Summit County: Leadership program puts youth on track |

Summit County: Leadership program puts youth on track

Salida resident and CMC-Leadville student Chelsilyn Ball (third from left) poses with her First Ascent Youth Leadership group at the top of Mount Elbert last summer. Ball said the program has shaped her life in many ways.

It’s not too melodramatic to say that First Ascent Youth Leadership changed the life of Salida resident Chelsilyn Ball.

As a ninth-grade participant in the leadership program sponsored by Colorado Mountain College, Ball developed decision-making skills in one packed week of learning and fun that has influenced her ever since, she said.

As a First Ascent counselor a few years ago, she met her now-fiance, Wyatt Barnes of Edwards.

Through the annual program, she discovered she wanted to work with youth and set out on a career path toward youth outdoor leadership.

“It definitely gave me the skills I needed to make decisions regarding my future,” said Ball, 21. “Coming from a small town where everybody knows you and your family, sometimes it’s hard to break out and discover who you are. At First Ascent, you get to step up and be your own person.”

Ball, 21, and her fiance both are enrolled in the outdoor education associate degree program at CMC in Leadville. Ball said she plans to transfer after graduating in December to work toward a bachelor’s degree in nonprofit leadership management at Arizona State University.

The youth counselor said her long-term dream is to work with a program similar to First Ascent that could offer the experience to different students all summer. Ball said she enjoys the experience of watching the students build their confidence.

“I really like to see students become themselves and get a sense of who they are and how they interact with different people,” she said. “The amount of growth that occurs over a week is pretty phenomenal.”

As a First Ascent counselor again for July, Ball encourages area eighth- or ninth-graders to apply for the free leadership program. The program focuses on “in-betweens,” she said, or students who aren’t quite leaders yet but have the capacity for growth.

Now in its 17th year, First Ascent accepts 40 students from the college’s nine-county service area, which includes Summit, Chaffee and Lake counties. This year’s program is scheduled for July 9-14.

When Ball participated as a student, she forged new friendships, went rock climbing and rafting for the first time, and spent her first week away from any family. After the experience, she became involved in student council, National Honor Society and the J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation ranch program in Villa Grove.

Last year, the counselor encouraged her younger sister, Shandilyn, to participate in First Ascent, and “she loved it too,” Ball said.

“I hope that students sign up for this fantastic, free program. It’s a lot of fun, and will be a week they’ll never forget,” she added.

Participant applications are due April 15 and are available through middle and high school counselors or online at www. For more information, contact Mariana Velasquez-Schmahl at (970) 947-8357 or or, in Spanish, Yesenia Arreola at (970) 947-8374 or

The summer program is funded through donations from community members, with some grant and college support.

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