Saturday, September 19, 2020
Higher Ground Tries to Cut Through the COVID Isolation
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Emma Cochran arches her back during one yoga pose.
   
Monday, August 17, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Kayla Pedrolini turned over on her belly and rose up on all fours, arching her back. Then she reached one hand out in front, curled it and clawed the air like a cat.

KT Eammon shrieked, smiling with delight, as she mimicked the Higher Ground yoga instructor.

“Higher Ground put stuff on computer, like a House Party app, while we couldn’t go out and be with our friends. But it was very, very boring and it wasn’t me,” she said. “I’m an outside get-together type. I’m a team player, an athlete. A tennis player, kickball player. So, I like this.”

 
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Walter Elias stretches out in Hailey’s Heagle Park.
 

Higher Ground Sun Valley, like many organizations in the Wood River Valley, tried to keep its clientele engaged while everyone was sheltering in place with Zoom get-togethers and even something they called Mad Libs in which they constructed a story on Zoom featuring random words participants wrote out ahead of time. But, leaders found, that only went so far.

That’s why the opportunity to offer local adults with disabilities the chance to ride mountain bikes, hike, paddle, play disc golf and engage in yoga as the state eased COVID restrictions was cause for celebration.

“We tried seated yoga, breathing exercises, the chance to chat via Zoom. But some did not do well in isolation,” said Kelly Eisenbarger, the marketing coordinator for Higher Ground.

“One person told me this was the first human interaction they had had in three months—save for their family, of course,” said Daniel Brown, Higher Ground’s adaptive programs coordinator. “Many would not have recreational opportunities if not for what we provide. This is a chance to get them outside, interacting with their peers. It’s part of a full and happy life.”

 
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KT Eammon is happy to be off Zoom and outdoors surrounded by her friends.
 

Some of those Higher Ground works with quarantined longer than most Wood River Valley residents because of conditions that could be immune-compromising. One young adult is awaiting a liver transplant. Others have with autism or other sensory disorders have had a hard time with face masks and understanding social distancing. So, rather than go out in public, they stayed home.

While it wasn’t able to offer summer camps at the lake as in the past, Higher Ground counselors figured out ways to offer day activities for locals between the ages of 5 and 65.

“We’re so happy this is happening because, at the core of it, we are a therapeutic recreation organization all about getting people outside and doing things with other people,” said Eisenbarger.

Activities are limited to eight to 10 people. Each participant has his or her temperature taken and is encouraged to use hand sanitizer and face masks if they can do so. Higher Ground has introduced some new activities, such as disc golf, that allow for distancing.

 
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Rubi Chanco doesn’t let her wheelchair keep her from taking part in the yoga lesson.
 

“They’re getting to try new activities and gain new skills,” said Brown. “We will probably make some of them permanent.”

For the first couple months of summer Higher Ground limited its veteran’s outreach to local veterans who wanted to try fly-fishing on the Big Wood River or golfing at Big Wood Golf Course. They have proven a hit.

Higher Ground is bringing in four vets and their spouses from out-of-state this month to raft the Main Salmon River. Instead of flying in, all are driving in. When they raft the river, there will be no shuttle waiting to pick the entire group up and shuttle them back. Instead, each of their vehicles will be shuttled to the other end so each can drive away separately when they get off the river.

A fly-fishing camp for vets will be held later this month at Three Rivers Resort at the confluence of the Lochsa, Selway and Clearwater rivers.

 
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Kayla Pedrolini, Higher Ground’s recreation youth program manager, leads a group of eight through deep breathing, downward facing dog poses and more.
 

“We spent a lot of time figuring out how we could provide these programs,” said Eisenbarger. “But we knew it was important that we do so. The isolation of COVID has been really hard on veterans—suicides are up because they’re stuck in their house. We’re all undergoing trauma. And COVID is compounding previous trauma for the vets.”

Higher Ground was not able to hold its Hero’s Journey fundraiser dinner, which typically raises about $800,000, this summer. But donors stepped up during an online auction and paddle up campaign, with a matching grant of $50,000 going a long way.

“It worked out great. It’s humbling to see people support us right now when so many organizations are in need,” said Eisenbarger. “We may hold a few smaller distanced outdoor fundraisers, as well.”

For more information about Higher Ground Sun Valley, visit www.highergroundusa.org.

 

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