Yampa Valley Autism shifts annual fundraiser to a summer luau
Transport yourself to Hawaii this weekend without leaving Steamboat Springs at all. Yampa Valley Autism will host its annual fundraiser Saturday in the form of a luau at the Yampa River Botanic Park.
The nonprofit has been unable to hold their traditional masquerade ball for the past two years due to restrictions and concerns surrounding COVID-19. Their annual ball, which normally takes place in April during Autism Awareness Month, is their largest fundraiser of the year.
“We decided to shift to an outdoor event this summer to try to keep things as safe as possible,” said Lisa Lorenz, executive director of Yampa Valley Autism.
In the former style of the masquerade ball, which typically includes entertainment such as belly dancers and live music, the luau will feature Hokunani hula dancers, a Kalua pig roast and traditional Polynesian fare.
What: Yampa Valley Autism Luau Fundraising Event
Where: The Yampa River Botanic Park on the green by the pond
When: 5-8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $100 available at the event or online at YampaValleyAutism.org/yva-summer-luau-fundraising-event
“We are trying to maintain that super fun, high entertainment value of the event,” Lorenz explained.
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The Botanic Park will provide a lush green backdrop as the Steamboat ukulele club serenades guests with live music. A keynote speech will discuss new research and findings about autism.
While the masquerade ball would typically see about 400 guests, this year’s fundraiser is scaled back to 200. And while Lorenz said that not being able to host fundraisers impacted the organization’s revenue, several donors were able to create a short-term fix for the nonprofit by providing additional funds.
Heidi Mendisco, Yampa Valley Autism’s operations director, explained that the biggest challenge during COVID-19 was to figure out how to provide the same level of services in a different setting.
“One of the most important things for the kids that we work with is consistency in the program,” Mendisco explained. “We had to do a lot of out-of-the-box thinking about how we could provide services while still hitting that bottom line, because, at the end of the day, we’re still a business.”
Their community cultivation program serves children in Steamboat, South Routt and Hayden by using gardening, craft making and marketing to teach education and life skills. In the past year and a half, YVA has had to pivot the figure out how to lower group sizes without turning kids away. For the first time, they switched to three different sessions, which means longer days for staff members but ensures that the students are still able to participate in the program.
Annual fundraisers and donations from the community help to support programs, such as this and more, as well as pay for staff and allow for continued outreach and support. Therapy programs have seen an increase in numbers, and YVA has added new behavioral therapists to their staff. They have also worked to create different ways to reach community members; for example, they started a parent support group and offered an online series called “Calmness in the Chaos,” which was hugely popular. Offerings like this will continue, even as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in the future.
Even with the luau fundraiser though, Lorenz predicts they will raise half the revenue of their masquerade ball.
Citing a New York Times article, Mendisco said that donations to nonprofits across the country are down 50% by homes earning average income.
“I think it’s important to remember that no donation ever goes to waste,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you only have $25 to give; nonprofits are grateful and thankful for anything. That’s important for any donor to remember — just being engaged is extremely valuable.”
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
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