Thirty years ago, Summit County residents Mike and Margaret Smith decided they wanted to put together a fundraiser to help people with cerebral palsy. The issue is one that strikes close to home for the Smiths, whose daughter, Kelly, was born with the disease.
That first fundraiser was a telethon, and was held underneath a large yellow-and-white-striped tent in a parking lot. Over the years, the method of fundraising shifted — to things like donations of $1 per ski rental — until the first tasting event held at Keystone Ranch, attended by about 150 people.
Now, Wine in the Pines has become one of the biggest events of the season, featuring some of the best wine and food that Summit County has to offer, with anywhere from 700 to 1,200 people in attendance.
“I think it just took on a life of its own and every year it just grew and more people wanted to come,” said Terri Armstrong, special events director for Ability Connection Colorado. “It’s just evolved.”
It’s also a dress-up affair, with a different theme each year. Last year, guests “walked the red carpet” to an Oscar’s theme. This year, attendees will get a taste of Italy with the “Venetian” theme, and will likely dress the part.
Giving others a chance
When creating the fundraising events, the Smiths contacted Ability Connection of Colorado (then under the name CP of Colorado), a Denver-based organization that provides services for people affected by cerebral palsy.
Funds raised by Wine in the Pines go to the Kelly Smith Employment Center, which helps individuals with cerebral palsy with things like skills development and job placement throughout the state.
“Its full intention is to help people find their dreams, do what they want to do — like we all want to do — and go through a process learning how to do that best and becoming a valued contributor through who they work with,” said Judy Ham, president and CEO of Ability Connection Colorado. “We’ve watched Kelly (Smith) be employed, make a contribution to the community, and she demonstrated that while she might have had some challenges to make that happen, she was one of the best employees someone could have.”
In the past year, the Kelly Smith Employment Center has helped more than 4,000 people with cerebral palsy realize their potential in the workforce.
Celebrating 30 years
While every Wine in the Pines is a big event with no holds barred when it comes to delicious food and eye-popping chocolate displays, the 30th anniversary includes a new element and a look back at the past.
Organizers have gathered photographs from the event’s history and put together a slideshow display from past Wine in the Pines, including the very first.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Armstrong said. “It’s been fun going through all the pictures, seeing the changes in everybody.”
This year will feature more than 500 wines, gourmet meals from Keystone’s top chefs and a centerpiece full of chocolate sculptures and decadent desserts prepared by chef Ned Archibald. Archibald uses hundreds of pounds of chocolate to make his edible creations.
There will also be a silent and a live auction, and opportunities to take gondola pictures, following along the Venetian theme.
New this year is a live comedy show by comedian Josh Blue, winner of NBC’s Last Comic Standing. Blue, who also has cerebral palsy, has been a large supporter of Ability Connection Colorado. The organization’s website features a short video of Blue introducing the new name. He announces it, pauses a beat and then looks around.
“You said you were going to name this after me,” he declares with fake outrage.
The video features a few more zingers from Blue, as well as more information about Ability Connection Colorado.
“His ability is his incredible comedy,” Ham said of Blue. “It’s going to be fun to laugh with him and help us remember what’s important in life — to laugh and enjoy it.”
Sense of community
One of the reasons that Wine in the Pines has been a continued success over the last three decades is the support it’s received from the local community, Ham said.
“After 30 years, it’s pretty remarkable to have such unbelievable community support from Summit County, and now there are people from Denver who enjoy it as well. It has been the incredible support of Summit County that has made it work.”