Voyager—Inspiring the Youth of Ouray County

By Mavis Bennett

Voyager—Inspiring the Youth of Ouray County

[October 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage]

Voyager is an innovative, substance-use, prevention program based in Ridgway, teaching children as young as five positive habits and attitudes toward substance use. It’s designed to teach them how to make good choices and to be the best that they can be.

Also known as the Ouray County School Community Resource Consortium, Voyager was started in 1997 by a group of parents looking for after-school activities for their children.

Since that time, the program has grown exponentially, with an advisory board of 60 from all sectors of the community.

Lisa Thomason is the Executive Director of the 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Thomason is responsible for writing on and reporting on the federal and state grants as well as private foundation grants.

“The program is three-pronged,” Thomason explained. “The basis of it is substance-use prevention. One part of it is the enrichment program we provide for children five through 12. We have an after-school program enrichment, and in the summers, an all-day enrichment.”

“Enrichment is not babysitting. It means we provide educational experiential activities and adventures for all the kids.

“We’re all inclusive, which is one of our difficulties. Legally, we can have one staff member for eight kids. But we can’t do it with one staff per eight because a lot of our kids come in with challenges—behavior challenges, physical disabilities. We do our best to have a staff ratio of five to one, sometimes four to one.”

During the summer, the staff swells to 12; during the school year, there are four full-time employees.

Even though much of her work is administrative, Thomason does get some time with the kids. “I love the kids,” she said. “Yesterday, this child was poking his head in the door, and I went out and played some hoops with him.”

The three women who work for Voyager, in addition to Thomason, share the same optimism and enthusiasm for the program.

Danelle Hughes Norman has been the Voyager Programs Manager since 2015. She oversees the enrichment programs and helps to develop them. She worked for Voyager in 2002 for several years while earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from CMU. About her job, Norman says, “I find it both challenging and fulfilling. I love to be able to inspire youth—show them how great the world is, how wonderful it is to be on the planet, and be with each other.”

The Adventure Wednesday program is one of her favorites. It began last summer with the older kids. Every Wednesday, they would go on a different adventure—everything from a jeep tour above Ouray to rock climbing and river rafting.

“Some companies would give us discounts,” Norman said, “so we could keep the costs down. The maximum they would pay is $15 and anyone who would ask could get a scholarship.”

“It’s so good to be a part of such a strong organization,” she added.

Alex Durham is the Prevention Coordinator, working with adolescents age 12 and up. She runs the free teen center located at the Voyager site in Ridgway. Open 3:30 to 5:30 P.M. Monday through Thursday during the school year, and 11:00 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. during summer, it’s a free drop-in center for kids to eat food, play games, and get homework help. There’s Wi-fi, NetFlix, ping pong and other games. “It’s also a safe space for them to come and talk to a trusted adult,” Durham explained. “We’ve had a couple of instances with kids where they had an issue with a teacher and they’ve come into the teen center. It’s a really good tool for them because they know there’s always someone they can talk to.”

She also coordinates the prevention curriculum in the schools. “In Ridgway, I just facilitate the curriculum. But in Ouray, I teach it, identifying positive people, and healthy activities. Whether it’s sports or music, or anything they are passionate about.”

Durham grew up in Ouray and graduated from Ouray High. She also coached high school volleyball. “I think I have a unique lens.”

Britney Ebersold is the newest member of the team as the Enrichment Coordinator. She came to Ridgway in April from Tennessee where she worked with inner city children. This summer she worked with the kids nine to 12, focusing on “how to open their minds about the community, to learn about their place in the community.”

“We’re all really big about relationships. ‘What does he need that he’s not getting at home or at school?’ I used to do activities and not talk much about feelings. The enrichment part of it is very interesting, very rewarding, and also very challenging. Sometimes it can be a long drawn- out process. It’s a great place to plant seeds in the kids’ minds.”

More information

Mavis Bennett publishes The Montrose Monitor, an Online Magazine Celebrating Western Colorado.

8th Annual Voyager – Milkshake Competition at Café Ridgway

[October 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage]
By Kathryn R. Burke

Suzi Ulrich started the contest in 2012 at the suggestion of the then-director of the Voyager Program.

“She approached me and asked to do a milkshake competition for the Voyager kids,” Suzi recalls.

“For that first contest, the director showed up with Dixie cups, and we kind of made it up as we went along. “We have followed that formula ever since.”

The kids decide the winner—there is only one. The kids work in teams of four or seven kids each, and can’t vote for their own entry.

Kids name their concoctions with clever names like Tye Dye Salamanders, Hawaiian Golden Swish, Pink Fluffy Unicorn.

“I give them a list of 100 potential ingredients. I throw in some wild cards like baked beans, but nobody ever takes me up on those. Bottom line, it’s a kid’s production and for the kids. “We all have a lot of fun.”