The Heart and Soul of Jackson Hole
Known as “the last and the best of the old west,” Jackson Hole is nestled between the Teton Mountain Range and the Gros Ventre Mountains in the northwestern corner of Wyoming. The scenic and rustically beautiful town has a modest population of approximately 6,000 people, but the ebb and flow of visitors during the winter months brings these numbers much higher, close to 900,000. Ski and snowboarding buffs find their proverbial heaven in the thousands of acres of skiable terrain just a few miles from anywhere in the valley. Snowfall in the surrounding mountains typically reaches the 300-inch mark between December and March, and March happens to be the only winter month where the average temperature reaches double digits: a chilly 16 degrees.
Those not wishing to brave the elements have a variety of other activities at their fingertips. Jackson Hole is host to a handful of movie theaters, more than 20 art galleries and a plethora of restaurants and bars. And the shopping! From familiar favorites such as the Gap and Coldwater Creek, to specialty jewelry stores and gourmet candy shops, Jackson Hole boasts apparel stores full of anything one could possibly need to outfit himself for the slopes or the stables. Even the most voracious shopper would be satisfied. While the aforementioned attractions are enough to bring anyone to this ideal winter getaway, one event in particular draws not only the local population, but celebrities from coast to coast. This area of unsurpassed beauty is made a little more special every year with Connie Stevens’ Celebrity Extravaganza.
Supporting Independence, Awareness and Funding
2003 marked the 14th year of Connie Stevens’ annual fundraiser. An impressive combination of celebrities, volunteers, sponsors, community groups and individuals came together with a common goal at heart: to increase awareness of the abilities and rights of individuals with disabilities through public education and promotion, and to raise money for Community Entry Ser vices (CES), the party responsible for organizing these funding efforts. Established in 1994, CES not only organizes contribution events such as this benefit, but also provides for the future growth and expansion of ser vices offered to individuals with disabilities.
CES has been working since 1975 to provide quality services to individuals with disabilities and their families. The aim is to help its clients become independent, working, contributing members of their communities, and to promote awareness to all people in the community through education. CES’ clients include children and adults, some with developmental disabilities and some with acquired brain injuries. Develop
mental disability is a term that refers to a permanent cognitive and/or physical impairment that usually occurs in the early years of life, but can occur anytime before the age of 18. It usually results in a significantly reduced capacity in three or more major life activities, such as communication, learning, mobility, living independently, decision-making or self-care. It also results in the need for support, whether or not of an ongoing nature. An acquired brain injury can occur at any time in a person’s life and is often caused by an accident.
CES provides services through two divisions: the Dignity division focuses on individuals with a developmental disability, with a goal of helping clients gain the most independence possible in their community. Rocky Mountain Re-Entry Services provides assistance for those people who have sustained a brain injury, and helps facilitate reintegration of their clients into the public arena. The two divisions provide numerous programs and ser vices. Community living programs provide support and instruction in various areas that people not living with disabilities take for granted, such as nutrition. meal planning and preparation, transportation, social acceptance skills and safety. Community integration focuses on social skills, stress management, personal appearance, financial responsibility and other skills necessary for life’s everyday tasks.
Work programs are designed to help people find employment that best match es their skills and interests. Local businesses partner with the CES chapter nearest them, delighted to find dependable, motivated and skilled workers. CES staff members are responsible for the training and supervision of their clients on a variety of contract jobs. The work is completed to the satisfaction and specifications of the employer, and varies from duties including assembly and packaging to countless other responsibilities, depending on the job site. These businesses, coupled with CES, are working together to part change public perceptions and enhance the lifestyles of their dedicated clients. The partnerships are rewarding for all involved.
Teaching Through LEAPS and Bounds
While the integration of clients and education of the public is of the utmost importance, one of CES’ primary goals is to educate today’s youth on the severe consequences associated with irresponsible behaviors. Teaching preventative measures, empathy and awareness are all goals of the Learning Empathy and Prevention Steps (LEAPS) program. Members of the CES staff travel to elementary classrooms educating children on the difference between sympathy and empathy, while relaying valuable safety measures like always wearing seat belts and helmets. Linda Hibbert, Community Employment and Integration Coordinator of CES, said, “People are afraid of what they don’t understand. If we can educate them at this age, they are apt to have a little more empathy.” The two-day curriculum teaches children how people with disabilities want to be treated and how to keep themselves from harm’s way. Abundant activities and exercises have been designed by the creative LEAPS staff as learning tools. For example, children are given the textbook definitions of sympathy and empathy and are then presented with the “lemon exercise.” A handful of students are selected to come to the front of the classroom and bite into lemon slices. The readers of this passage may already find their faces contorted, lips puckered and mouths dripping with saliva. They know what biting into a lemon is like; they relate to the children. That is empathy. The children respond well to hands-on experiments such as these.
Other exercises include trying to perform what are perceived as simple everyday tasks, such as turning on a light switch, unlocking a door and handling a role of toilet paper. The twist? Students perform these tasks encumbered by a large pair of oven mitts. Another highly effective exercise: children are asked to cover an egg that they are told is hardboiled with a helmet, and then pummel away to their hearts’ content. The children then remove the helmet and commence the battery again. The outcome is messy, but the kids learn about the fragile nature of the brain and the value of wearing a helmet during all potentially hazardous activities.
The Stars Come Out at Night-and Day
Although prevention methods are a significant element of CES’ agenda, the focus of this weekend was on cur rent CES clients. One of the many events was the “Hurray for Hollywood” fundraising gala, which took place on Saturday evening. The local hockey rink (home of the fabulous Jackson Hole Moose) was magically trans formed into gay “Paree,” circa 1889, for the “Moulin Rouge”-themed evening. More than 700 guests attended the festivity, which featured a cocktail reception, buffet dinner, celebrity introduction, live and silent auction and a celebrity show. Inarguably, one of the most cherished moments of the evening was the presentation of the “Connie Stevens’ Personal Achievement Award” which was given to five CES clients whose strength and determination have allowed them to achieve personal goals that some believed impossible.
Actress Virginia Madsen was particularly touched by the presentation. “One of the best moments of the night was when the clients came up on to the stage, people with disabilities and brain injuries, and they were each receiving an award for their achievements,” Madsen said. “You know, we scramble around in Hollywood, for I don’t know how many award shows there are now, and everyone makes such a big deal about getting awards. Then you look at these people, and I’m not saying there was any pity there at all, just inspiration. I was inspired by these people, because I don’t know if I could do that. It’s just really, really inspiring to see them, meet them and hear their stories.”
This interaction was a highlight for CES clients and celebrities alike. Former Baywatch beauty, Gena Lee Nolin said, “It has been such an incredible experience for me. The CES Foundation has been unbelievable! The connections I made this weekend and the clients 1 met over the last four days have just been wonderful. Seeing how CES has helped them get ahead in their everyday lives, their job, school, whatever-it is outstanding.” It is safe to say that this weekend was filled with undeniable joy, thanks to the caring hearts and souls of everyone involved.
A Beloved leader Bids a Fond Farewell
This year marked the retirement of one of CES’ most loved and respected leaders, Smokey Rhea. Smokey officially joined CES on February 11, 1985, and has worked in many different capacities from residential coordinator to executive director and then as CEO in 1997.
People with disabilities have always been close to her heart. Smokey grew up with a father who lost an arm in World War II, and early on was aware of the public’s misconception of people with disabilities. Practically an advocate from birth, she once remarked on her father’s prosthetic arm, “He’s not handicapped! He can do more with his hook than a lot of people can do with both hands!” In her adult life Smokey encountered a sister in-law with a developmental disability, and is currently beginning a new journey as the foster parent of a six year-old girl with disabilities.
Comedian Shawn Pelofsky summed up Smokey’s benevolence: “I’m pretty sure that Smokey is an angel. Move over, Mother Teresa, there’s a new saint in town!”
“Smokey will be very missed,” adds Lori Tesoro, who has been involved with the event as a sponsor. Smokey still plans to be involved with CES. A woman with this much love and compassion for the program will never stray far.
Good Times for a Good Cause
The weekend was a success. People came from far and wide to volunteer their time, hearts, and of course, the contents of their pocketbooks for the benefit of CES and its clients. They skied, laughed, ate, drank and were merry. Smokey said, “I thought the whole weekend was pretty spectacular. At a time of unrest in our country it is good to see people coming together to have fun that benefits other people. It puts everything in perspective: what the world is all about, or really should be about.”
After all is said and done, everyone involved can breathe a little easier (until next year, of course). The staff of CES, their clients and all the volunteers put forth an exceptional amount of time and effort, and reaped the rewards of hard work. Their message, has once again been heard by all and taken to heart. “People with disabilities spend so much of their early lives with everyone telling them they can’t, they can’t, they can’t.” Smokey concludes. “The thing I am most proud of about CES is that we always say, ‘Yes, you can!’ We just have to figure out how.”
by Ryann E. Smith