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A special person for special kids

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Evergreen’s ‘angel,’ Maren Schreiber, is dedicated to her young charges

By Vicky Gits

Kids with special needs love to have fun as much as other children, and thanks to the special needs program of the Evergreen Park and Recreation District, special kids are getting a lot more enjoyment out of life.

Special needs coordinator Maren Schreiber started the program with five participants in 1997 and now has 60 regular members, many of whom have been in the group for years.

“It wouldn’t be the program without Maren,” said Susanne Orth, mother of Kristina Halstead, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair full-time. “It’s the way (Schreiber) has been able to handle all the kids and their different needs, physically and mentally. The way she has been able to come up with schedules that include all of them is just unbelievable.”

The program has given Kristina self-esteem, friendship and a social life.

“She just loves it. She participates in everything,” Orth said.

Kristina gave herself the job of being Schreiber’s assistant, which makes her feel grown-up and responsible like her older brother, Orth said.

Kristina has also given herself the job of raising pledges for the Polar Plunge and has agreed to take the plunge into Evergreen Lake on Jan. 1. So far she has raised $1,370.

“(Schreiber) doesn’t baby them. She treats them like regular kids,” said Orth.

Marilyn Broughton of Idaho Springs loves Schreiber’s program because it opens opportunities for her son, Andrew, 27.

“She does things with the kids that parents aren’t brave enough or wouldn’t think about doing. … Instead of watching the parade go by, Andrew was in the Fourth of July Parade last year,” Broughton said. He also has been water skiing and dangled from a climbing wall at Buchanan. “She is a lifesaver and an angel.”

To sum it all up, “(the program) gave him a normal childhood,” said Robin Coursen, mother of a Daniel, a seriously handicapped 23-year-old who has been in the program since its inception. “It enabled him to have friends, a social life, fitness and sports — everything a normal child would have.”  

Selective fund-raising

At the end of October, Schreiber shocked the special needs community by announcing her resignation, but since then she has worked out a new agreement under which she can be more selective about fund-raising.

Instead of producing 20 fund-raisers a year, Schreiber will be partially responsible for a handful of money-making activities, namely the Andy Smith Annual Special Needs Golf Tournament at Hiwan Country Club, the Polar Plunge and the Ice Melt Barrel Contest on Evergreen Lake. (The tournament raised nearly $12,000 last year under the auspices of the Mountain/Foothills Rotary Club.)

Schreiber will continue to produce the Kids Trail Race in August and possibly the Lair of the Bear Race, she told the Canyon Courier.

Previously, she was responsible for Parents Night Out, the Beach Party, Santa’s Workshop and selling Evergreen logo wear and mugs.

Schreiber said she had always been told to raise more money from fund-raisers instead of getting the money from the rec district.

But this year, under a new board of directors and a new executive director, the district has agreed to step in and take over more of the responsibility for the financial support of special needs, allowing Schreiber to spend more time on the children’s activities.

“That will be a big relief to me,” she said.

The program is budgeted at about $100,000 a year, of which $55,000 is payroll.

The biggest costs are gasoline and staffing. Last year the group put 17,000 miles on the 12-seat Chevy Mid Bus, partly paid for by Mountain/Foothills Rotary. (Rotary raised $20,000, and the park district paid $30,000.) Staffing costs are higher since the ratio is 1-to-4 rather than 1-to-10 for other kids. Schreiber’s salary is $32,000, not including benefits.

Participation fees generated about $37,000 last year.

The projected deficit based on the 2009 budget is $22,000 but will probably go higher with reduced outside fundraising in place.

John Skeel, executive director of the park and rec district, has said the program is not expected to pay for itself, and money can be found elsewhere in the budget to make up the shortfall. The board of directors is very supportive of that approach, based on their comments in public meetings.

About half of the kids in the program come from Evergreen and Conifer and the rest from Bailey, Pine, Indian Hills, Idaho Springs, Genesee and other places. The age range is 5 and up. The average age is 14 to 18.

Schreiber has taken kids to the top of Mount Evans and the Colorado Springs and Denver zoos. They go to Rockies, Nuggets and Avalanche games. They have been on rope courses, climbing walls and whitewater rafting trips. They have been to Leadville, Georgetown and the Royal Gorge to ride the trains. In winter they go skiing at Breckenridge for five days. They go bowling at Brunswick Zone every Tuesday and horseback riding on Thursdays, among other things.

In the summer, Schreiber masterminds a 13-week summer camp that involves all-day activities five days a week, based out of Buchanan Rec Center. There is also a one-week winter-break camp.

Once a month there is a special event, like going to a play or professional sports. For those 16 and older, there is a monthly dance in Lakewood.

One year Schreiber took the kids on the train to Cheyenne Frontier Days, and everybody had to take shelter in an airplane hangar when a lightning storm moved in.

“It was pouring and hailing, and we were drenched by the time we got in the hangar,” Schreiber said. “It was like being abducted by aliens. The kids thought it was cool.”

TO MAKE A PLEDGE FOR KRISTINA HALSTEAD’S POLAR PLUNGE

Go to either www.EvergreenLakePlunge.com and click on “Make a Pledge”  or  www.drivesmarte-c.org and click on “Ev. Lake Plunge > Pledge.”