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Richfield Ski, Snowboard Volunteer Teaching Program Begins 2011 Season

Individuals with developmental disabilities prepare to hit the slopes with a hand from community volunteers.

The Adaptive Recreation & Learning Exchange (AR&LE) program, which teaches skiing and snowboarding to people with developmental disabilities, will begin its 21st season on Thursday.

The program, which is a combined coorporative of Richfield, Bloomington, MN, Edina, MN and Eden Prairie, MN, uses volunteers who are intermediate to advanced skiers and snowboarders to teach.

Kelly Mertes, the recreation supervisor for Richfield Recreation Services and a city employee since 2004, currently helps oversee the longstanding program. Begun by Mo Fahnestock, who to this day volunteers as a ski instructor, Mertes said the program continues to attract a high number of volunteers and participants. By mid-December 69 users and 78 volunteers had signed up to participate in 2011.

Skiing will be every Thursday from Jan. 6 through Feb. 24 at Highland Hills Ski & Snowboard Area in Bloomington. Mertes said she hoped to have five or 10 more volunteers by the time the program begins training this week, but she's not worried.

"It's just so we're comfortable and we know that if someone's sick or absent there are people to take their place," she said. "AR&LE is the only program of its kind in Minnesota."

Thinking of volunteering?

Ski coordinator Karly LePage and snowboard coordinator Andy Joy said in addition to being at an intermediate to advanced skill level, those thinking of volunteering should be able to commit to the full six-week schedule.

Thinking of Taking Lessons?

Individuals hoping to take lessons with the program should have been certified with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) from their school. The program does not accept students with physical disabilities, instead referring those individuals to Courage Center.

Due to the four cities' cooperative efforts, programs are able to be offered in greater depth because no single city duplicates the efforts of any other, Mertes said. The ski and snowboarding program costs between $125-$155 for participants, depending on whether they are residents of any of the four participating cities and need rental equipment. Teaching volunteers receive a free lift pass and, if needed, rental equipment.

Why Volunteer?

While Joy admitted that he began as a  volunteer instructor to ski for free, he has now been teaching with the program for more than 15 years.

"It's one of the most rewarding things I do," he said. "The days when I get out on the hills to teach [with this program] are always the best in the week."

Joy's sentiments were shared by Emily LeVasseur, who is about to begin her third season as a snowboard instructor.

"The program totally exceeded expectations in my opinion" said LeVasseur. "Somebody just put up a poster at work advertising that you could help teach snowboarding to people with developmental disabilities, and so I signed up."

LeVasseur said this program allows her to do something she loves while also lending a helping hand.

"[To] give the experience to someone who wouldn't otherwise have been able to participate," she said. "[It's] just so rewarding."

Those interested in volunteering to teach skiing or snowboarding in 2011 or 2012 should contact Mertes at kmertes@cityofrichfield.org.

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