Kristen Van Norman Founder and Executive Director
Kristen Van Norman, a native of Colorado, she grew up in the Vail Valley. Kristen is a graduate of Fort Lewis College with a B.A. in Political Science. She followed this with attending the Josef Korbel School of International Studies graduating with a M.A. in International Human Rights with concentrations in Gender and International Law in the Middle East. Afterwards, she worked at a small non-profit in Vail promoting lifelong education as their Program and Development Manager. Most recently, she worked for Ascend Athletics in Kabul, Afghanistan, a non-profit driven by empowering women through teaching leadership skills while pursuing outdoor pursuits such as mountaineering and rock climbing.
Upon arriving back in the United States, Kristen wanted to share her love of the outdoors with young women in Chaffee County and elevateHER was born. She believes that using outdoor adventure as a mode of teaching young women can impart lifelong lessons and build close female relationships. Kristen is excited to bring together a group of strong women to teach the next generation of independent women lifelong skills so that they can succeed no matter the challenges they face.
If not working hard with the girls of elevateHER, you can find Kristen enjoying many outdoor pursuits such as rock climbing, hiking, camping, rafting, and snowboarding. If its an indoor day, Kristen is an avid reader of historical fiction with strong female character leads.
Elinor Asay Development Director
Elinor is the Development Director for elevateHER, where she brings 4 years of progressive experience in fundraising and development. She also brings a strong commitment to youth development and education programs, with almost 10 years of climbing experience and 5 years of experience in a variety of youth development programs.
Elinor graduated from Santa Clara University with a double major in History and Political Science. She also holds a Master’s degree in International Development from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, where she focused on environmental and technology development in South Asia and West Africa. She has traveled extensively, especially in Nepal, where she worked to support girls' education and empowerment issues with the nonprofits Edge of Seven and The Small World.
Originally from the Washington DC area, Elinor went west in 2006 and has never looked back. She is an avid rock climber, backpacker, snowboarder, and cook, and enjoys exploring the trails near her home in Boulder, CO.
Josie Popelka Adventures Coordinator
Before moving to Colorado for school, Josie grew up in Iowa. She moved to Alamosa to get her Bachelor’s degree in Physical Geography and Environmental Science from Adams State University. There she gained an interest in outdoor education by working for the Adams State Adventure Program leading backpacking, snowshoeing, and rock and ice climbing trips. She also grew a love for the upper Arkansas River valley while living in Buena Vista during the summers working as a rafting guide before permanently moving to Salida in 2014. When she isn’t working, Josie enjoys spending time outside whether it is rock climbing, rafting, trail running, or hiking with her dog. Josie is excited about working with ElevateHER and passing on her passion and love for the outdoors to all the girls that come through the program.
Olivia Auray Outdoor Mentor
Olivia Auray grew up in a small town in Connecticut, and developed a passion for the outdoors at a young age. She went on to attend Western State Colorado University to pursue a degree in Outdoor Education. She became heavily involved in Western’s Wilderness Pursuits program where she co-lead backpacking, rafting, and climbing trips. Olivia discovered through her travels to Nepal that she has a passion for teaching, having volunteered with a small organization aimed at teaching Nepali youth outdoor skills. Olivia is a ski instructor at Copper Mountain Resort, and spends her summers as a raft guide in Buena Vista. She is a Leave No Trace Master Educator, and a NOLS Patagonia graduate. In her free time, Olivia enjoys rock climbing, whitewater rafting, backpacking, skiing, yoga, and all things outdoors.
Board of Directors
Jessica Jones has been living in Buena Vista since 2008. She and her husband opened House Rock Kitchen on Main St. in June of 2015 which serves healthy and clean food. From 2009 to present, Jess has healed herself from Lyme disease through diet change, lifestyle change, detox, yoga and heightened awareness. Consequently, she has a deep passion for living a healthy lifestyle physically, mentally and spiritually.
Jess has been blessed by many remarkable teachers and experiences along her path and is honored to help our local young woman find their own peace, joy, strengths and passions. When she is not eating at House Rock Kitchen you can find her reading, hiking, running, paddle boarding, mountain biking or off traveling.
Candace Bryans has been living in Buena Vista full time since 2014. She originally came to Buena Vista during the summers from 2009 – 2014 to work as a raft guide. Candace has been teaching AP Biology, AP Chemistry, and Math for the past 8 years. Prior to teaching Candace spent five years working for the Little Rock Veterans Affairs Hospital Inpatient Pharmacy. She brings a strong background in non-profit fund raising and volunteer work. In addition to volunteer work in Thailand, Burma, and Morocco, she has served on several non-profit boards, worked in the education and funds department for Heifer International, and has been the Sponsorship Coordinator for the Autumn Color Run for the past three years. An avid runner, climber and outdoors woman, Candace is excited to assist elevateHER and to support its work empowering young women to push beyond their comfort zones and try new activities.
Heather is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with 10+ years of therapy experience with children, teens and adults. Her specialties include child/adolescent therapy (including play therapy), family therapy, and treating depression/anxiety disorders. She is the owner of Thrive Therapeutic Solutions located in Buena Vista, CO. Originally from New Mexico, she moved to Chaffee County 10 years ago. Heather is also the proud mom of two middle school girls. She also serves on the Chaffee County Early Childhood Council.
Beth Helmke is the Director for Get Outdoors Leadville!, a Great Outdoors Colorado GenerationWild community in Lake County, that is focused on lowering barriers to access and enjoyment of the outdoors for people of all backgrounds and building a more inclusive and diverse recreation culture. Beth has worked in research, nonprofits, and education administration for the over 20 years, and shares with elevateHER her passions for outdoor adventuring & stewardship, public health research, and healthy eating & active living. After a decade of considering the Arkansas Valley a home-away-from-home, Beth and her family finally moved to Buena Vista full-time in 2017. She also volunteers for Chaffee County Search & Rescue - North and the BV school district's District Accountability Committee, and serves as a community representative on the Chaffee County Youth Alliance coalition. When not working or volunteering, you’ll usually find Beth cheering on her husband and two teenagers in their various pursuits, out on the trails running and hiking, or just goofing around with her two beloved rescue mutts.
Shannon Jones has worked in outdoor education on and off for over seven years. Originally from North Carolina, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in history. Following school, she moved to a small village in northeastern Thailand to teach English in a Thai government school, before heading north to work for the International Humanity Foundation in Chiang Rai. Following her time abroad, she moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and worked for Wilderness Adventures, an outdoor youth travel program for students ages 11-21+. She moved to the Arkansas River Valley in 2016 and worked for the city of Salida for two and a half years before moving to Buena Vista full-time with her husband Nelson. She has volunteered as a coach for Chaffee County United, coordinated the Friday Enrichment Program with Salida Rec, and is excited to get involved with elevateHER. She works for Wilderness Adventures as a Program Expert from her home in the valley. Shannon enjoys trail running, mountain biking, long-distance bikepacking, skiing, camping, rafting, reading, and card games. She attributes her adventurous spirit and love for the outdoors to her time spent as both a leader and a student within outdoor programs like elevateHER, and is excited to be involved in getting more girls in the outdoors on the local level.