One of the most essential programs to Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center’s (BOEC) offerings is the Internship Program. BOEC’s founders established this crucial program soon after becoming a non-profit in the late 1970s in order to create a place where compassionate young professionals had a place to hone their skills, experience the profound effect of providing inspiring outdoor experiences to people with disabilities and special needs, and take what they learned into the community at large. Over our 46-year history, the BOEC Internship Program has grown to be a key part of our ability to serve our clients in the best way possible. In turn, what is realized through this article, and the past interns who are now donating back to BOEC, is that this program ultimately becomes one of the most defining experiences of their lives. We are extremely grateful that so many BOEC interns, even after giving so much time and energy to the program as young adults, continue to give back to the BOEC.

BOEC’s Internship Program is designed to provide opportunities for individuals interested in the fields Outdoor/Experiential Education, Therapeutic Recreation, and Recreation Management, the ability to gain professional experience and knowledge in this growing field. BOEC interns become intimately involved in all aspects of programming and have the opportunity to expand their soft (people) skills as well as hard (technical) skills through a 6-month long winter or 4-month long summer program. Over the past few weeks we’ve been collecting memories from previous interns who are now donating financially to BOEC and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the  amazing response. What we found out by reading through these responses is that the overarching theme in giving back revolves around how inspiring of an experience the internship truly was, for participants and interns alike, and how important it is to keep this program running.

BOEC Intern Program member Katie O'Neil and her participant, Hannah

In 2000, BOEC Intern Katie O'Neil poses with her favorite participant Hannah.

BOEC Interns celebrate on Main Street in Breckenridge

BOEC Interns celebrate on Main Street in Breckenridge in 2012.

For example, Wendy Taylor, a summer intern in 2002, explains why she gives back simply as, “I give back to BOEC because it was the best summer of my life and I give back each year in honor of the interns who work incredibly hard.”

Russ Pochop, a winter intern in 2003-2004, shares a similar sentiment, “BOEC impacted me in a big way, and it impacts clients all year, every year. It’s an amazing organization. Seeing people smile like they do is beyond compelling and I want the BOEC to keep making people smile. That takes gear and people…which means $.”

Others, like Nicole Novak, a winter intern during the 2001-2002 season, have life experiences which inspire them to give. She says, “I started giving to BOEC because I have a friend whose daughter has cerebral palsy and I’ve seen her confidence grow exponentially as she’s taken adaptive ski lessons the past few years at our local mountain near Seattle. It reminds me of how much goodness BOEC puts out into the world, and I want to financially support what you all do.”

Then there are the givers like Ari Ettinger, a summer intern in 2017, who gives back because he trusts the BOEC. Ettinger claims, “I give back because it’s a massive bang for your buck in terms of donations. And I know first hand exactly where the money is being spent because I’ve been there.”

Giving in honor or in memory of someone is a great way to keep the BOEC spirit and remembrance of someone alive. This is why Katie O’Neil, a winter intern for the 1999-2000 season, shared, “When my mom passed away in 2005, we wanted donations to go somewhere that was special to her and my family. She loved what the BOEC stood for and the profound effect it has on students, parents, and instructors. So I continue to give for her and for my love of the BOEC.”

BOEC Intern Andy Roth poses at Breck Ski Resort with a blind skier

BOEC Intern Andy Roth poses with a blind skier in 2018.

Andy propels a participant down the hill in a sit-ski during his intern program

Andy propels a participant down the hill in a sit-ski.

Throughout this testimony, it is apparent that the BOEC Internship Program is changing lives for the better, even across generations. Earlier this year you read about the Cole family’s legacy at the BOEC where 2020-21 winter intern Ben Cole followed in the footsteps of his mother and cousin by joining this “fraternity” in a familial tradition that spans over 30 years. Likewise, Andy Roth, a winter intern in 2017-18, goes as far to express that the program was so influential that he hopes his children will become BOEC interns as well. “This organization changes lives, both for the participants and staff/volunteers. I hope that my contributions can continue to make the programs a success so that my kids can intern and experience the special moments that BOEC offers one day.”

Beyond their inspiration to give back, the memories these interns shared are incredible. Ironically, though, nearly all intern alumni who responded to our request stated something along the lines of, “It’s so hard to just pick one” when asked about their favorite memory. Nicole Novak (Winter 2001-02) reminisced, “I still remember my very first student. He was a man in his sixties who was an avid skier, but had suffered a stroke earlier that year and had lost mobility on one side of his body. Another instructor and I took him out for his very first time on the hill after the stroke, and he was so grateful when the lesson wrapped that he started to cry as he was thanking us.”

Tearful sentiments happen no matter the year, Russ Pochop (Winter 2004) remembers, “I have clear images from my BOEC experience. It was so impactful on so many levels. My most memorable client was a guy from Florida that lost both legs and an arm to an industrial acid accident. His attitude was outrageous – super positive. As I was fitting him with a sit-ski he told me he’d never been on a plane, never seen a mountain, and never seen snow. He handed me a disposable camera and asked that I take pics of everything. I was/am a fairly experienced skier, so after a few runs when we were in sync I asked if he wanted to step it up a bit. We ended up skiing all over the hill, including black diamonds. I took pics everywhere. At the end of the day when we were de-rigging he started crying… I thought something was wrong and asked if he was hurt. I still remember him looking up at me and saying, ‘You just made a dream come true for me.’ I will never, ever forget that day.”

Nearly two decades later, the experience that Russ had on the slopes is still as magical as it is timeless. Andy Roth (Winter 2018) describes an uplifting memory as well. “The blind athlete’s camp was incredible because my participant was one of the best snowboarders I have ever ridden with,” he says. “He pushed me to do all the ‘hike-to’ terrain Breck has to offer. He could only see using his peripherals and would beat me up the hike to terrains! We would warm up on black diamonds and hike to all the peaks throughout the week. There’s nothing quite like seeing someone’s face when I have the blind guide bib on with the blind skier behind me and we’re hiking to the ‘hike-to’s’ and zooming past every skier and snowboarder. Anything is possible!”

A BOEC intern assists a participant on the climbing wall as part of the BOEC Internship Program

A BOEC intern assists a participant on the climbing wall.

Adrianna Hipsher hangs out above the Green River in Utah

Adrianne Hipsher poses along the Green River during her summer internship of 2012.

Diane Ahern (Summer 2017) also speaks fondly of her summer experience. “It’s so hard to pick only one (memory)… but I remember going on a Wounded Warrior Ruby-Horsethief canoe trip. There was a guy that had lost his leg while in the military and now used a prosthetic. His dad was on the trip with him, they made it clear that they had a strained relationship, and that they were coming on this trip to learn more about each other and mend their relationship. Throughout the experience they were partnered in a canoe together. At one of the Black Rock campsites there’s a big jumping rock and the son took off his prosthetic and climbed up on the rock to huck himself off into the river. It was amazing to see! By the end of the trip it was clear just in their body language that they had made major strides in appreciating each other.”

Continuing the theme of perseverance and relationship building, Truman Shoaff, a summer intern in 2018 shares succinctly, “The most memorable thing from my time as an intern was the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado (BIAC) courses. It was the hardest I had ever worked, and after spending all that time with that group, its impact on me was immense. It showed me how vital kindness and patience are.”

While these anecdotes and powerful memories are beyond inspirational and help to keep the BOEC fresh in the minds of interns dating back many years, it’s evident that this is also what inspires them to keep giving back. Adrianne Hipsher, a 2012 summer intern, shares that she came to BOEC as the oldest intern to date in 2012 at the age of 29. “I was leaving behind the beginning of a career in advertising in search of something that was more fulfilling and in line with my goals,” she remembers. “I had some basic relevant skills, high hopes, and even higher expectations for myself wondering if I was actually cut out to do this role. My grandfather thought I was crazy for choosing an internship in CO over a salary and 401k, but the tradeoff was well worth the decision. I learned how to live a simpler lifestyle and be present in every moment, love and embrace the nature around me, and connect to others through fun and meaningful experiences. I came in with certain skills in mind that I wanted to attain to help me further my career and I left with far more than I could have ever expected.“

Katie O’Neil summarizes the significance of BOEC in her life as “​Wow, not sure where to start on this one. What hasn’t BOEC affected in my life? First, I went back to graduate school and got my Master’s Degree in Special Education because of the students I worked with. A participant named Hannah will forever hold a special place in my heart. The experiences and lessons I learned as an intern are insurmountable, and for that I will truly be forever grateful. Lastly and most important, there are people I met during my time at the BOEC that I cannot imagine my life without.”

A group picture from Breckenridge Ski Resort in 2000

In 2000, BOEC Intern Katie O'Neil and BOEC Ski Program Director Jeff Inouye pose with a group of participants.

Adaptive ski intern training during the 1999-2000 Winter Internship Program

Katie and a few other interns try out the sit-skis during their intern training in 1999.

Like O’Neil, we understand that the BOEC internship experience does in fact stick with all of us in some form. In fact, there are many interns who’ve stuck around after their respective internships, and the current BOEC as an organization could not imagine life without them. Of our 16 current administrative staff members, nine of them originally started out as interns and total over 75 years of BOEC experience across the board. Huge props to Wilderness Program Director Jaime Overmyer (Summer 2003), Assistant Program Director of Admissions Claire DiCola (Summer 2005), Training Manager Jillian Palacio (Summer 2013), Internship Manager Kat Booth (Winter 2015), Sean Houston, Assistant Ski Program Director (Winter 2016), Wilderness Program Manager Steven Rubin (Winter 2017), Operations Manager Lydia North (Winter 2017), Breckenridge Ski Office Coordinator Katie O’Donnell (Winter 2020), and Volunteer Coordinator Emma Gilroy (Summer 2019). Additionally, two members of BOEC’s Board of Directors were also BOEC interns, including Bob Gregory in 2003 and Jen Schappert during the winter of 2003-2004.

Besides the interns and staff that dedicate so much to this program, it’s also important to mention that The Moniker Foundation helps us subsidize the entire cost of running the BOEC Internship Program. With their extreme generosity over the past three years, several improvements have been made to elevate the intern experience which, without their assistance, would not be possible.

To conclude, Shoaff states, “Whether it’s $10 or $1,000, the impact of donating helps so many people enjoy the things non-disabled people take for granted in the outdoors. Providing access to the outdoors is enormous for mental and physical health, and every donation makes an impact.”

Well stated, Truman! Thank you all for your endless dedication, continued support, and the amazing memories that you’ve shared with us! It’s truly evident that the BOEC would not be what it is without this special and pivotal part of our programming.

Katie does a handstand during intern training with the BOEC Internship Program

Katie O'Neil does a handstand during intern training in 1999.

Andy tethers a sit-ski participant

Andy Roth tethers a participant in a sit-ski.

If you were a past intern, and you are reading this, please send us your contact information and forward onto all of your classmates. Over the past four decades, BOEC has tried its best to keep sound records of our donors and interns, but we’ll take any help we can get. If you are a past intern and would like to share your story, please reach out to Development Manager, Hallie Jaeger at [email protected].