Youth Empowerment and Leadership


Lauren (L), with Simran and Sara at a YELP adapted photography program, summer 2016.

Lauren Pace, a participant in the Youth Empowerment and Leadership Program (YELP), offers her perspective on the individual and community benefits of the program.

The YELP program can assist the communities of greater Cleveland in a variety of ways.  Persons with disabilities sometimes have the stigma that opportunities within the community aren’t interesting to the disabled population.  However this is only a small percentage of the disabled population.  There are many individuals with disabilities who are excited to venture out of their comfort zone to explore new opportunities.

Businesses may feel that they have the lack of resources to accommodate these individuals.  However, this is not the case and this is something that YELP programs can assist in changing.  Participation and support in community outings offered through YELP provides businesses with feedback and support as well as guidance as to how to approach the barriers they may feel they encounter while having the disabled population in their businesses.  Another key component in regards to YELP programs is promoting independent skills to the participants as they venture out into the community realizing that they have the potential to be active members of society.   These individuals learn about public accessibility as well as community resources that can be provided from them as they are out in the community.  Based on individual capabilities, these resources include asking for assistance with ordering food, getting set up and paying for a meal while providing direction as to what to order, how much to pay, etc.

By having programs such as YELP, we can become a more inclusive community by benefiting individuals as well as businesses.  In the future by having YELP will significantly in helping people with disabilities become a part of the everyday norms.

Alumni Feature: Will Gallup

57- WillFor Will Gallup, making a difference for the community of people with disabilities is something that he has wanted to do his entire life. Currently, Will is a part-time student at Cuyahoga Community College where he is studying to become a social worker. Will says “I want to give back to the community that has done so much for me over the years and is still doing so much for me presently as we speak. My main goal is to leave the community better than it was when I came into the world as well as better than it is today. I am 100% hopeful and confident at the same time that it’s going to happen, and when I say it’s going to happen, I mean that the community itself will be better off for generations to come.”

As part of his efforts to leave an impact on this community, Will recently accepted the position of Good Life Ambassador at the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Through this ambassadorship, he will able to share his thoughts with the board on many important issues. He will have the opportunity to travel throughout Cuyahoga County and some other areas of Ohio to give presentations to people one-on-one and in group settings. Will hopes that this opportunity will lead to much bigger opportunities in the near future. This is an important stepping stone in his life where he hopes to inspire others and change things for the better.

In addition to the ambassadorship, Will was appointed in January as a member of the Human Rights Committee at the Rose-Mary Center in Euclid.  His role in the committee is to preserve and protect the rights of the clients at Rose-Mary. Will says “I really love being on the committee. The people are absolutely wonderful.” Will is also a voluntary peer consultant at Services for Independent Living in Euclid. Here, Will listens to those with disabilities who are going through personal struggles in their lives. He is then able to offer up advice as a peer who may have faced similar struggles in his own life.


The End of Another WOOO-onderful Summer!

By: Ingrid Wagner, YC Intern

Another full and monumental summer at Youth Challenge has come to an end! This season was packed with tons of fun, excitement, and adventures.  To begin, several YC athletes traveled to Chicago to compete in the Great Lakes Adapted Sports Association Regional Games. They were able to bring home some first place ribbons along with plenty of memorable stories.


YC athletes gather for their trip to the GLASA games in Chicago.

The summer party really fired up at Prom, which was run by the Volunteer Committee. They did a fabulous job hosting the event and it is always nice to see everyone dressed up. Of course the formal attire didn’t last for long—West Side Sports, East Side Sports, and Krazy Kamp all started up the following week and continued through the rest of the summer.  Bright and early, the participants were ready to bring their A-game in team cheers and adapted sports. Although there were many cool summer days, that didn’t stop the kids from enjoying an afternoon of splashing around in the pool.

East Side Sports & Swim

East Side Sports & Swim

The annual Overnight took place at Highbrook Lodge at the end of June. Participants and volunteers love to take a break away from home and hang out with the YC Gang.  On July 22, YC participants celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act at Wade Oval. Volunteers, staff members, and participants came together to educate, advocate, and celebrate a day that changed all of their lives forever. The following evening was the annual Regatta Alumni Party at the Edgewater Yacht Club. Being able to catch up with old friends, turn the staff members into human sundaes, and take a sailboat ride on Lake Erie is always YC favorite.

Regatta at Edgewater Yacht  Club

Regatta at Edgewater Yacht Club

The Summer’s End Bash took place on Saturday, August 8th, a bittersweet party for everyone. Unfortunately, YC had to give heartfelt goodbyes Ashley and Andrea as they take their next steps to graduate school this fall. Many other volunteers and participants are heading off to college. Those signing up for programs in the fall are turning to social media to keep in touch with YC alum.

I personally was able to prove that YC friends are never far with the technology we have today. I reached out to several volunteers and participants and ask them their favorite memories of this YC WOOO-onderful summer!

“My favorite program was the YC Overnight! We were playing spoons with the YC gang and it was amazing!” Andy via Facebook Messenger

“My favorite memory was meeting my friend Sam on his first program (survivor day) and then hanging out at East Side Sports and Swim and the Regatta!” Kendra via iMessage

“My favorite was being Sean’s assistant for Boccia at GLASA in Chicago.” Zac via Instagram Direct Message

“I went on the bus and my favorite driver Jim let me play my music!” Sarah via Facebook Messenger

“My favorite YC summer story is probably just being with everyone at sports and swim because no one is left out and it is so happy and energetic and amazing friendships are made.” Zaria via Instagram Direct Message

Keila and Hannah

“My favorite memory has to be when Keila, who hates taking pictures with anyone finally let me get one with her. It really cheered me up, because this was my last regatta as a participant.” Hannah via Facebook Messenger

“My favorite YC memory is being around my friends and having a great time!” Megan via Facebook Messenger

Reading this, many of you are probably experiencing some summertime sadness, but don’t worry, fall programs start soon enough.  Hang in there YC gang, there are many more unforgettable memories to come! See you all soon!

The Youth Challenge Overnight

48-Overnight-GroupBy: Ingrid Wagner,YC Intern

The Overnight: The event of the year. Everyone and their mom cannot wait for the day of the Overnight to arrive. It is exciting simply because you get to spend a full twenty-four hours with the YC Gang! I know because I have been on an overnight or two myself.

Arriving at Youth Challenge is always riveting. However, arriving at YC to load the vans to go to Highbrook Lodge in Chardon, Ohio took the excitement buzz to a new level. Participants screamed with delight during their car ride and, after a final goodbye from their parents, they met their partner and greeted others with big hugs that said, “I’m so excited to spend the next day with you!”

Once everyone was situated and the vans are packed, it was time to hit the road! Van rides were filled with the hits of the summer and lots of singing and dancing to go along. When we finally arrived and unloaded, the games and fun began!

This year’s weather for the Overnight was very Cleveland-like for late June—cool and rainy. The weather did not keep the YC gang from playing, swimming, or hosting an annual spoons tournament. Although we did not get to have a campfire, s’mores in the microwave were just as good, and the company was still the same. The “campfire” was my favorite part of the evening. It gave everyone time to relax while catching up and having fun before bed. During this time, I was able to talk to a lot of participants and volunteers and ask them about why the Overnight is so important to them.

30-Ingrid, Kendra, Maddie, Julia, Colton, Elyse, Zach

For many participants, it is their only night of the year away from home. They get a break from parents and siblings, and they get to enjoy spending time with their YC family. For a couple of the participants, it was their first night ever away from home. Although they were nervous, they were extremely excited and comfortable to be with their YC friends. This first overnight experience was also a test—would they feel comfortable enough to do an overnight camp for a week? Other participants have been attending the overnight for years. For one participant, it was her last overnight before she went off to school in the fall. Although this was very bittersweet for her, she was so grateful for all the overnights she has had with her YC support system.

For volunteers, the Overnight also provides a great time away from home, but it provides so much more than that. For first time volunteers, the Overnight promotes awareness. It allows volunteers to see what it is really like to live alongside someone with a disability. Volunteers really begin to appreciate all the events, time, and dedication YC staff and families give to the participants. For veteran volunteers like me, the overnight allows us to find a leadership role. We have been on the overnight before, and new volunteers and participants can find comfort in a familiar face and a friend. Overall, it is in the volunteers’ best interest to work together to give each participant a great 24 hours away from home!

When we arrived back at YC on Tuesday at one, the overnight simply did not end. The laughs, conversations, and fun are remembered and cherished for years and years to come.

It’s in the Genes

Former YC Volunteer Sharon Douglas with daughter Zoe, a current volunteer.

Former YC Volunteer Sharon Douglas with daughter Zoe, a current volunteer.

When Sharon Douglas walked into her first volunteer session with West Shore Challenge of Fairview Park in 1984, she did not realize she had begun what would become a family legacy. Making the choice to volunteer came naturally for her since both of her brothers had been born with a physical disability called Duchene’s Muscular Dystrophy. While working with the program, Sharon saw firsthand how the sports and activities not only enriched her brothers’ lives, but that of family members as well. “Volunteering became a large part of my life,” Sharon said remembering her teen years. She added that she formed close friendships with other program youth and volunteers because they had a common bond. “It was nice to meet families and siblings with the same issues,” she added.

Fast forward to 2015. Sharon’s daughter Zoe, a sophmore at Rocky River High School, has volunteered for the organization since Spring 2013.  Even though she has earned two varsity letters on the tennis team and is a member of ESU “Exceptional Students Unlimited,” High Adventure Girl Scouts, and participates in her church youth group, Zoe takes volunteering at YC in stride. YC provides schedule flexibility to let her help with activities when she has time. Right now, that is a few days a month. She also serves on the YC volunteer committee. Becoming a volunteer was easy according to Zoe. A two hour training session taught her how to help participants adapt their skills to activities. She also spent time shadowing others helping out. Recently, Zoe was recognized for the more than 160 hours she has spent helping with tennis, bowling, swimming and summer outdoor activities as well as arts and crafts. “Volunteering has opened my mind to see what others deal with when they work to overcome their disabilities. I enjoy the program and am proud of the difference it makes,” Zoe said. She added, “The volunteering takes you out of your comfort zone. But it makes you realize how fortunate you are to have abilities. The kids are nice to get to know and you are able to put a smile on their face by providing them a social opportunity that they would not otherwise experience.”

Sharon with daughter Lucy at the YC Superhero Dash.

Sharon with daughter Lucy at the YC Superhero Dash.

Sharon said she is happy to see the program has evolved over the years. Better care, more specialized equipment and opportunities have enabled participants to live longer. And she is proud of the fact the program is serving a larger area since it expanded to the East side in 2013. As the conversation with the two ends, Sharon’s 8-year-old daughter, Lucy, who is listening chimes in, “When I am older, I am going to volunteer too!” Youth Challenge has more than 400 volunteers and is anxious to add you to the list. To find out more about YC and how you can become involved, check out our links on the left.

Alumni Spotlight: Jen Taggart

Jen at YCYouth Challenge is doing more than helping young people play sports and recreation, it’s changing lives.

I have a mild type of cerebral palsy, and have been a part of Youth Challenge since elementary school. I’ve made a lot of memories at Youth Challenge and have gotten the chance to try many activities that I otherwise been able to try, like skiing, ice skating, and sail boating.

When I attended Youth Challenge programs as a child, I never felt like the special needs kid who required extra attention like I sometimes felt during gym class and other community activities. I am blessed to have a fairly mild disability, so all of the programs were already designed for me to do without much trouble.

It’s hard to believe that I am no longer the 10 year old girl riding the van to West Side Sports. I just finished my freshman year at Cedarville University as a journalism major, and am looking into using my writing skills to help others. I’ve considered being a part of a communications department at a non-profit organization like Youth Challenge.

When I’m at college, I feel blessed to have a network of friends who are just a Facebook chat away who understand the specific struggles that come with living with a disability.

If I went to a school closer to Northeast Ohio, I would take more advantage of the YELP programs. I attended the College Q&A night when I was a junior in high school, and my parents and I learned from YC alumni what it’s like living with a disability at college and how to obtain accommodations. I believe that YELP program is a great way to help older members of the YC family prepare for young adulthood. I hope that I am able to attend another YELP program during the next few years.

When I come to Youth Challenge programs, I know that people don’t see me for my limp or bent right hand, but for who I am as a person. I believe that no matter what kind of a disability a person has, it should never define that person. One of the things I hope to do through my writing career is show that disabled people are people first and the same as everyone else.

Volunteer Spotlight- INGRID WAGNER

58-Mickey, Ingrid

Ingrid began volunteering in 2008 after being introduced to Youth Challenge in 7th grade at St. Raphael’s. She has blossomed into a strong veteran volunteer who serves as a model to our new volunteers. This year, Ingrid was ranked in the top ten volunteer group for the most hours served for the year with 140.5.

When I think of YC, I think of…

Fun, happiness, including everyone.

People should get involved with YC because…

it is good for everyone to do because it helps you view people with disabilities in a different way and I think it teaches good things.

My awareness for various disabilities has developed through my experiences at YC because…

if I see someone in the community, I don’t see their disability. There is someone at school who uses a wheelchair and everyday people walk by her and don’t help her open doors and I help her every day. If it wasn’t for YC, I could have been that someone who walks by.

My first impression of YC was that…

I wanted to be like the older volunteers. I thought it was cool that older volunteers had strong bonds with the participants and the staff.

I have encouraged friends to become involved with YC because…

It does not feel like you are doing service. I encouraged younger cousins because I think they should volunteer and YC is a great place to volunteer.

My first day at YC was…

at the summer West Side sport program in the gym at YC and I remember someone telling me that I was crazy for picking that event for the first one because it was a long program but I liked it a lot. I thought that kid was crazy for telling me I should have picked a two-hour program. I also enjoyed my first day because the veteran volunteer was really cool.

YC Paralympics Designation Supports Dreams of Area Youth

Berea – Midpark High School sponsored the Berea Relays May 2013. During the event, YC / ASPO (Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio) athlete Alyssa Patterson ran an exhibition 200M race largely thanks to Berea High Cross Country Coach and meet director Barbara Hunter who encouraged her efforts.
Berea – Midpark High School sponsored the Berea Relays May 2013. During the event, YC/ASPO (Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio) athlete Alyssa Patterson ran an exhibition 200M race largely thanks to Berea High Cross Country Coach and meet director Barbara Hunter who encouraged her efforts.

Track and field runners Glenn Cunningham and April Holmes, both athletes with physical disabilities, may not have known the names of those to run in their footsteps but they had to instinctively know they were forging opportunity for all those who followed. 

Today, Alyssa Patterson shares their vision and is closely following in their tracks. That vision is being supported by organizations such as Youth Challenge (YC). With a reputation for providing high quality athletic programming for nearly 40 years, YC has been designated as “Paralympic Sport Cleveland” by the U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

As a Paralympic Sport Club, YC will continue to introduce adaptive sports to children with physical disabilities while also promoting athletics and teamwork. This past summer eight Paralympic sports activities were introduced, including soccer, power lifting, boccia, swimming, tennis, and sitting volleyball.

The programming distinction is being given because, now during activities, YC will instruct participants in the official rules of each Paralympic sport. Participants will also be given the opportunity to try Paralympic sports in a recreational setting while – at the same time – YC staff and volunteers will help to identify young athletes who may want to pursue competitive sports.

Those interested in more competitive sport programs will be referred to partners such as Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio and the Wheelchair CAVS, to name a few. Local sports facilities, such as the North Olmsted Golf Club help YC offer Paralympic sport activities throughout the year.

“As a Paralympic Sport Club, YC is committed to putting our best foot forward in introducing children to new recreational and competitive sport opportunities,” says Chris Garr, director of program services at YC. “Our programming will serve as a grassroots entry point for U.S. Paralympic athletes,” he added.

Paralympic Sport Clubs are community-based programs developed to involve youth and adults with physical and visual disabilities in sports and physical activity, regardless of skill level.  All programs and activities will be based in the community and are run by local organizations.

For more information, visit

Participant Spotlight-Sara Steimle


Sara joined the YC circle in 2000 after being referred by her physical therapist. Throughout the years she has gained many skills from programs at YC that she is able to carry over into her college life. Sara is currently a freshman at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio and shares with us how her transition to college has been.

My favorite program at YC is…

Paralympic sports because I get to try sports that I never knew that I could play such as Boccia and Seated Volleyball.

My favorite memory at YC is…

when we went to Niagara Falls because I got to go out-of-state to a place I have never been before with my friends.

When I think of YC, I think of…

friendship, fun, laughter, smiles, and an opportunity to grow and learn.

YC is important to me because…

it’s a place where everything is catered to people similar to me. I get to be myself, meet new friends, and participate in activities that are adapted to my abilities.

I chose to go to Wright State because…

it is one of the top schools in the nation to go to if you have a disability, and they could meet my needs the best. They have many disabled students that go there, and many students that don’t too. This was very important to me because I didn’t want to be one of the only ones with a disability, but I also didn’t want to go to a school where pretty much everyone was disabled. They also have an adaptive sports program where I get to play sports similar to what I played at YC. Wright State is one of the few schools that have their own Personal Assistant program to help me with my personal care needs. Their Office of Disability Services hires students to work as individual aides to help with personal care needs in the morning, and at night, they also hire students to work in the PA Station to help with everyone’s personal care needs during the day. Wright State is the only college, or university that I know that has underground tunnels connecting them to all the academic buildings. The tunnels are great when there is bad weather outside.

My experiences at YC have prepared me for college…

by giving me the confidence that I can go away without my parents and still succeed with accommodations.

I would recommend to participants who are beginning the college process to…

take a career exploration class, talk to people that work in the career that you are interested in, learn how to manage your time, learn what your needs are, and how you want them to be met. When looking at colleges, talk to as many people as possible about the college, not just the people that work there.

I wish I knew things before going to college like…

expect the unexpected and that sometimes things don’t go as planned. I wish I had better time management skills to be able to manage the high expectations of college and my personal care. I have learned these things throughout my first semester so I will be able to use what I have learned and improve next semester.

A lesson I have learned from YC is…

that I can pretty much do what someone without a disability can do, I just do it a little different. I have also learned that you can adapt anything.


Mary Sue and Kim, a YC participant, on a trip to Canandaigua, NY in 1985.

Mary Sue and Kim, a YC participant, on a trip to Canandaigua, NY in 1985.

A well known quote says that if you find something you love to do, then you’ll never work a day in your life. This saying has defined the career of Mary Sue Tanis, Youth Challenge Founder and Executive Director. The journey on her professional road began when, fresh out of college, she worked at a Vermont ski resort, teaching disabled veterans to ski.

Returning to the Cleveland area during the summer of 1976 with a therapeutic recreation degree, Mary Sue supported a local outdoor recreation program. It was then she realized that the opportunity to gain strength, courage and confidence were not just benefits program participants realized, but to her as well. It was then Youth Challenge (YC) was born.

What began nearly 40 years ago as an alternative program offering sports and recreation for children with disabilities, has continued to provide enrichment to the youth being served, the volunteers and the staff through one-on-one participation in adapted sports and recreational activities.

For more than three decades, Mary Sue has been on a mission to help improve the health and quality of life for children with physical disabilities by providing opportunities for them to have fun through physical and social activity. She is proud of the many active opportunities YC offers that help improve range of motion in a relaxed environment. But just as important, according to the founder, “Participants have fun and make a friend.”
The “organized chaos” as she refers to the programming, encourages problem solving. Youth learn to adapt their respective challenges to each activity’s requirements. “This is motivational to them as their skills and confidence increase,” she added.

Today, more than 500 families in eight counties are served and she believes this success can be attributed to how well the Board of Trustees work together as well as to the work ethic and dedication of the staff.”

To find out more about YC and how you can become involved, check out our links on the left.