Mount A youth ski program needs a lift

Hard times are squeezing the Mount Ashland ski area's Give a Kid a Lift program.

Contributions are down about 40 percent from last winter for the pot of money that brings kids to the mountain who could never afford to be there if they had to pay their own way. Mike Dadaos, development director for Mount Ashland, said about $15,000 has come in so far this year for the program they call GAKL, compared to $25,000 during the winter of 2008-09.

Dadaos said GAKL is one of the things that sets Mount Ashland apart as a not-for-profit enterprise.

"It's part of our mission as a nonprofit ski area to provide low-income, disadvantaged youth an opportunity to be outside in an alpine environment," Dadaos said. "We're there not just for the people who can afford to come up."

GAKL also funds winter-enrichment programs for kids with cancer and summer conservation service projects, but most of the money foots the bill for disadvantaged kids who could not otherwise participate in Mount Ashland's after-school program with their classmates. Schools bring their students to the mountain once a week for three to seven weeks, and kids get a chance to learn to ski or snowboard.

Dadaos said about 10 percent of the 1,100 kids in the after-school program need financial assistance.

"We don't decide who gets the help," he explained. "Each school has a program coordinator who makes those decisions based on input from teachers."

Dadaos said many of the kids who learn to snowboard already have plenty of experience on skateboards, but little or no experience in a winter environment.

"It brings a whole new group of kids to the mountain," he said, shredding the notion that snow sports are an elitist recreation.

Contributions also fund outings for Kids Konnected, (children who have a parent fighting cancer) and Candle Lighters, kids who are fighting the disease themselves.

Dadaos, who had chemotherapy himself a few years back, recalled going out with a Candle Lighters group that included a number of kids who had lost their hair during cancer treatments.

"I was telling them how my own hair was just growing back," he recalled. "It was really a touching moment."

Dadaos said volunteers will be calling past GAKL donors tonight and next Wednesday asking them to pitch in.

The vast majority of donors make small gifts, he said. "We get lots of $20 to $50 contributions.

"We hope we can get another $5,000."

For more information about Give a Kid a Lift, see the Mount Ashland Web site, www.mtashland.com, and click on the "youth programs heading."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 541-776-4492, or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.

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