Instructor Feature – Paula Kissinger
When Paula Kissinger was seven years old she was skiing with her family on the beginner slopes of Eldora. In an orange blind skier vest, and almost no vision, she was skiing with her mom, Annette Kissinger. Paula had been successfully enjoying snowsports since she was three years old, thanks to the good efforts of her parents. On this fateful day at Eldora they were approached by Ignite Volunteer John Humbrecht. He said to her mother, “Ma’am, I need you to come into the trailers please.” Thinking they were in some sort of trouble, they followed John into the Ignite trailers at Eldora, affectionately known as World Headquarters. Once inside, John said, “Ma’am, what are you doing on Fridays?” It turns out, based on what he saw, he was attempting to recruit her Mom to guide other people, since she had successfully been guiding Paula for four years.
Since the day she met John, Paula has been helping with the program as both a student and instructor. Her mother is currently the Lead Instructor for Junior Volunteers and her father, Tom, is the Board Chair President of Ignite. Paula has been inspired to continue her role as an instructor because she loves being able to help people through struggles similar to her own. She enjoys showing them it’s possible not only to learn, but to teach. “As a teacher, you can be a source of inspiration, motivation, and you get to help your students progress in their adaptive sport. I think so many people with not only vision impairments, but all kinds of disabilities, myself included, were told we cannot do anything active, it’s too dangerous, and we shouldn’t be doing it. But really, with proper tools and instruction, it can be so easy! It’s really important for everyone to get exercise, have fun and have wonderful experiences like this!”
Paula remembers one of her first students when she was a Junior Instructor. “I had a student who was autistic and also had some vision issues. I was a junior, this was my first-year learning to instruct. He ended up becoming frustrated with the lead instructor and ran off into the woods! The only person he wanted to talk to was me. So of course, I was the little blind junior, heading into the woods, looking for a kid who won’t come out. I ended up leading the lesson that day and not only did we get him on the bunny hill but he even took the easy lift. He really skied that day, and for me it was the biggest victory.”
Paula feels her work with Ignite inspires her to be a more compassionate person in her everyday life. “Seeing what other people go through, and seeing them continue to thrive every day, it really makes you consider what everyone around you is experiencing at any given time, and how you can be more empathetic and accepting of their differences.”
Paula’s favorite thing about Ignite is the family like atmosphere. “Everyone here is so friendly. Any kind of student, with any kind of challenge can come in, and we’re going to find some way to give them a great day, no matter what.”
At Ignite, we believe in the power of volunteers, like Paula, to transform the world we live in. The Junior Instructor Program is designed for high school students, ages 16 and 17. It is a unique opportunity to participate in Ignite training, right alongside adult volunteers. The junior instructors are assigned to assist with lessons and learn from the more experienced instructors. If you are interested in more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.