Cheryl Jensen |

Cheryl Jensen

Sarah L. Stewart
photo by Theo StroomerCheryl Jensen sits in her home in Vail. Jensen is an active volunteer in the valley.

It started as an idea to put to good use several thousand gently used coats that Vail Mountain had in storage. It turned into a worldwide effort to warm needy people and, for Cheryl Jensen, an enduring commitment to help others.

In 2000, not long after Jensen moved to Vail when her husband, Bill, became the mountain’s chief operating officer, she learned that more than 5,000 retired resort uniforms were sitting unused in storage. That year, she arranged for the coats to be sent to Kosovo; the next year, she coordinated 11 ski resorts to send 10,000 coats to Afghanistan. Seven years later, the program, Sharing Warmth Around the Globe, helps 100,000 orphans, seniors, homeless and other needy people brave the winter.

Jensen was encouraged to keep giving by the gratitude shown for her efforts ” she still has a pinecone ornament tearfully given to her by a Polish nun who had no other thanks to offer for the coats.

The 47-year-old helps wounded veterans enjoy the valley’s outdoor opportunities as executive director of the Vail Veteran’s Program; as a member of the Shaw Outreach Team, she’s helped make cancer patients more comfortable with Jack’s Place, a 12-bed facility next to the Shaw Cancer Center; and she gives Buddy Mentors and their pupils something to look forward to by organizing the group’s annual Christmas party at Vail’s Adventure Ridge.

“You don’t have to have all this vast experience to help out,” Jensen says. “You just have to have your heart in the right place.”

Jensen, who lives in Vail with her husband and their two golden retrievers, Jasper and Tanner, can also be found playing golf, trail running, skiing and, recently, trekking through Bhutan and Nepal. But more than likely, you’ll find her helping others, something she calls “my passion in life.”

It becomes an addiction, in the sense that once you realize that you have the power and the ability to help people, you want to do it more. It’s kind of a snowball effect.

This year, we have already reached our 100,000-coat mark. Sometimes I can’t believe it. (We work with) over 50 ski resorts and 22 different countries. I think that’s where I really started to understand that no matter what you think of your experience in giving back … if you make the time, it’s amazing what things will come out of it.

We got started about six months after the war started, when a friend visited Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) and told me about some of the horrific injuries that our men and women were sustaining in Iraq and Afghanistan. … I knew how much adaptive skiing could help people with disabilities. … We were the very first program to take people out of Walter Reed who were in-patient and take them out skiing.

This is really not focusing on their disabilities, it’s focusing on their abilities. … All of a sudden, they’re in Colorado going on a ski vacation with their family. In some ways, it eases the pain, but it also raises their confidence. … When these guys are out on the ski hills, they don’t feel their disability.

There’s not a year that I haven’t cried. You need to see it to believe it.

We live in such a great community. It’s a really unique community in the sense that it is very supportive of a lot of different nonprofits. I’ve had the privilege of living in a lot of different resort communities (including Breckenridge and Lake Tahoe), and I have to say that the Vail Valley is by far the most giving that I’ve lived in.

I think you just prioritize, and luckily, nothing all happens at the same time. … It just becomes so much a part of me, I hate saying no to things because you know what kind of impact you can have.

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