Q&A: Janine Donald, executive director of Splore

Janine Donald, the volunteer-turned-executive for Splore, is helping everyone get outdoors regardless of physical disability or socioeconomic disadvantages. SNEWS has a chat about the organization and what you can do to help.
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It comes as no surprise that Janine Donald, executive director for Splore, said her passion is volunteering.

That is, after all, what inspired her to get into the outdoor industry and what brought her to her current organization, Splore, a nonprofit that provides outdoor activities for people with disabilities, those with economic disadvantages and refugee youth.

The organization provides adaptive equipment and supportive guides show people from all walks of life can have a great time outdoors. After graduating from college, her goal was to do nonprofit work in Latin America, but AmeriCorps brought her to Splore, where she started as a volunteer leading rafting trips and worked up to executive director.

Donald chats about the nonprofit, its goals and what you can do to help out.

What attracted you to Splore?
I saw a “volunteer needed” poster for Splore and I couldn’t believe that you could volunteer to go on river trips! I’m a sucker for ridiculously fun volunteer opportunities. I attended an overnight training in Moab and then a few weeks later helped out on a trip for children with visual impairments and their families. I was hooked! It was an amazing experience and really opened my eyes to what courage looks like.

What are some of your biggest goals for the organization?
To offer an amazing and meaningful outdoor experience — it’s something we’re always working at. A lot of our clients experience severe anxiety prior to a trip due to the unknown and their disability. We work really hard to make sure that clients feel supported and taken care of from the time they book a trip and then throughout the trip.

What role do outdoor manufacturers play in supporting you?
The outdoor industry has been very supportive of Splore — many of the local Salt Lake City companies support Splore throughout the year. Black Diamond and REI both donate gear and meeting space; Probar keeps us well stocked in snacks for our trips; and Voile, Kühl, Tubbs, Liquid Solutions, Chums/Beyond Coastal, Petzl, Kirkhams, Jack’s Plastics, NRS and BUFF all donate throughout the year. We are very grateful!

What does it take to be a volunteer with Splore?
We utilize about 300 volunteers each year. We look for outdoor enthusiasts interested in helping others experience the outdoors. On our river program, we train volunteers to guide boats and get their guide license. In Salt Lake, rock climbers can mentor children with disabilities learning to climb, and cross country skiers can help teach veterans how to glide seamlessly around the track. The requirements include submitting a background check, attending training and then signing up for trips as your schedule allows.

What makes Splore different from other nonprofits in the outdoor industry?
We’ve been around since the late 1970s and our founder and initial supporters were pioneers in adaptive recreation. Taking people in wheelchairs on overnight river trips was pretty revolutionary back then. What they found was that the outdoors changed people in real tangible ways. A supportive network of clients, volunteers and staff formed. People made lifelong friends; clients went on to try other outdoor activities that previously they thought impossible; volunteers came back year after year. They started to call it the “magic” of Splore. Even today, that magic is what makes us unique.

Tell us about the adventures Splore offers and why they’re special.
In Moab, we offer river trips on the Green and Colorado Rivers. Here is Salt Lake, we offer canoeing and rock climbing in the summer months, and snowshoeing and cross country skiing in the winter months. We adapt the trips to the physical and/or emotional needs of the participants. On our river trips, we have adaptive seats and paddles, and on our winter trips, we have walker-skis and sit-skis. However, most of our adaptations are seen in the level of support and care our staff provide.

How has your past experience prepared you for this position?
Working in Canyonlands National Park, I learned how to work with people from all over the world, which is not so different from working with someone with a disability. Can you navigate around a language barrier? And then working for the wilderness therapy program taught me so many things about myself, and working in tough environmental conditions and with difficult personalities. Coming to Splore felt like a piece of cake after that. Splore is a pretty happy place — our clients are excited to be on trips and that enthusiasm is contagious.

What are some of the biggest challenges the organization’s faced?
The economic downturn has not been easy on for-profits or nonprofits. We’re fortunate that we’re still around while many nonprofits have gone out of business since 2009. However, it is really expensive to run an adventure company, especially given the niche of people we serve, many with limited financial resources. It’s challenging to raise enough funds to offer all the scholarships needed, as well as keep up our equipment and facilities. We’ve addressed this by building strong relationships with our donors, sponsors and foundation funders. As businesses and foundations gain traction in a recovering economy, we hope we’ll be one of the entities they want to support.
--Ana Trujillo

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