Paddle Sports in the COVID-19 Era Pt. 7
This week I chatted with my friend Val over at LEAP to see what sort of challenges she faced in the 2020 season.
Tell me a little about yourself and your job with LEAP? Maybe include a little how you got to your current job as well as what LEAP does.
Well my name Val Pufahl. I am the Executive Director at LEAP. I started with LEAP in 2017 as the Program Director. I run the business, all the different aspects, managing staff, partnership, fundraising, everything! Before I worked at leap I spend 10 years as a high school teacher and running an outdoor program there. It was really focused on wildness rites of passage. I have spend years leading lots of multi-week, multi-sport trips for a wide range of people, mostly youth. I grew up on a farm in Kansas so I didn't have a ton of exposure to the outdoors as a kid. However my dad took me on a whitewater trip in my late teens and I was hooked. My first whitewater guiding job was on the Ocoee in Tennessee. Now I spend my summers on the Lower Salmon River in Idaho and run LEAP from Portland in the off season.
We are a year into COVID. What did things look right before first round of lock downs started? Did you have a busy 2020 planned out?
Well we were lucky enough to have had done our big annual fundraiser (Leap Day 2020 of course). Having raised much of our yearly funds we were able to keep some things going. Unfortunately we had a really busy looking season. This was going to be the first seasons of some new systems that went into place for LEAP to be able to grow.
How did your 2020 season end up panning out?
Well the 2020 season was a bit odd. We weren't able to run and trips but that doesn't mean we weren't busy. We spent the year doing a little restructuring and passed out some more hats to people to get stuff done. There was a little leadership reconfiguring and I took on the Executive Director roll!
Since you didn’t run trips in 2020 what were you doing to keep people engaged? What were a couple challenges you saw/faced?
LEAP works with a handful of different partners to fill all of our trips. All of the programs are at no cost to participants. Since all of our partners are focused on some type of health are we weren't really in the position to take on health sensitive groups out on the water. We really had to to stick to state regulations and not operate in any grey areas.
My tasks quickly turned to, who are the people we serve in the community? Many groups were figuring out virtual programing and how to keep people engaged. We were able to get a couple of small groups of kids out on some waterways with New Avenues of Portland. We offered some virtual campfires for past guests/participants to come check in and connect. Around the start of school we were able to put some activity packets together for students together. It was nice to get some of our curriculum out to many new students who wouldn't normally have access to it. We were also really able to re-work some important topics such as diversity, equality, and inclusion.
You mentioned you still weren’t sure if trips going to happen this summer. Has that changed? My fingers are crossed it happens. What could 2021 look like for LEAP?
WE ARE! We also will be running a new program on the Deschutes! The Deschutes is also going to open up programs to people that can't commit to a Lower Salmon trip. We have a new partnership with Oregon Adaptive Sports that is going to be really fun as well. We are still figuring things out, same with our partners as well. I feel like we are maybe just a little behind our normal schedule because the COVID landscape is changing so much day to day. Planning for groups is tough, add in COVID and it becomes an even bigger challenge. Our season will be a bit different as we don't have as long of a Lower Salmon season but we have new stuff on the Deschutes.
What is the future of LEAP looking like? Any big plans or expansion?
Well the Deschutes is the most recent thing! It is really going to open up a lot of opportunity for young kids, adults, and maybe even families. We are really excited to have a partnership with an adaptive sports program (Oregon Adaptive Sports) which we are really excited to grow and expand upon that. We would love to have a really solid Oregon and Idaho programs that run at the same time and even be able to expand in the surrounding communities. We are really looking at how do we offer this to more groups and more people that align with our scope and mission. While the pandemic was rough on our 2020 season we kept busy and are working hard at some continued growth!
Thanks a bunch for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me Val. Good luck with finishing off all of your off season tasks! Have an excellent summer and hope to see you on the river soon!