For disabled kids, a chance to play on the slopes

STEVENS PASS — When people see photos and videos of 13-year-old Forrest Neander skiing, they understand what he can accomplish.

Forrest, who has cerebral palsy, has been skiing for half of his life. His mother, Julia Neander, of Shoreline, volunteers with the Outdoors for All Foundation, a Seattle-based nonprofit that provides outdoors recreation for children and adults with disabilities. The organization has 14 employees and more than 700 volunteers. They work with more than 2,300 people with disabilities.

“It gets (Forrest) out there in the great outdoors with his family because we all ski together as a family,” Julia Neander said. “It’s given him the chance to be on the mountain and not just be sitting in the lodge waiting for us to finish. He can actually have his own thing going on.”

Julia Neander worked as a ski instructor in the 1970s. She likes volunteering and working with all the different kids, she said.

“Outdoors for All is really an amazing program,” she said. “I just love being a part of it. It’s a little community up there at Stevens, the group that we have.”

Volunteer Neli Stewart, 45, of Bothell, once was a competitive figure skater in Bulgaria. She’s been with Outdoors for All for 11 years. She’d skied a couple of times as a kid and wanted to get back into it, she said.

“After the first season, I realized how much more the program gives back to you as an instructor, connecting with the participants and with the community, and that was it, I got hooked,” she said.

The kids are excited for every single lesson, Stewart said. Even the kids who can’t talk are smiling, waving or they have a sparkle in their eyes, she said.

“I love the program because it really gives people with limited abilities the possibility of doing something beyond what they can think of doing,” she said.

Working with the kids also reminds the volunteers that their daily life challenges maybe aren’t so serious, she said.

“Once you put it in perspective, and think about what they have to deal with on a daily basis, and you think about if your challenge is worth whining about,” she said.

Outdoors for All needs more volunteers, including people to help with teaching and transportation for March ski programs. People can donate time or skills such as equipment repair or graphic design.

For more information, go to volunteer@outdoorsforall.org, 206-838-6030.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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