STARS seeking new leader following resignation

Ski instructor Justin Griffith works with STARS camp participant Jeanie Murphy at the base of Steamboat Resort in the winter of 2021.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today News Archive

Spring has become a season of change for Steamboat Recreational Adaptive Sports, better known as STARS. The local nonprofit has started its search for the right person to lead the organization, which provides year-round adaptive programming.

“I did resign, but my severance agreement precludes me from sharing more information on my departure from the organization,” former executive director Gardner Flanigan said by phone Thursday, May 25. “I’m very proud of what we accomplished through the volunteer issues, and certainly the pandemic and getting the organization on good financial footing, but I can’t share any more.”

Steve Tober, president of the board of STARS, said that Flanigan was instrumental in leading the organization through some tough challenges.

“Gardner was with us for just over three years, and it was awesome,” Tober said. “He started within days of COVID, and really, the country getting locked down. Gardner navigated us through that well.”

It was March 2020 when Flanigan stepped into the executive director role. He helped the organization secure a new base camp at the base of the ski area, where participants arrived and signed in to meet the instructors and volunteers. He also helped secure the Zen Ranch on Colorado Highway 131, which STARS uses for equine therapy.

Tober said since Flanigan’s resignation, Development Director Susan Petersen has been acting as the interim executive director. He added that the board has formed a search committee and has received some promising resumes.

“We’re very much in the process of looking for an executive director, and I’m quite confident that we’re going to find the right person, just as we did with Gardner,” Tober said. “I think that’s easier to do because the organization is in such great shape.”

The sign outside the new STARS Ranch welcomes visitors to the state-of-the-art facility.
John F. Russell

He said the organization has eight full-time employees, 70 volunteers and great facilities that support participants in the organization’s winter and summer programming. STARS offers Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing in the winter and archery, cycling, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, paddle sports and water skiing.

From May 1, 2022, through April 30 of this year, the organization had 438 program participants including organized camps and lessons. The organization saw 381 participants in the winter months.

The STARS ranch also offers customized group therapeutic recreation programs for youth, teens, adults and veterans with disabilities. The STARS Ranch allows groups to utilize a fully accessible, 27-bed facility with a grand hall and conference room. The building is also home to the organization’s offices.

Flanigan said he takes pride in many things accomplished during his three years with STARS.

“First and foremost, I was overcoming the uncertainties with the COVID pandemic and having groups come and stay,” Flanigan said. “Working through that time where things changed almost daily and taking steps to ensure the health and safety of the staff and the volunteers — and never losing sight that it was important for the participants to be able to get out and recreate. It is a vulnerable population of individuals who didn’t need more isolation.”

He said that participation did drop off, but he takes pride in the fact that STARS continued to offer programs to individuals with disabilities through the first summer, and then the second winter, of the pandemic.

“Financially, because of COVID the organization was in a precarious financial situation. Together with our team were able to dramatically turn that around,” Flanigan said. “Not only get it into a good financial situation but lower the debt.”

Flanigan said he is proud that STARS was able to build its volunteer team to 70 people during his tenure.

“That wasn’t just me,” Flanigan said. “There was a team. (Program Director) Ron Southworth and (Volunteer and Programs Coordinator) Max Berger, they did a great job of outreach. We made it a strategic objective to increase the number of volunteers, and that’s something that was very positive.”

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