Breckenridge outdoor center expands mission
Summit County correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
When the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center formed in 1976, it built on its initial focus to give blind folks opportunities to nordic ski in the high country. Now it conducts sought-after adaptive skiing and wilderness camps – and there’s something for everyone, all year long.
“It was created to provide outdoor recreation to people with disabilities and special needs,” said Executive Director Bruce Fitch. “Initial activities were conducted by Gene Dayton, a longtime local and current owner of Breckenridge Nordic Center, from 1974-75. It was then incorporated by three local businessmen into a nonprofit called BOEC. It was basically the same mission, it just broadened itself.”
Though the BOEC primarily puts on outdoor programs for people with disabilities and special needs – like all forms of adaptive skiing and snowboarding – it also leads summer outdoor adventures for schools and youths at risk. These programs usually last three to five days, and they offers participants a variety of activities, from river rafting to rock climbing.
“I’m very passionate about the BOEC,” said board treasurer Tim Casey. “The work is extraordinary. It provides opportunities for people who are challenged and disabled to experience the outdoors through skiing or wilderness programs. It makes you feel so good to be involved in it.”
Volunteer Bill Moody agreed. He said he volunteers because it makes him feel happy to be a part of such a wonderful organization.
“You end up doing it for yourself because of the gratification you get,” Moody said. The participants are “struggling, and they can get out and have a good time. To see the looks on their faces – they’re just so glad to be there. You can’t help but feel good too. Everyone wants to be there.”
With 10 full-time, year-round employees, 40 seasonal employees and 350 volunteers, the BOEC operates out of Griffith Lodge, at the base of Peak 9 in Breckenridge.
“We have a professional staff at the top of the industry,” Fitch said, noting that the core of the BOEC’s paid staff are ski instructors in the winter and wilderness instructors in the summer. “The requirement of the job is to be trained well, as safety is a top priority, as is the quality delivery of programs. Their work is expanded upon by the volunteers.”
Fitch said BOEC program directors have been with the organization for more than 15 years, so they know their stuff. And, twice a year, this local organization hosts two classes of interns – 12 positions in the summer and 12 in the winter.
“We provide room, board, a modest stipend and extensive training for the interns,” Fitch said. “They are the cornerstone of our labor delivering these programs. We don’t have many paid staff in the summer, but interns are working almost every day. They’re great. They’re like the spiritual core of the BOEC – idealistic young people who bring spirit and dedication. It keeps us vital and focused on our mission.”
With an annual budget of $2.5 million, Fitch said three-quarters of that is raised through fundraising and special events.
“It’s always hard to raise money, but we have a compelling mission,” Fitch said. “The town of Breck and Vail Resorts have been very generous in helping us serve these populations. We have been able to meet our fundraising goals and client goals through this recession due to solid partnerships with donor bases. Our clients also think this is critical to the quality of their lives, so they’re not stepping back. Despite economic hardships, people are still coming.”
The other quarter of funding is created from fees for services.
“We charge as little as we can,” he said. “We’ve never turned anyone away who couldn’t afford it. We have scholarships.”
The BOEC serves a little more than 2,000 individuals each year, and two-thirds of those are Coloradans, Fitch added. Local businesses and municipalities often fund scholarships for local residents, too.
“I’ve been here close to five years now, and I’m impressed,” Fitch said. “This organization has a lot of heart. Everyone here is dedicated to service. It’s why they show up to work every day.”
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