Vince Gill and Amy Grant, who are married. The couple did not take part the past two years, however, opening doors for others to get involved. Challenge Aspen brought in Houston-based singer Kechi Okwuchi, who rose to fame after being a finalist on America’s Got Talent in 2017. In 2005, she was one of only two survivors of a plane crash that killed 107 people in her native Nigeria.

Challenge Aspen also brought in Kansas City-based artist Jeff Hanson, whose acrylic-on-canvas pieces have raised millions for various charities and can be found in the homes of many celebrities around the world. Hanson is visually impaired due to a rare brain tumor and will likely be fully blind within the next five years.

“It was really great having both of those professionals working with us as we were focusing on the participants,” Hauser said of Okwuchi and Hanson. “The whole theme of the evening was focusing on our participants. The posters and everything, the theme said, ‘An Evening with the Stars,’ and the stars were our participants.”

In the past few years, the gala had been held in Aspen, although the golf tournament has long been held at Snowmass Club. With their headquarters based in the Snowmass Mall, Hauser said this year provided a good opportunity to bring it all back to Snowmass, a community it has a close bond with.

“There is just a really great buzz in Snowmass with the Base Village and with all the events they are having this summer. We just thought this was the summer to kind of come home,” Hauser said. “It’s not written in stone, but we kind of envision that the next few years will be here in Snowmass. This is where we do business. This is where people know us. We have a lot of support in this community, as we do in the whole valley.”