Joe Wolner began volunteering for Achieve Tahoe in the late ‘80s and has continued working with individuals with disabilities since. Wolner, who now works for the Butte County Office of Education, has been coordinating the ‘Activity Day’ for Butte County for at least the past seven years, bringing school children with disabilities to Achieve Tahoe for ski and snowboard lessons.

“One of my students early on in this program, who is now a senior in high school, was in first grade, and he was complaining about the fact that he couldn’t play basketball the way the other kids were. He couldn’t shoot the ball the way he wanted to, he couldn’t move the way he wanted to, and he did get picked on a few times. We dealt with it, but he faced that kind of negativity regularly. 

We started him skiing, and within a couple of years that just wasn’t an issue for him anymore. He was doing something all the other able-bodied kids weren’t doing in the school that he was at. When he came back to school, he showed pictures and videos of his experience, in all his classes. The teachers were all thrilled about it, and, of course, his parents were over the moon. He then had something to hold his head and chest high about, and I have no doubt over time that helped him wrestle with that difficult period.

These are all kids from Paradise and were affected in some way by the fire… I have been really struck by how resilient and even keel they have been. From the first day, if not the first week, of school when they [saw] me…their first question to me was, “When are we going skiing, Joe?” Experts in trauma have stressed the importance of maintaining consistency. Having their friends nearby helps with the recovery. They are in different schools now but are still trying to maintain [relationships with] the same classmates that were there before. All of these students are also returners to the [Achieve Tahoe skiing] program, so this is another consistent thing that has been in their lives and it is something that they look forward to.”

I love coming here. The kids love coming here. The program is world class, and I have always appreciated the opportunity and support that is here. Of course, Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows is connected to that and we wouldn’t be doing it without [them], so that is also very much appreciated and respected for the work they do to make this happen.”

– Joe Wolner, Butte County Office of Education