Since 2001, Denver-based nonprofit First Descents has provided free adventure programming for young adults with cancer, taking them to the ocean for surfing trips, to the mountains for climbing expeditions and on many other forays. In December, First Descents announced its entrance into the coffee world and, fittingly, its partner is located in one of the globe’s best places for adventure.
The small Colorado town of Minturn is home to a few things: picturesque mountains, world-class skiing and roaster Vail Mountain Coffee & Tea. First Descents has partnered with Vail Mountain on the Out Living It series, which offers three blends—light, medium and dark—as well as a name tied to First Descents’ mission. “It’s a play on words for outliving the disease as well as being outside and living beyond the disease,” says Sarah Hubbard, First Descents’ director of marketing.
The partnership came about through Jaimie Healey, Vail Mountain’s director of marketing, who volunteered with First Descents in 2006. “I loved and respected them immediately,” she says, “and I knew that if I was ever in a position to do something to help them, I would.” She pitched the idea to owners Chris Chantler and Craig Arsenau, who thought the adventure-themed nonprofit was the right partner for Vail Mountain, which boasts the tagline, “Fuel Your Adventure.”
Vail Mountain Coffee & Tea will donate $0.50 directly to First Descents for every 12-ounce bag sold and $1.25 for every five-pound bag sold. “One thing we really like about First Descents,” says Healey, “is that they communicate exactly what it takes to send one camper to camp, which is $1,000. So we’re able to track sales and measure our contribution.”
First Descents’ work targets young adults between ages 18 and 39, which is traditionally the most under-supported demographic of those diagnosed with cancer. “These folks are just reaching the stage in their life where they want to be independent—they might have just graduated from college or just gotten married,” she says. “A cancer diagnosis has the potential to take them back into a place of dependence on their family and their doctors as well as affecting their confidence, body image and wide range of other psychosocial issues. At First Descents, our programs are built to take them out of their environment, where they may be the only sick person they know, drop them into an incredible outdoor location, introduce them to 15 other young adults fighting the same disease, and use outdoor sports as the challenge to remind them how strong and capable they really are.”
Creating the blends was a true collaboration between First Descents and Vail Mountain Coffee & Tea, as First Descents’ staff traveled to Minturn, cupped coffees and offered feedback. “We tasted a bunch of blends to really understand the nuances,” says Hubbard. “They really wanted to get a sense of what coffees we liked.” Vail Mountain used that feedback to create a proprietary line of coffees for First Descents. The three Out Living It blends can be purchased through Amazon and are coming soon to select Colorado Whole Foods, Safeway and Kroger stores. Healey says Vail Mountain is currently working on widening distribution. “We’re moving into more spots every day, and everyone has been very supportive so far,” she says. Vail Mountain and First Descents are also marketing the charitable side of the coffees, and Hubbard hopes the nonprofit will see positive results. “If a major company were to decide to swap out whatever bulk coffee they’re ordering for their office space for this, the ramifications for us could be huge,” she says.
—Chris Ryan is a freelancer and Fresh Cup’s former editor