Jackson Holes nonprofit offers outdoor recreation opportunities to kids in need

08 Mar 2022

Jenny Wolfrom-Holladay works to get kids out in nature

Winter/Spring 21-22

Written By: Morgan McGlashon | Images: David Bowers

Endurance athlete, mountain biker, strength and cycling coach, fly fisher, trail runner, and dog owner can all be used to describe Jenny Wolfrom-Holladay, a true versatile Jackson recreationalist.

These passions paired with a background in nonprofit work prepared Jenny to take the helm as the new executive director at Coombs Outdoors, a local nonprofit that helps kids reach their full potential through the life-changing power of outdoor recreation. Coombs Outdoors was founded by Emily Coombs in 2012 in memory of her husband, renowned extreme skier Doug Coombs. The idea for Coombs Outdoors (initially named the Doug Coombs Foundation) came to her while watching her son participate in recreational sports in Jackson. Emily noticed that there was a growing disparity in the community she loved. To minimize that disparity, Coombs Outdoors set out to provide outdoor recreation opportunities for kids and families who face barriers to outdoor recreation in Teton County. By the end of its first winter, Coombs Outdoors enrolled 28 kids in the Snow King Mountain Sports School, providing ski rentals, ski instruction, and lift tickets. Now nearing its 10-year anniversary, Coombs Outdoors has nearly 350 kids enrolled in year-round programming that includes more robust winter offerings, summer camps, after-school programs, and a recently launched high school initiative called EMPOWER. Of the latter, Jenny says, “We noticed kids falling out of the program after middle school and wanted to seek out ways to encourage them to remain a part of Coombs and the outdoor community here.” The new EMPOWER initiative helps high school kids who have been part of Coombs get job-oriented outdoor experience. “It’s hard to take a job that only pays $10 an hour in the outdoor industry if you are expected to contribute and help your family [when] other jobs around town will pay more.” To help, EMPOWER does things like supplement pay at outdoor-oriented jobs and partners with Snow King Mountain Resort to help teens become junior PSIA-certified ski instructors. While Coombs Outdoors has a full-time staff of six people and, under Jenny’s direction, is working to serve more kids and become more financially sustainable, Jenny says the pandemic and housing crisis have been salient at Coombs. Summer camps were shut down, virtual learning took a toll, and many families were not able to participate in programming due to quarantine stints or having to move over Teton Pass to Idaho. However, Jenny says that the challenges have brought about important research that’s validated Coombs’ efforts. "Several studies since COVID have demonstrated a positive association with kids mental health and spending time outside. No matter their socioeconomic background, kids benefit emotionally and intellectually from outdoor activities,” she says, noting that this period of change led Coombs to revisit and refine their goals to build a sense of community and belonging, increase confidence and self-worth, and support mental health and emotional intelligence. When asked what her favorite part of her new position is, Jenny says without hesitation, “Giving back to this community — giving back to a piece of this community that makes this place run. Ninety-five percent of our participants are part of the Latinx population and that is so much of who this place is. I want them to reap the benefits of the outdoors too.”
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