Over 400 highly-trained volunteer instructors make Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports’ mission of empowering individuals with disabilities possible. Out of a dedicated pool of volunteers, Vermont Adaptive program coordinators recognized this year’s four Volunteers of the Year at off-snow trainings this fall, which were held virtually due to the pandemic. Tim Lonergan of Middletown Springs, Mike O’Leary of Williston, Christine Cowart of Charlotte, and Deb Hartshorn of Shelburne were named 2020 Volunteers of the Year, a tribute in honor of Jim Hutchinson, a Vermont Adaptive volunteer who left a legacy of empowerment to people of all abilities and a commitment towards supporting the organization.
“Each year, there are a few individuals who shine,” said Tom Alcorn, senior program coordinator at Vermont Adaptive. “This year was certainly different, but volunteers are a part of our core crew, and we couldn’t do what we do without them. Normally we announce our awards during off-snow training in front of peers, but this year we did it on Zoom. We’re grateful for the extra mile these four volunteers go to help the organization. Jim Hutchinson was the most dedicated volunteer Vermont Adaptive or any organization could hope for. I know he would be so proud of our accomplishments in what we have built over the past years.”
Mike O’Leary volunteers at the organization’s Sugarbush and Bolton Valley locations on weekends and uses his vacation time to spend a week volunteering with the group from Zeno Mountain Farm, teaching the group to ski. He takes the time and energy before and after lessons to think through new and unique ways to help athletes reach their goals. O’Leary is also a veteran and joined the Veteran Ventures group that meets on Thursdays at Bolton Valley. He has helped at the desk with check in and volunteered on a wide range of lesson types as well as providing peer support to the veteran community that Vermont Adaptive serves.
Deb Hartshorn has been a volunteer at Vermont Adaptive since 2011 and while typically found teaching at Mt. Ellen at Sugarbush Resort, she also shares her time with the organization during the summer at fundraising events like the Vermont Adaptive Charity Ride, the Vermont 100 and the Vermont 50. With a background in early childhood special education, Hartshorn brings her talent and experience to a wide range of lessons. She has been a mentor for many junior and new volunteers as well as working with the Veterans program, equipment-based lessons and a school group of teenage boys with emotional and behavioral disabilities.
Tim Lonergan has also been volunteering for Vermont Adaptive since 2011 and is a year-round staple in helping out in all program areas, on the snow, water, bike paths, and hiking trails. Whether working with individual lessons, school groups, Special Olympics race teams, veterans’ programs or helping at the Charity Ride, the VT100 and the VT50, Lonergan’s caring nature and patience is nothing short of amazing. He is dependable and always steps in at a moment’s notice. As a volunteer, as well as a Veteran, he has advocated for support and participation in the Veteran Ventures program for years.
Christine Cowart has been volunteering for more than 10 years and is typically at the Bolton Valley location. She has been a lead instructor during the United States Association of Blind Athletes Winter Ski Festival weekend at Pico each year, helps at summer fundraising events and is a regular partner for the Pushback at Parkinson’s program. Cowart participates in Professional Ski Instructors of America training and brings professional expertise to the community through her career as a counselor. Last year, Cowart presented a timely and informative seminar to volunteers and staff on “Introduction to Trauma-Informed Care in Adaptive Sports” and in May was asked by Disabled Sports USA to present to a national audience at their virtual Adapt2Achieve Leadership conference.