Check out these four organizations putting in the work to create a more inclusive and equitable space in the outdoors.
At SheJumps, we believe the outdoors can be a transformative tool for individuals. If you’re looking to make a deeper impact within your community, look no further than your local adaptive sports and rehabilitation programs for volunteer opportunities. While we wish we could tell you about every program in every mountain town out there, here are four organizations that are truly doing the work to create a more inclusive outdoors space.
Higher Ground | Ketchum, Idaho
Growing up in Sun Valley, Idaho, SheJumps Volunteer Niki Penrose found herself surrounded by outdoor recreation. While it was accessible for her, she quickly learned at a young age it wasn’t as easy for others.
“My brother had club feet when he was adopted at the age of 5 and during his surgeries for the repair he was in double full leg casts,” she noted. The family wanted to include him in the outdoors, so he became a participant at Higher Ground. “He has fully recovered and is no longer a participant, but when my father retired he started volunteering for Higher Ground and has accumulated the most volunteer hours yearly for over 5 years in a row.”
The experience stuck with her. As an adult, Penrose is now a full-time ski instructor for Higher Ground and helps with summer programming as well.
It was the instructors like Penrose that inspired Kelly Eisenbarger, Marketing Manager, to become involved with the program. While at Sun Valley Resort, she was impressed by the Higher Ground instructors that were able to teach skiing and snowboarding to participants of all ability levels. On top of adaptive sports lessons, Higher Ground offers programs for veterans, local social and recreation clubs for adults with disabilities, and day programs for local children with disabilities.
For both Penrose and Eisenbarger, inclusion is at the heart of their passion for the programs at Higher Ground.
“Inclusion is incredibly important to me. I live in the Wood River Valley, a total outdoor wonderland, and it seems very unfair for recreation opportunities not to be accessible for everyone,” stated Eisenbarger. “After witnessing the power of the outdoors in how it brings community and a sense of belonging to others I become more passionate about our mission every year.”
Penrose agrees. “I have usually been the only Asian person of my peer group and rarely saw people who looked like me in ski movies, outdoor ads, or anything that featured outdoor recreation. This made me feel like I didn't really have a place in the outdoors and I shied away from participating in hiking, biking, and skiing at a level that I could. I think it is important for people to have role models that look like them, and to see that there are people of all abilities participating in the outdoors.”
With both winter and summer programming, the best way to get involved with Higher Ground is to reach out to Volunteer Coordinator Reed Mason (firstname.lastname@example.org) to receive upcoming opportunities newsletters or through the website at highergroundusa.org.
Oregon Adaptive Sports | Bend, Oregon
It was seven years ago that Leah Persichilli became involved with Oregon Adaptive Sports (OAS) based in Bend, Oregon. “I started as a volunteer, then worked many winters and summers as an instructor, and am now honored to hold the position of Program Director,” she said. “Having a son born with a disability also helped guide my outdoor passions into the adaptive sports realm!”
OAS focuses on access to outdoor recreation with individuals with disabilities, with a core value of inclusion. In the winter the organization offers alpine skiing, snowboarding, nordic skiing and snowshoeing. The summer programs include cycling, mountain biking, hiking, paddling and golf. “I believe that all people should have access to the outdoors and outdoor sport, regardless of ability,” stated Persichilli. “Often people who experience disability (physical, developmental, and cognitive) have barriers to accessing the outdoors: expensive adaptive equipment, trained instruction, accessible transportation, financial burden, and lack of advocacy. Oregon Adaptive Sports addresses each of these barriers to access in order to ‘level the playing field’ for all people who want to experience the joy of outdoor sport.”
Currently, OAS is hiring two full-time summer staff members to run their community programs, and are always interested in potential volunteers. The best way to volunteer is to check the website in early spring and fall. Potential volunteers sign up for an OAS orientation and then attend a skill-specific volunteer training.
Adaptive Sports Association | Durango, Colorado
After moving to Durango years ago, Ann Marie Beresford found an instant community through volunteering with Adaptive Sports Association (ASA). After then working as a Staff Instructor and Program Director, she’s now found herself in the position of Executive Director. Still true to herself, “My favorite days are when I find myself on a chairlift with a lesson or behind the oars on one of our whitewater rafting trips.”
In the winter, ASA offers sit-skiing lessons with an expanded summer program including camping, cycling, and whitewater rafting. All activities can be modified to meet the needs of the individuals. “Over the years I’ve had the privilege to meet some of the most amazing humans- ASA participants and families, volunteers, and other staff members,” said Beresford. “ Our best days are when we have a participant or a family member realize how much is still possible after an accident or illness or having a child born with a disability. I love getting to help to provide the tools needed for an inclusive family vacation or facilitate the moments where someone says, ‘If I can do this, I can do anything!’”
“We believe in the transformational power of the outdoors and are committed to increasing access by addressing traditional barriers to participation,” noted Beresford. “Both SheJumps and ASA use outdoor recreation as a tool to help individuals build independence, self-confidence, and community. We also seem to share a love of tutus.”
ASA is always looking for new folks to join their volunteer team for winter and summer programs, office/admin support, and more. The best way to get involved for the upcoming summer activities is fill out the form on the website, or directly give the organization a call. No prior experience is necessary, but winter volunteers must be intermediate level skiers or snowboarders.
Adaptive Sports Center | Crested Butte, Colorado
The Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte is dedicated to providing access to the outdoors to populations that are underserved and underrepresented. Their vision includes providing programming that has a lasting impact on the quality of each participant’s life. Amanda Baseler, a SheJumps Volunteer, has been working at the organization since 2020. Originally starting as a ski instructor for the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah, she has found her calling in this line of work.
“This work is important to me because it is giving people access to outdoor recreation when they otherwise may not have the opportunity - or even the knowledge that it is an option for them,” said Baseler. “It gives people the freedom that adaptive equipment can provide them - to get out on the trails or on the snow, have the wind in their face, and just be a skier, or a biker, or a climber - whatever it is they want to pursue.”
With a wide set of activities offered in both winter and summer, there is a program out there for any individual at any skill level. Added Baseler, “Recreation as a whole is so important and impactful for people and their health. It is rewarding, fun, and challenging to collaborate with others who feel the same way.”
The Adaptive Sports Center takes seasonal applications for volunteers, with the next opportunity to sign up in May. Either reach out to Rob Guenther at email@example.com for more information or visit the website.