Saturday’s Skate-a-thon in Steamboat to benefit autism |

Saturday’s Skate-a-thon in Steamboat to benefit autism

Local teen has raised more than $8,000 for annual event

Fifteen-year-old Grant Verploeg has raised more than $8

Fifteen-year-old Grant Verploeg has raised more than $8,000 the past four years through the Skate-a-Thon for Autism at Howelsen Ice Arena. This year's Skate-a-thon will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Howelsen Ice Arena.
John F. Russell

— In some ways, Grant Verploeg is like a lot of 15-year-olds in Steamboat Springs. With soccer, lacrosse, hockey, student council and orthodontist appointments, he doesn't have much free time.

But he's unlike a lot of other high school freshmen in that he makes time to serve his community through supporting the annual Skate-a-thon for Autism.

Grant, now the first student liaison to the Yampa Valley Autism Board, participated in the first Skate-a-thon at Howelsen Ice Arena four years ago.

Since then, he's raised more than $8,000 for the Yampa Valley Autism Program.

"I really wanted to help the community," Grant said about getting involved with the event as a sixth-grader. "I like how the money stays here and goes to pay for education, medical and therapeutic services."

The fourth annual youth event is from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Skaters raise funds through pledges for the number of laps they plan to skate during the four-hour event.

Grant said he skated about 200 laps last year.

There are light shows, prizes, refreshments and games throughout the event, and there are adults supervising the children on the ice.

Yampa Valley Autism Program Director Lu Etta Loeber said youths who want to get involved still can pick up packets and secure pledges before the event Saturday.

Packets can be found at Steamboat Springs School District schools and at Howelsen Ice Arena.

Loeber said she is proud of the way this fundraiser includes youths in the community.

"It takes a village," she said "It takes a whole community to sustain a program like this. This is just one more step in that direction."

Loeber said involving youths like Grant in the project helps raise awareness for autism spectrum disorders, which is important because autistic children often have trouble socializing and communicating in school.

Sometimes, she said, this translates to autistic children being misunderstood, bullied or shunned by their peers.

But learning about autism through helping raise funds in a friendly competition helps youths become more comfortable with the issue.

"Just understanding what this is all about and participating, it gives them a better feel," Loeber said. "So when they have friends in their classroom with it, they have an understanding."

Grant said that he knows about a few autistic students in the school system. He said some children pick on the autistic students or take advantage of them.

"Me and my friends, we don't do that," Grant said about the group he's assembled to help with the event.

Beyond fundraising, he organized a group of 10 friends to help Loeber prepare hundreds of pledge packets.

Loeber said that Grant's support has been an asset to the fundraiser and that his presence at board meetings has given local youths a voice.

And he's no slouch on the ice.

"He skates as many laps as he can skate," Loeber said. "But he's really hustling to raise money for our program."

— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-8714204 or email