The new realities of social distancing have caused the nonprofit Higher Ground recreation and habilitation organization to go online with group activities to stay in touch and explore alternate forms of fundraising to serve a total of 736 people in Blaine County, New York and Los Angeles.
“At this time, we are hoping to start holding our day programs in June and week-long programs again in August, restrictions permitting,” Higher Ground Marketing Coordinator Kelly Eisenbarger said. “We are a therapeutic recreation organization, so a lot of our programs are naturally social distanced. We are hoping to serve the same number of people this year, but at different times.”
Until the summer programs begin, Higher Ground is offering weekly House Party chats with local participants and offering mindful movement videos to share with veteran alumni. Additional services include virtual workouts, video contact groups and an active Facebook community for social interaction.
Higher Ground began as Sun Valley Adaptive Sports in 1999 in cooperation with Sun Valley Co. to provide free programs for disabled athletes. It evolved to focus primarily on serving military veterans.
The group serves 94 veterans in L.A. with six week-long outdoor programs each year and 121 veterans in New York with three week-long programs. One-hundred-ninety veterans took part in 14 week-long programs in Blaine County. The group supports about 2,000 former Higher Ground participants each year with follow-up care and sports equipment purchases. The nonprofit would have to grow to meet demand.
“We have more than 1,000 veterans on our waiting list,” Eisenbarger said.
The organization has a staff of 24 in the Wood River Valley, two in Los Angeles and two in New York. It hosts numerous weekly and daily sports programs at all locations, offering many recreational opportunities, including skiing, rafting, climbing, fly-fishing and swimming.
“We’ve been working on a golf program now during the quarantine,” Eisenbarger said.
She said Higher Ground applied for and received a Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program loan, which will be forgivable if the organization uses the money to pay staff.
Only the Wood River Valley Higher Ground location serves local nonmilitary disabled athletes, with sports three times each week and a club for disabled adults. Higher Ground is no longer a Special Olympics partner, but the competitive winter teams are now known as the Higher Ground Ski Team, Eisenbarger said.
She said the organization expected to raise about $1 million at this summer’s Hero’s Journey fundraising event, which has been canceled.
“Not only is this a financial loss, the Hero’s Journey has always been a major highlight of our year where the support for our nation’s veterans is felt and seen directly,” Eisenbarger said. “We’re considering smaller fundraising and alternative virtual events later this year to be held when public health concerns are alleviated. But we’re grateful that many of our donors and supporters have converted their Hero’s Journey tickets or anticipated event contributions into fully tax-deductible donations.”