Ascendigo head Zuker stepping down next month |

Ascendigo head Zuker stepping down next month

Hugh Zuker, executive director of Ascendigo Autism Services, will be stepping down at the end of October.

Ascendigo (pronounced Ascend-i-go) is the Roaring Fork-based nonprofit focused on providing an array of clinical, life enrichment, vocational and outdoor recreational programming for children and adults with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

“Since assuming the role of Ascendigo ED, I have learned a great deal about both the tremendous need of families affected by autism and the valuable services Ascendigo can provide. ASD is more pervasive, both here and nationally, than most people realize,” Zuker said. The CDC estimated in 2010 that the incidence of persons born with ASD as 1 in 68, though a recent government survey indicates it may be as high as 1 in 45.

“Ascendigo is an amazing family of skilled and committed people who know how to leverage our valley’s unique recreational opportunities and caring community to empower real growth in the independence, capabilities and self-worth of people on the spectrum,” Zuker said.

Ascendigo was originally founded in 2004 as Extreme Sports Camp to provide kids with autism access to summer camp and winter sports as are available to kids without developmental disabilities. Staff receive extensive training on evidence-based autism-specific learning, communication and behavioral strategies. Ascendigo’s popular “Light it up Blue Aspen” gala in February is one of the season’s premier fundraisers.

Ascendigo Adventures offers outdoor educational, recreational and sports programs, including an eight-week residential summer camp based at the CMC Spring Valley campus, young adult summer transition program, partnerships with the Aspen Skiing Co. to provide Ski Pros and support “buddies,” and a variety of programs for local kids on the spectrum, including support for participating in the AVSC program.

Ascendigo has recently added a robust set of year-round life enrichment services. Currently, these services include a full time adult academy with six days per week of programming; professional clinical behavioral services for children as young as two and up through adult under the auspices of a board certified applied behavior analyst; vocational programs; as well as community empowerment and educational events and collaborations with other developmental disability organizations such as Mountain Valley Developmental Services, the ARC of Colorado, University of Colorado School of Medicine, and JFK Partners.

Sallie Bernard, Ascendigo founder and board president, praised the organization’s success under Zuker’s tenure “We have created tremendous growth in opportunities for our clients over the last year and a half. We have grown from 4 to 17 full-time staff since Hugh joined the organization. Over the last year, we served hundreds of kids and adults on the spectrum. This summer alone we had 90 campers and more than a dozen young adults across our adult academy, young adult transitions, and employees on the autism spectrum in a work/empowerment program who joined our other 40 summer staff on a fully integrated basis. During the summer, we are one of the largest nongovernment employers in the midvalley,” she said.

Ascendigo also offers a vocational/educational farm training program in partnership with Sustainable Settings; a year-round ranch/equine program based at Crystal Valley Ranch open to those with and without autism, and a lake sports program which provides power boat based tubing through wakeboard instruction in markets outside the Roaring Fork Valley.

Zuker said his departure from the executive director post is a transition to a different role, and he will remain engaged in helping Ascendigo. “I believe it is important to focus now on enabling the next phase of long term leadership to succeed on the platform we have developed. There will always be much more to do, but I believe we have made an order of magnitude change that will serve Ascendigo’s community long into the future. At this point in my career, and based on the needs of my family, I need to explore opportunities in both the for profit and nonprofit sectors that have arisen. However, supporting Ascendigo will continue to be a priority for me,” he said.

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