Would you rather stand within three feet of a 1,600 pound Alaskan brown bear in the wild, fly in a parapont from Aiguille du Midi, a 12,605 foot mountain in the Mont Blanc massif within the French Alps, or climb the Matterhorn, one of the most dangerous mountains in the Alps? Well we have an intrepid and extraordinary finance director who has done all three! Karen Skruch has a wealth of stories to share and most of them likely happened in the great outdoors because outdoor adventures are a big part of Karen’s life and her job at BOEC aligns well with this lifestyle.
Some of the first memories Karen has are exploring the outdoors with her three brothers in the mountains of Southern California which ended suddenly when the family relocated to the Orange County suburbs. Those early memories led to Karen’s long time goal of returning to the mountains which she and her husband Kevin did in 2017 when they became full time Summit County residents. This life-long love for the outdoors is reflected in her long list of adventurous hobbies which includes snowboarding, skiing, cross-country and downhill, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, rock/mountain climbing, and generally exploring the outdoors every chance she gets. She describes her most recent hobby in this way,
“My latest passion is packrafting, which is a cross between a raft and a kayak. It can be used for multiple day river trips and my maiden voyage was a 10-day float down the Alatna in the Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska.”
While Karen can be spotted adventuring solo, she is often recreating with her six-year-old labrador retriever, Syrah, and her husband Kevin. Karen also enjoys time spent in the outdoors with her BOEC colleagues saying that one of her favorite things about the BOEC is “spending time with BOEC staff and supporters. I love our evening mountain bike rides, early morning skinning, and desert river rafting trips.” When asked what her alternate career would be she stated, “I would get paid to wander through the deserts and mountains with my friends and family via foot, bike, boat, ski. Wait, that’s what I’m doing now.” This is a pretty good explanation of the title she chose for her hypothetical autobiography, Wanderlust. Her life has taken a pretty significant turn from when she graduated from the police academy and from when she was a “Special Agent” for the Washington State Gambling Commission.
Karen was first introduced to BOEC as a ski program volunteer and recalls sitting in the volunteer orientation and thinking “how impressive the staff and volunteers were and how great it would be to work full-time with such an awesome group.” That goal was realized when Karen joined the team as Finance Director in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic turned things upside down. This meant that her job transformed into a continually shifting role to provide financial stability and work through unusual circumstances. Her previous role in risk management at United Launch Alliance in Denver, which launches satellites for NASA’s space missions, had prepared her for both stressful and precarious situations. She explains, “This experience has helped to learn how to keep perspective when things seem chaotic at BOEC. I can comfort myself with “At least a rocket didn’t explode…”.
Karen also shared what she enjoys about her role with BOEC this way, “A lot of finance roles are insulated from the day-to-day business activities of the organization. However at BOEC there is a constant sharing of successes, challenges, stories, and “thank you’s” from program participants. I’m awed, humbled, and never in danger of losing sight of our BOEC mission, which makes it very gratifying to come into work each day. Were she to choose another job at the BOEC, she would be a raft guide. Her reasoning, “so I could introduce new groups to the awesome experience of floating through the wilderness and just experiencing everything nature has to share with us.”
Sonya Norris, BOEC Executive Director, considers Karen a critical member of the BOEC leadership team who not only brings her knowledge and expertise in business and finance to the organization, but also contributes to the bigger operational picture in a way that was at first unexpected but quickly became invaluable. “I don’t know what we would have done without Karen during the pandemic. Not only did she keep us focused on financial sustainability and ways to accomplish that, but she also contributed to those long discussions about programming, staffing, training, risk management and so much more. And then, at the end of a long day, Karen is the one who will always say – “let’s go for a ride!” which of course is the BEST way to end a stressful day”.
Throughout her time working with BOEC, Karen has been involved in many programs and events to immerse herself in the fieldwork and opportunities offered and interacted with participants in both summer and winter. She elaborated on one of these impactful experiences sharing,
“I have been fortunate to experience many multi-day river trips outside of BOEC, but joining a program with individuals living with traumatic brain injury during my first summer with BOEC is a highlight for me. This stands out in my memory because of the way it positively impacted not only the participants, but the staff and the interns. I was impressed by the amount of work required to plan and execute this trip. Getting certain individuals in and out of the rafts at each river stop was a monumental effort, but so rewarding, because they couldn’t have been there otherwise. I appreciated watching the interns learn from our experienced staff and gaining confidence, along with new skills. These were life lessons moments that could only happen in that type of wilderness environment.”
Everyday Karen enjoys coming to work where she finds friendly camaraderie, shared experiences, ideas, and dreams that revolve around the success of BOEC. She not only finds this in the office but also out on the river while joining a BOEC Wilderness Program and on the mountain volunteering with the BOEC’s Adaptive Ski and Snowboard program.
Her shared passion for the outdoors gives her a great appreciation for BOEC’s mission to make the outdoors accessible to everyone and the use of immersion in nature to inspire, invigorate, and heal. Karen describes BOEC as inclusive, empowering, and impactful. She explains,
“BOEC’s ‘challenge by choice’ philosophy provides a safe environment where participants can push themselves as far as they feel comfortable and empowers them to make their own decisions. Which, in turn, leaves them with great memories and an impactful experience at BOEC.”
The custom programming for each group of participants ensures that they can focus on their unique needs and challenges while having the variety to experience new things for return trips.
For anyone considering volunteering with the BOEC, Karen, as a past volunteer, encourages this opportunity. She shares, “BOEC positively impacts a wide variety of people who are overcoming physical, mental, and socio-economic barriers to outdoor access. We offer “life changing” experiences to national and international participants, interns, and volunteers. Getting involved with BOEC will be just as rewarding for you as for those you help! There really isn’t a better way to donate your time or resources.”
Karen says she is looking forward to reaching a new normal and to jumping deeper into the strategic planning process. “It’s been humbling and gratifying to see how far we have come and to help plan and guide BOEC’s future”, says Karen and we know that she will be there with us to do just that.
We are so grateful to have Karen as part of the team!