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.
Board of Directors
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.
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.
Anna Winger has lived in Buena Vista full-time since 2012. She originally started coming to this chunk of paradise in 2002 for raft guiding. Spending 15 years on the river alongside teaching 6th-12th Language Arts and coaching middle school volleyball and track has left her with roots in the community she loves. Anna has found a true passion in empowering and inspiring teenage girls to find their inner-confidence and strength to conquer trials intrinsically and extrinsically. Anna now owns the Buena Viking food truck with her husband Evan, and spends her free time playing on all forms of water and romping through the mountains with her dog, Boone.
Shelly Trojanovich is a native to Chaffee County, having been born and raised here. An outdoor lifestyle and respect for the environment are passions she was raised to embody and has likewise passed on this belief to both of her children who are active outdoor enthusiasts. Skiing, camping, rafting, mountain biking and just plain enjoying nature are some of our favorite activities. Shelly has worked for the Salida school district since 1997 and has owned several business in Chaffee County. Over the years she has been involved with numerous organizations which promote both leadership and environmental stewardship. Shelly has only recently joined the ElevateHER board and looks forward to building on the successes of the program so that many more young women in our community can gain the experiences and strength the program encourages.
Darcie Smith is a Colorado native and wildlife enthusiast who lives in Buena Vista and works remotely as a wildlife travel planner. She has worked as a naturalist guide and tour leader for over a decade across North America, India, and Africa including the major wildlife hotspots, such as Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon, the Okavango Delta, and India’s tiger regions. Having cut her teeth in outdoor adventure sports through friendships and opportunities within the guiding community, she understands the impact of those experiences on the trajectory of her life and hopes to support creating similar opportunities of personal growth for others. Throughout her travels, she remains most captivated by the world’s protected wilderness areas whether she is on safari in the Serengeti or backpacking in the Tetons, and also believes that nature's best chances of conservation are hinged on opportunities for young people to enjoy and appreciate wild places.
Kalee Barrantes moved to Colorado from northern Michigan in her early 20s and quickly fell in love with everything the state had to offer. That love affair contines today. She volunteered with SOS Outreach in the Vail Valley, helped coach Salida girls' soccer, taught in the Dominican Republic, and worked at a community mental health center. Now Kalee works for Colorado’s Public Defender’s Office, a continuation of her mission to dedicate her life to serving the community and helping others. It is Kalee’s goal to spread empathy and compassion, which she's looking forward to doing through elevateHER's work, too.