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Wounded Warriors Family Adventures brings wounded veterans and their families to Breckenridge

Volunteer instructors at the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center teach adaptive ski lessons to participants of the Wounded Warriors Family Adventures family ski week.
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Wounded Warriors Family Adventures

The WWFA’s mission is to provide wounded warriors and their families outdoor experiences in the beauty of the Colorado Rockies and beyond, partnered with family enrichment programs and bonding opportunities with other wounded warrior families. In July 2012, the Wounded Warriors Family Adventures was formally established as a nonprofit tax-exempt educational organization and attained 501(c)3 status.

For more information, visit the website at http://www.WWFamilyAdventures.org

To donate, visit the website or mail a check to:

WW Family Adventures

PO Box 5318

Breckenridge, CO 80424-5318

Please make check out to WW Family Adventures.

Families from all over the world visit Summit County for vacations all the time. This April, however, 11 families will arrive in Breckenridge for something more than just a vacation. As guests of Wounded Warriors Family Adventures, they will spend one week taking ski and snowboard lessons, exploring Summit County and coming together as a family with the help of counseling professionals.

Wounded Warriors Family Adventures is 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Breckenridge. Started in 2008 by Bob and Bonnie Miller, the organization brings wounded military veterans and their spouses and children to Summit County for a week of family bonding. Each year, a committee formed by the organization chooses 10 to 12 families to participate in the program. This year, they sifted through 83 applicants, narrowing it down to 25 semifinalists. Those families then went through an interview process. This year, 10 new families and one returning family were invited.

The returning family acts as a “mentor family,” said WWFA co-chair and U.S. Army veteran John Ebright. Having done the program in a previous year, they contact the new families to introduce themselves and answer any questions. Social media — namely Facebook — has been the main method of communication among participants, both before and after the program.



“A lot of them know a little about each other already,” Ebright said. “They’ve started to bond and talk already.”

Rooms for the week are donated through the Grand Timber Lodge in Breckenridge, and airfare is provided through Southwest Airlines, as many families travel in from out of state. All meals and activities throughout the week are provided through donations and through the WWFA organization.



ADAPTIVE LESSONS

For the skiing and snowboarding lessons, the WWFA partners with the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC), another local nonprofit organization that provides adaptive outdoor opportunities to people with disabilities. Adaptive instructors and BOEC volunteers pair up with family members to show them the ropes at the ski resort.

Andy Jordan has volunteered with BOEC for the past eight years and helped out during Family Ski Week.

“I think it’s just a win-win for everybody,” he said, of getting on the hill with the veterans and their families. “Plus, they can just come out, relax and have fun.”

BRINGING FAMILIES TOGETHER

One of the aspects that separates WWFA from other wounded warrior organizations is the fact that the entire family is included — veteran, spouse and children. In addition to skiing, snowboarding and exploring Summit County, participants in the program are assisted by counseling professionals from Aurora Mental Health Center. The counselors will have one-on-one sessions, sessions between spouses, sessions with the children and various other combinations.

“We’ve found that the spouses and the children are also injured, in a sense,” said Ebright. “The soldier goes to war and comes back a different person. … They feel the ability to open up a little better here with their families.”

Musician, entertainer and motivational speaker Peter Himmelman is also donating his time to the families. For the third year in a row, he will fly out from Los Angeles to provide his services and help bring the participating families closer together.

“We’re looking for a game-changing kind of environment, which is a pretty lofty goal, and in some cases we see it,” Ebright said.

Another benefit of the program is it widens each family’s social network, introducing them to people who are going through similar things and experiencing some of the same issues.

“Some of the friendships the kids develop is just incredible,” Jordan said.

“Everyone in the family gets to socialize with other warrior families and exchange issues that they have,” Ebright said. “Just comparing notes on how things are going and what things help and what things don’t help.”

For the veterans, he added, “this is an opportunity for them to meet soldiers in a friendly environment.”

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Ted Lawson has been involved with WWFA since its beginning and is currently serving as co-chairman. Before he spent 34 years as a commercial pilot for Southwest Airlines, he served nine years in the Air Force, including during the Vietnam War.

“It touched home with me when I found out that the opportunity existed up here to be involved in the program,” he said. “It’s a good thing, it’s rewarding, and it’s good to give back.”

He contacted his former company, Southwest, and convinced them to offer free airfare to participants. He’s seen a lot of support from the Summit County community, as well, from businesses to individuals.

While the organization accepts donations year-round, its major fundraising push happens at this time of year, with letters going out explaining the program and asking for support.

Lawson estimated it takes around $120,000 each year to run the program, based on the number of people who typically make up 12 family units. The organization also has a similar summer program that occurs in September.

“The best way they could help right now would be monetary donations,” he said. “One dollar even helps.”

More than 90 percent of all donations go toward the program and the families being served, he added.

“It’s really rewarding,” Lawson said of the program. “You meet some fantastic people, and it’s good to see that just a small little visit here to Breckenridge showing some of our soldiers that there are people out there that care for them really helps change their lives. We’re in the business of not trying to change lives but trying to open up windows so they can use those opportunities to change their own lives.”


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