‘The only constant in life is change’. Not a new phrase, but it remains poignant, particularly when your life’s work requires you to adapt and embrace change. For Jerry Ketelhut and Daring Adventures, embracing change has been what kept the organization afloat and what is carrying it into the future.
Started in 1991 as a Parks and Recreation Program with the City of Phoenix, Daring Adventures was the only local organization providing outdoor recreational opportunities for individuals with disabilities and life challenges. Thirty years later, with an increase in social awareness and programs for people with disabilities, the city cut the program and Daring Adventures had to create a sustainable structure as a stand-alone nonprofit. By adding a respite recreation program, Daring Adventures continued its mission of turning what used to be passive activities such as going to the mall or sitting in a park, to active, exciting activities like kayaking, camping, hiking for those who may not always get to participate.
Today, thirty years in and numerous program additions later, Daring Adventures recognized it needed to embrace change yet again. Between COVID-19, the increasing competitive challenge with grants, surviving as a small business with increasing costs and the influx of new programs, Daring Adventures recognized it needed a partner organization to keep the mission alive.
Like many other participants with Together for Impact, Jerry got involved through one of their open houses. It was there that the possibility of a collaboration or merger came to light.
Daring Adventures began conversations with the Civitan Foundation, a nonprofit that also serves people with cognitive disabilities and focuses on offering activities and active lifestyle opportunities for its members. Civitan had the mechanisms in place to bring on people, staff, resources, and new activities. With the Arizona Together for Impact exploratory grant in place, and a pair of consultants from Avenir Consulting to help them through the process, Jerry was excited to see if the two organizations could come together.
Jerry knows, better than most, just how constant change is. The exploratory process with Avenir and Civitan brought to light many prospects for growth, yet the exploratory process also allowed both Daring Adventures and Civitan to see that not every change is the right one. While the conversations were positive, the consultants unbiased, and the excitement present, both Daring Adventures and Civitan ultimately concluded that the timing and culture fit were not aligned.
“We needed to go through the discovery process to learn what we didn’t want as much as what we did want,” said Jerry. “Our organizations have the same goal, but different avenues. We want what is best for the customers and members served, but how we are set up dictates how we align. That was the importance of working with Avenir.”
Jerry still sees the time spent as a win for both organizations. More importantly, going through the process once gave him the freedom and knowledge to try it again. He knew Avenir, he knew Together for Impact, and he knew the right partner was out there. It was time to try again
As it turns out, the right partner was right in front of Jerry. Through discussions with the Board and its collaboration with the Disability Resource Connection, Jerry began discussions with Ability360. The organizations had collaborated before. Daring Adventures even had an office in Ability360’s facility in the early days of both organizations. It was a natural fit.
After that “aha” moment, Jerry recognized the need to go through the discovery process again, albeit an expedited one. Work began again led by Avenir, and in October of 2021, both boards approved the merger to have Daring Adventures be brought under Ability360’s umbrella.
When asked what advice he would give to other nonprofit leaders in his situation, Jerry said, “It’s not a quick process, nor should it be. It takes time to go through the checking of alignments, board interests, mission alignments, all of it. Through the process you see how you are stronger together than you are alone, and there is so much more to be had as a group than by yourself.” As for Jerry, he is excited to take a step back. “I would love to retire, but I also love the important work our organizations do. I’m ready to shift to the backseat and not worry about budgets and paperwork every day but am looking forward to being an active participant in the successful transition of two amazing organizations.”