Susie Nothnagel and her husband, both ski patrollers at Breckenridge Ski Resort, rescued their dog, Loki, from an animal shelter. Four years later, it's Loki's job to save humans as an avalanche rescue dog on the slopes with her owners at Breckenridge, and Nothnagel is dedicating her time to helping other animals find homes. She is one of five local ski area employees who will join the first generation of Epic Volunteers, a new program introduced by Vail Resorts Echo, a corporate stewardship program that donates more than $6 million annually to nonprofit organizations within the communities where the company operates. In an effort to encourage employee involvement in community projects, Vail Resorts is awarding Nothnagel and four other Epic Volunteer participants a fully paid 40-hour workweek to spend volunteering for a charity or project of their choice.Both year-round and seasonal full-time employees with at least 750 company hours to their name can apply for the program. The charity doesn't need to be one of those served by Vail Resorts Echo, but can be any worldwide or local organization that the employee would like to serve. This year, the program's first, more than 60 people applied to be Epic Volunteers. Of those, 17 were chosen, including five employees from Summit County. Nothnagel is planning to spend her week volunteering with the Humane Society of Boulder Valley. Her decision was inspired not only by her love of animals, but by Loki's backround. "We met a lot of dogs and she was the one that really stuck out to us as the right kind of dog for us," Nothnagel said. "We fell in love right away."Once the dog became a part of the family, it didn't take long for Nothnagel and her husband to realize that Loki might have a career on the hill as well, in avalanche rescue. "Our plan was to get a pet, but as we got to know her better, we just realized that she had a lot of the qualities that make a good rescue dog," Nothnagel said, citing Loki's sweet temperament, love of people, size and strong play drive as desirable qualities. "She just fit all the characteristics, so we made the decision to train her as an avalanche rescue dog."Now, Loki not only works with her primary handler, Nothnagel's husband, but also is training to have Nothnagel as her secondary handler. Loki loves her work, apparently, particularly when she finds somebody and is rewarded with her favorite game - tug."It's been incredible. It's so amazing to watch your dog work and have that connection with her," Nothnagel said. "All of our dogs are excellent at what they do. They really enjoy the work and she's just another example of that."Nothnagel said she is looking forward to her week with the animal shelter. She loves the fact that Loki, a rescue herself, is now a rescuer, and she hopes that her time at the shelter can make a difference for other animals. Though she's wanted to volunteer with shelters in the past, having the time for a commitment had been a problem. "It's just nice because I think a lot of us already volunteer or want to volunteer more, but when suddenly it turns into, 'Oh, you're not even taking a hit to your paycheck, you can go do something you really care about, on the company,' it really just adds to that encouragement," she said.Sewing for FIRCMeredith Farnum, who does employee development and training at Keystone Resort, has been involved for some time with the "Bag Lady" project at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC). The "bag ladies" are a group of volunteers who sew recycled material into gift bags, passport bags, tuxedo wine bags and other items. "I was doing that as my own volunteer project that fit my needs - being able to create and take my passion for sewing and doing something with it and giving back," Farnum said. Now, the Epic Volunteer program has offered her an opportunity to take the project further, allowing Farnum to add to her volunteer hours at FIRC and therefore learn more about the organization and the community it serves."I thought, well, I need to be a little bit more hands-on," she said.Rather than doing one week straight of volunteer hours, Farnum has split her time into smaller segments spread out over a longer period of time. She's also expanded her involvement, spending time volunteering at the FIRC thrift store in Dillon, in addition to her sewing. "It's been an eye-opener for me," she said, adding that she has found the experience both worthwhile and valuable."(Vail Resorts) stepped up to the plate and said that volunteerism is important and it's important that our employees have the opportunity to volunteer," she said of the Epic Volunteer program. "This was really thinking outside of the box in terms of 'how can we help our employees be engaged in the things that they really believe in?' So for them to put some money where that rhetoric was, was really impressive to me. It brings it to life."
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