July 2019 Member of the Month: Voyager Youth Program
In an ongoing effort to promote and get to know our local businesses, the Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce is proud to introduce our July 2019 RACC Member of the Month:
Voyager Youth Program
What was the inspiration for the founding of this organization?
Ouray County Schools Community Resource Consortium, Inc., dba Voyager Youth Program was founded in 1997 by a group of concerned parents in response to a series of incidents involving underage substance use. It has grown into a multi-faceted nonprofit entity whose mission is to inspire the youth of Ouray County to achieve healthy lives through prevention education and experiential activities with a purpose, in partnership with schools and community.
What are the goals of your organization?
Our three strategic goals are:
- To encourage a youth culture that values all aspects of physical and emotional wellness;
- To encourage a youth culture that embraces healthy alternatives to substance use and other risk behaviors;
- To encourage connection between youth and the larger Ouray County community through recreational, community service, and leadership opportunities.
Please tell me about your nonprofit’s leadership staff.
Lisa Thomason, Executive Director, is a native Coloradan and has lived on the Western Slope: Telluride, Gunnison, Montrose, then Ridgway for close to 40 years. She has worked for nonprofit organizations throughout most of her adult career. She comes to Voyager with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in education, and is board certified as a behavior analyst. She was also vocational education-certified in early childhood education and director-qualified in child care. She provided alcohol and drug evaluations for the Colorado State Judicial System for several years. She has been a consultant/contractor for Early Intervention Colorado, and was President of the Colorado Division for Early Childhood. Lisa continues to practice behavior analysis as a contractor. As Director of Voyager, Lisa uses all her skills to provide excellent services in nonprofit management, enrichment for children, and substance use prevention for youth.
Danelle Hughes Norman, Program Manager is originally from Roanoke, Va., and moved to the region in 1999. She returned to work for Voyager in 2016 – 13 years after serving Voyager youth as a program leader. She's earned her Colorado Department of Education Initial License in K-12 art and her bachelor of fine art degree in art education from Colorado Mesa University. She brings years of managerial experience in the hospitality industry and countless hours of working with children through Ouray County schools, Weehawken Creative Arts, Ah Haa School of the Arts, and Telluride Ski School. Danelle has an artist's soul and a teacher's heart. She sees beauty in the common as a celebration of life by which she finds fulfillment in sharing that inspiration with children and adults. Danelle's commitment to Voyager springs from that shared desire to foster resiliency in youth through making connections to each other, the planet, and community.
Alex Durham, Prevention Coordinator, is an active member and a long-time resident of Ouray County. Since 2014, she has had the privilege of coaching middle and high school volleyball for Ouray Schools. More than just a coach to the girls, she is viewed as a role model and someone they can confide in. Believing that coaching can be used as a tool for teaching valuable life skills, she takes extra time to share information with the team about developing healthy habits and creating a balanced lifestyle. Having grown up with an older brother who has autism has taught her patience and compassion from a very young age and driven her to help people and children learn to be respectful of their peers. Now, as a Certified Prevention Specialist, she aims to spread messages of wellness, connection, and generosity to the young people with whom she works.
Britney Ebersold, Enrichment Coordinator, is an outdoor enthusiast who is originally from Memphis, Tenn. With a bachelor’s degree in health sciences/exercise and sports science, she loves to share with others how to use the wonderful outdoors with holistic wellness. Working in the inner-city kids of Memphis for over three years, she has helped many others go through all sorts of walks of life. Brit has mentored children all her life and has been humbled by the life experiences she has to share with others. Her favorite time with children has been helping them through life's difficulties and encouraging them how to shine. She also enjoys rock climbing, skiing, hiking, camping, kayaking, and many other outside activities.
What do you like most about the Ridgway community?
What we like most about the Ridgway community: 1) the sense of community; 2) great place to raise children; 3) unlimited outdoor activities; 4) high concentration of art and music.
What is the biggest challenge of running your organization?
The biggest challenge of running a nonprofit organization is variable funding. Over 90% of Voyager's funding comes from state and local government and foundation grants, as well as business and individual donors. Only around 7% of funding is provided to the overall organization from parent fees for service, which are kept at below market cost due to the economic disparity in the region. It is our goal to serve all children and youth inclusively, regardless of any challenges.
Over 30% of Voyager's participants come to us with some kind of challenge: behavioral, social/emotional, physical, or intellectual/developmental. For this reason, we are constantly seeking additional funding to be able to keep our staff to child ratio very high. We were just blessed with an incredibly generous donation from Victoria Hearst, which, combined with our previous capital campaign efforts, allowed us to purchase the building and premises we had been renting since 2015. Voyager has a permanent home!
What is the biggest reward?
Our biggest rewards are the smiling and happy children who have just accomplished something they've never done before, learned something new, or just made a friend. It is equally as satisfying to read teen surveys after participating in our newest program, "Adventure Wednesdays". When they say something like, "It's made me more excited to participate in outdoor activities," and it changed my attitude from, "moody to happy," we know we've done a good job.