Monday, April 4, marked the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime experience for 18 Florida children, who spent the morning learning adaptive skiing at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Wheelchairs 4 Kids, a nonprofit based in Tampa Bay, Florida, hosted the trip for the children, all of whom use wheelchairs or other mobility aids. In December, the nonprofit won a Southwest Airlines competitionwhich gave 50 free round-trip tickets to nonprofits doing mission-driven work.
Wheelchairs 4 Kids Co-founder and Executive Director Madeline Robinson immediately knew she would use the tickets to take children adaptive skiing, which she first heard about when she worked as a wish granter for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“Somebody had asked me a long time ago, ‘What would be your dream thing to do with these kids?’ And I always said, ‘adaptive skiing,’” Robinson said. “… Seeing their faces and the faces of their parents is worth of every bit of struggle, everything we’ve been through to make this happen.”
The nonprofit supports thousands of families by helping them access new medical equipment through a program called Let’s Roll. It also creates experiences for children through its program Wheely Fun Days.
The trip to Breckenridge — which started Saturday, April 2, and will last through Tuesday, April 5 — is the first time the nonprofit has traveled outside of Florida for the Wheely Fun Days program.
While Southwest was able to cover the travel expenses for the children and their families to fly to Breckenridge, the rest of the trip was up to Wheelchairs 4 Kids. Robinson said the nonprofit was able to pull it off through the generosity of the Summit County community.
The nonprofit partnered with the Breckenridge Mountain Rotary Club to get connected to the community and iron out details. They then got in touch with Beaver Run Resort, which offered discounted lodging for the children and their families, totaling 63 people.
The nonprofit also partnered with the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, a local nonprofit that specializes in adaptive sports for people with disabilities.
“It’s really amazing,” said Jenni Stephens, president of the Rotary Club. “People from the community, from organizations are reaching out, now that they know the kids are here, and trying to help.”
Jeff Inouye, ski program director for the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, said it was exciting to teach a large group of children. Most of the time, the education center works with smaller groups that are a mix of adults and children.
The majority of the children were learning to use a bi-ski, which had skiers sitting down as they made their way down the mountain, Inouye said. Others got to use ski bikes or other adaptive equipment.
“They’re all great kids and really excited and thankful for the opportunity to do this,” Inouye said. “Hopefully, we can build something where some of these folks can keep coming back and keep coming and skiing with us.”
The kids are also getting to experience other parts of Summit County. On Monday night, they went on a sleigh ride at Breckenridge Stables. They will have a going-away party Tuesday evening.
Aside from teaching them a new skill, the trip has provided the children with the opportunity to build a community, Robinson said.
“Depression is a big thing with kids like the kids that we deal with, when they’re in the situation they’re in, because they don’t have an outlet,” she said. “These kids do now.”