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Image: Dan Bayer

Michaela Idhammar was due to have her baby the next morning, via a scheduled C-section, but even that didn’t keep her away from work. In fact, it’s fitting that she’s having her first child, a girl, after taking care of almost 1,700 kids for the past few years.

As the executive director of Aspen Youth Center (AYC), Idhammar, 34, spearheads the nonprofit’s free—that’s right, free—after-school and summer programs for Roaring Fork Valley kids in fourth grade and up. (Before being appointed to her current position in March, she served as AYC’s development manager.) In addition to the 1,700 active members, some from as far away as Rifle and New Castle, Idhammar estimates that an additional 400 kids visit the center every year as guests.

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Image: Dan Bayer

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this fall, AYC has been a place for young Aspenites to spend quality time. The organization was founded in 1991 to provide a safe place outside of school for Aspen’s youth, in light of an inordinately high rate of drug and alcohol abuse locally. Since then, it’s become much more than that, a place for kids to learn, relax, and play, and a valuable resource for working parents. Some former members even return as adults, volunteering their time in recognition of everything AYC gave them.

“There’s this misconception of Aspen being a place of private jets and Champagne, that everyone who lives here is rich and that we don’t need a program like this,” says Oliver Sharpe, AYC’s board president. “But people who live here and make this town go round, people who work in restaurants and in the media and in the service industry, those families certainly need this type of support to be able to make it in Aspen.”

The center regularly brings in local experts to teach all kinds of classes, from cooking, science, and art to self-defense and yoga. Classes aren’t mandatory; kids can sign up or spend their free time playing or hanging out with friends.

The organization was originally housed in the Rio Grande building in downtown Aspen, but in 2003 it acquired space inside the then-new Aspen Recreation Center, located across the street from Aspen’s public schools via a pedestrian bridge. (Idhammar explains that, contrary to popular belief, AYC is not part of the rec center and does not receive guaranteed funding from the city; the private nonprofit depends entirely on grants and other fundraising efforts.) That location also means more convenience for all concerned. “Parents don’t have to leave work to get their kids to soccer practice,” adds Idhammar. “Kids can just come here after school, then walk back across the street.”

“There’s this misconception of Aspen being a place of private jets and Champagne."—Oliver Sharpe, AYC Board President

This fall, the center received a long-overdue facelift. The space, which includes a game room, media room, computer lab, and gym, was repainted and furnished with brand-new flat-screen TVs and computers. Next summer, Idhammar plans to expand AYC’s outdoor education program as well as offer robotics.

Many Aspenites are familiar with AYC through its beloved “Spell What?!” annual fundraiser, but after five years, it was ready for a revamp. Sharpe says the event (Feb. 3, 2017) will still have a game show format, but this time it’ll be based on Family Feud. Like the spelling bee, however, it won’t be your typical auction and dinner gala but an inspiring evening that also celebrates the kids. Says Sharpe, “We want to set ourselves up for success so we can go another 25 years.” aspenyouthcenter.org

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