Non-profit helps troubled kids and disabled vets


Our area is home to a different kind of new non-profit organization called San Juan LEADS Serves (Leadership, Education, Adventure, Development, Service). The program is designed to benefit  three kinds of clientele, including kids who are at risk of dropping out of school, athletes with adaptive needs, e.g. amputees, and seriously wounded veterans who are trying to fit back into civilian society.

The organization promotes leadership with its programs for youth and vets, especially those who face serious emotional and physical challenges.

The education piece teaches alternatives to substance abuse, and coping strategies for families. The adventure aspect shows disabled kids and vets that there are ways to enjoy biking, skiing, and climbing in the San Juan Mountains, even with their physical problems.

Development means fulfilling a promise to leave individuals and communities better off.

Service includes everything from speaking to school-age kids to building things for elderly veterans.

The gorgeous rivers, roads, and slopes of the San Juan range are their primary classroom.

San Juan LEADS Serve was founded by former Montrose-Olathe school district educator Anne Ryan. “My last role for Montrose schools was director of Exceptional Student services.”

Ryan was raised in Maryland, but began her career as an educator in Colorado more than 20 years ago. “I started my career in Estes Park, where the American Honda Corp. started a school for at-risk kids. It was a model school, created for kids who were at risk to drop out. They combined alternative educational practices with a very rigorous outdoor experience

“A lot of the kids came from New York, or L.A., where a lot of gang stuff was going on,” Ryan continued. “So, the first thing they did was put them on a river raft, and float them down the river for six weeks. And that changes everything, doesn’t it?” That experience of trying to reach kids “who had special learning needs, or maybe just came from the school of hard knocks” had a profound effect on her and her career path. “We were trying to do something different to reach them, and for me, the outdoors was the way to do that. And, when you live at the base of these mountains, it’s tempting to take full use of what the mountains have to offer.”

In 2017, LEADS served up five pilot programs that showed much of what the San Juans have to offer. The programs were:

  • A bicycle tour of the canyons for blinded vets, riding tandem bikes with sighted partners
  • Walking Off the War, a hiking program for vets and their families
  • Youth Outdoor Leadership and Addicted to Adventures programs, for kids struggling against substance abuse
  • Leading the Way Through Adversity, with Adventure School presentations

Plenty of programs are in the works for 2018, including:

  • Winter and summer adaptive sports camps. LEADS will team up with Blind Endeavors to teach skiing, ice climbing, biking, and kayaking.
  • Another Tour of the Canyons, featuring veteran cyclists and local cycling teams. The idea is to get locals involved in celebrating veterans and the fun of riding through canyon country.
  • Walking Off the War will be back, with teams of mentors to help vets and their families recover from the after effects of war, e.g. trauma, suicidal thoughts, and brain injuries.
  • LEADS will host a very special bicycle race, featuring the Paralyzed Veterans of America Hand Cycling Race Team. They’ll ride from Telluride to Moab, intending to make history by becoming the first group of disabled vets to complete this difficult route.
  • LEADS and Home Depot will join forces to do service projects for elderly disabled veterans in our local communities.
  • Vista Charter School and LEADS will work together to continue providing professional development to the teachers who work with kids in the Youth Outdoor Leadership and Addicted to Adventure programs.

Adaptive program for athletes

For more information, please visit www.leads You can also contact Anne Ryan at


About the author

Dave Segal

Dave Segal

Dave Segal, a Detroit native, has been a journalist since 1977. He has worked as a reporter, commentator, and news director at radio stations in Detroit, Denver, and Montrose.

Dave has been writing and editing for the Monitor since its first print issue in 2003. He is editor and senior writer for the digital magazine. On the side, Dave has also done freelance writing, media relations, and a variety of volunteer work.