As published by Charlevoix County News — November 17, 2022
Written by John Keyser
(Note internal changes included below.)
Enriching Lives For Individuals Living With Disabilities Through Adaptive Recreation
I was encouraged to meet Elizabeth Looze, Executive Director of Challenge Mountain.
First some background about Elizabeth, to be followed with a short description of Challenge Mountain and how they help children with special needs, e.g., whether physical and or mental disabilities.
Elizabeth grew up in Leelanau County just north of Traverse City. She attended public schools, obtained a scholarship to attend Northwestern Michigan College, and after two years went on to the James Madison College at Michigan State University to earn her BA degree in social science.
After college, Elizabeth served as a state-based health care specialist for a US Senator. She was responsible for keeping him informed about health care across the state, maintaining relationships with constituents, and advocated for national health care for the uninsured.
Following her service in the US Senate, she joined Henry Ford Health System. After a time, Elizabeth realized she wanted to be back in northern Michigan and became a Government Relations Specialist at Northern Michigan Hospital (now McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital) in Petoskey. She subsequently accepted a position as Executive Director of a rural hospital association based in northern Michigan. She served ten years in this position advocating for rural hospitals, Medicare/Medicaid health care policy, and the uninsured.
In 2013 the position of Executive Director of Challenge Mountain became available; she applied and was accepted. This position engaged Elizabeth’s experience leading non-profit organizations, tapped into her life-long love of skiing and coaching, and fulfilled her passion to serve and advocate for disadvantaged groups. The mission of enriching lives and empowering individuals living with disabilities through year-round adaptive recreation spoke to Elizabeth’s heart. In Elizabeth’s words, “Do what we love and love what we do.”
Elizabeth has been an advocate for disadvantaged groups throughout her 30+ years of service in nonprofit organizations and the federal government. For certain, Elizabeth lives and breathes her Challenge Mountain work.
Each year, Challenge Mountain connects children, youth, and adults with special needs to life enhancing recreational, cultural and social opportunities. Participants gain personal fulfillment through a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of acceptance that translates positively into their everyday lives. Programs are not just about having fun on a boat ride, climbing a ropes course, or skiing down a hill. These experiences create positive individual and group development, while building social skills and character and transforming participants’ views of themselves and their abilities. Individuals would not have these opportunities if it were not for Challenge Mountain adaptive programming.
Thanks to the generous support of individual donors, the community, grants from private corporations and foundations and income generated through the Challenge Mountain Resale Store, Challenge Mountain programs are offered at little or no cost to participants and their families.
Charlevoix County Community Foundation is a tremendous resource for Challenge Mountain as the organization has grown over the last 10 years. Proceeds from the Boyne Thunder Poker Run directly support the adaptive recreational programs Challenge Mountain provides for individuals living with disabilities.
Elizabeth acknowledges the organization’s growth financially and the resulting increase in adaptive programs offered. She is most grateful for the dedicated individuals who volunteer at Challenge Mountain. More than 45+ amazing volunteers donate their time, energy and talent to making the Resale Store a pleasant shopping experience and a growing source of revenue for the organization.
Challenge Mountain’s adaptive snow sports, kayaking, boating, adaptive biking and Spirit Day Camp are made possible by more than 75 volunteers providing these opportunities with Program Director, Linda Armstrong’s guidance. It is without a doubt that Challenge Mountain programs are made possible by the compassionate volunteers who donate their time to this cause.
When discussing the Challenge Mountain staff, Elizabeth expresses her gratitude for the opportunity to work with the most dedicated, hard-working and mission-driven colleagues. The Resale Store management and cashiers serve their customers, volunteer co-workers, and community with a positive attitude of gratitude. You can feel it and see it the moment you walk into the store. The small in number but mighty in capacity adaptive programming staff provide year-round activities with compassion and patience.
The volunteer Board of Directors serve the organization with their leadership, life experience and dedication to the mission. The board’s guidance and strategic thinking have been and will continue to be critical to the organization as it charts the future.
When Elizabeth began with Challenge Mountain, a nonprofit, in 2013, each year they struggled to break even and dearly wished they could offer more recreational opportunities to those living with disabilities. Thankfully, since purchasing and renovating the Resale Store in 2015-16, store sales have grown, and the mortgage was paid off in December 2019.
With the income from their resale store, 100% of every charitable donation to Challenge Mountain goes directly to its mission. There is no administrative deduction.
Elizabeth shared just two of a great many stories which illustrate how Challenge Mountain changes lives for the better. A boy in a wheelchair, had never walked even a single step in his life, was fitted for an adaptive bicycle and now beams with joy as he rides the bike at his school. Another boy who only spoke to family and teachers, has been helped to ride a horse, and when he does, he verbalizes his joy and excitement. Challenge Mountain sees firsthand how the adaptive programs impact children living with disabilities whether it be the healing horses at Northern Michigan Equine Therapy, skiing in the winter, boating and paddling on the water in the summer, riding adaptive bikes, or climbing on a Camp Daggett rope course.
A high priority on Elizabeth’s wish list is funding to improve their winter sports experience, e.g., to renovate their lodge which is 60+ years old and to install snow making equipment so they can provide many more days of skiing for those living with disabilities.
If you could speak with Elizabeth, you would immediately realize her passion to help Challenge Mountain continue to grow its recreational offerings. As she says, “Without Challenge Mountain, these fun and joyful experiences would not be possible for children, youth, adults and families living with disabilities. My life is truly enriched by this opportunity to serve amazing individuals who accomplish great things as a result of Challenge Mountain adaptive recreation, cultural and social activities.”
For more information about Challenge Mountain year-round adaptive programs, social activities, Spirit Club, click or call (231) 535-2141. To support Challenge Mountain with a donation, click here or call 231.582.1186.