Now, more than ever, we need to believe that What’s Within Us Is Stronger Than What’s In Our Way. Through transformative online and in-person experiences, tools and inspiration, we help people tap into their inner hope, optimism and resilience. In the process, we foster a community of curious, brave and collaborative explorers who are determined to live the No Barriers Life.
People are struggling with isolation, a loss of community, mental health challenges, fear and uncertainty. 2020 reminds us that none of us is immune to struggle. Adversity doesn’t care about race, class, creed, color, job title or location. No Barriers has helped tens of thousands of people facing these very issues for the past twenty years—by tapping into the light inside of each of us that knows we can get through it. Despite the barriers—both big and small—that each of us face, we can learn how to push past them, reconnect with our purpose, and unleash the best in ourselves and others.
Offering transformative programs in today’s world is not easy. But, true to our past, we’ve created meaningful journeys for people that break the monotony of day-to-day COVID life and give them a glimmer of hope and a pathway forward.
The No Barriers Summit is a multi-day in-persona and virtual event that will inspire you with speakers, and showcase cutting-edge innovations. You will choose from dozens of adaptive activities that will help you and your family break through barriers and connect with our community. Regardless of your ability, you will leave forever changed. Read more about our 2020 Summit that reached 1.3Million+ >>
No Barriers Warriors improves the lives of veterans with disabilities through curriculum-based experiences that help veterans reconnect with purpose, rediscover identity and find community. Read more about Warriors programming and expeditions >>
No Barriers Youth is a premier educational program challenging students to find hope and optimism despite the many challenge we face. We do this through transformative experiences, classroom tools, and real-world inspiration. Read more about virtual and school programs, as well as camp, international trips, and backcountry expeditions >>
No Barriers Caregivers provide support to family caregivers for adult and youth to find balance in their lives. Read more about caregiver programming >>
No Barriers Educators provides classroom tools and resources to help classrooms learn the skills and mindset to break through challenges. Read more about No Barriers classroom resources >>
The No Barriers Life Elements are as follows:
The No Barriers Life framework is the basis for No Barriers curriculum and experiences across all program areas. No Barriers developed these elements to exemplify the mindset and actions that allow us to break through barriers, unleash individual and collective potential, and have a positive impact on the world.
Read more about the No Barriers Life and what it means here.
Our history began in 2003 when two separate teams of individuals launched organizations designed to change people’s lives by providing transformative educational experiences. One, No Barriers USA, started by working with adults and children with disabilities while the other, Global Explorers, reached middle and high schools students. Both believed that by taking people out of their comfort zones and exploring the world, you could forever shift the lens through which they saw and navigated their lives. Here’s the story of how the paths of these two organizations eventually united to become one.
While in graduate school at Duke University in the late nineties, Julie Dubin and David Shurna dreamed of creating an organization that would give kids of all backgrounds the opportunity to explore the world at a young age. In so doing, it would expand students’ perception of the world and what they thought to be possible. Years after graduate school, they were lucky to find themselves together again in Colorado where they committed, over the course of several months, to spend one day per week outlining the organization of their dreams. No sooner had they put their ideas down on paper than a generous donor invested in the first three years of launching it. From that point forward they were off and running!
In 2005, as they continued to explore new ways to reach diverse students, they met with Erik Weihenmayer and co-created a program for youth called Leading the Way, still in existence today at No Barriers, that combines kids with and without disabilities.
The relationship with Erik continued to grow through the years, eventually leading to conversations in 2011 about how the two organizations might be stronger as one. But here we get ahead of ourselves…
Over the course of 10 years, Global Explorers touched the lives of thousands of students, teachers and families. By 2012, it was a mid-sized nonprofit organization with programs on four continents, serving 500+ students and families per year with an operating budget of $2 million. You can get a great sense of the spirit of their work by watching their 10-year anniversary video here.
Around the same time that Julie and Dave launched their nonprofit organization, Jim Goldsmith, Mark Wellman, Wayne Hanson and Paolo Pompanin got together and brainstormed an event to create an awareness of the abilities of peoples with disabilities. They chose Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, as the location of their first event. The event was also designed to encourage the town fathers to increase the accessibility of their facilities to meet the needs of disabled people, including the aging local population.
A Cortina committee – Dolomiti senza barriere onlus – was spearheaded by Ugo Pompainin and Miki Maioni; the Commune and Regione di Venito pledged their financial support. The United States group and friends provided organizational and matching financial support. A date for NO BARRIERS / DOLOMITI, July 8-11, 2004, was put on the Cortina calendar!
In 2004, Mark invited Erik Weihenmayer and Hugh Herr to come to Cortina with their families and to be a part of the event. Mark and Erik joined a grassroots fundraising evening, others made donations and, with the Italians, raised $100,000 to host the first No Barriers festival.
That first event was largely designed and managed by the Italian partners – Ugo Pompanin, Miki Maioni, Alessandra Urbancich and Maruo di Baisi. Local officials spoke about various programs for the disabled and audiences shared their concerns and views; programs and equipment were exhibited; and demonstrations by disabled athletes were held. The featured events were an evening of films and talks by the three athletes from the United States: Mark Wellman, Erik Weihenmayer and Hugh Herr, and their climb of a face of Cinque Torri.
During the 2004 post mortem, Hugh encouraged another Cortina Festival and took responsibility for staging a Symposium panel of significant researchers, technicians and innovators. In August-September 2004, the fire was lit!
In 2005, a United States not-for-profit named No Barriers USA was formed. Erik, Jim, Hugh and Mark worked tirelessly to raise funds and design the program. Thus, with considerable input from the U.S. Board, the Italian Committee garnered local support and managed NO BARRIERS / DOLOMITI 2005. The Symposium was excellent, exhibits and demonstrations of adaptive equipment engaging, and the featured climb of the Cadini route of the Tre Cime by Hugh Herr, Erik Weihenmayer and Andy Holter exciting.
Future festivals came to be called Summits and moved to the United States. In 2010, No Barriers added its Soldiers to Summits programming, now No Barriers Warriors, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Erik Weihenmayer’s historic Mt. Everest Summit. These programs continued the tradition of using transformative experiences to deeply impact people’s lives. You can read a more complete history of No Barriers Warriors here.
These two independent organizations crossed paths again in 2011, making a decision that would catapult the work forward so that they could impact exponentially more lives. The Global Explorers board sought ways to diversify the clients that it served, build new fundraising avenues and achieve a strong long-term sustainable future. No Barriers, still a small nonprofit with just one full-time staff member, wanted to leverage the strong institutional structure created by Global Explorers to reach exponentially more people.
Seizing a golden opportunity, the two boards made the bold decision to merge into one organization, operating under the Global Explorers 501c3 but renamed No Barriers USA. This helped leverage the organizational structure of Global Explorers while creating a brand and a mission that was expansive in impact. The rest is history…
NOBA is an alliance that makes it possible for No Barriers’ supporters to contract Stone Ward, long-time agency partner to No Barriers, as a marketing services partner. By doing so, Stone Ward will contribute a portion of the corporate partner’s project budget back to No Barriers. Learn more.