Putting love into action defines Evergreen’s Ning family. Dr. Ted Ning, the eldest son of Chinese immigrants, shared, “My father’s family was from the southeast corner of China and spoke Cantonese. My mother’s family was from the northern part of China and spoke Mandarin. Both families settled in New York’s Chinatown in the 1920s. My parents quickly learned English to speak to one another and further their education. My mom was the first woman to obtain a business degree from NYU.”
When Japan invaded China on July 7, 1937, Ted’s father became determined to become a pilot. He moved his family to Indiana to pursue his aeronautical engineering degree. Ted recalls, “His big break came when the U.S. Air Force hired him as a procurement specialist, which took us to Dayton, OH. We were the only Chinese family. My older sister, younger brother and I attended Catholic schools, but it wasn’t anything like New York Catholic schools. Because of my boundless energy, my parents signed me up at the YMCA. I volunteered for the American Red Cross and joined Boy Scouts of America, which is where I met Alan, who was also Chinese. We were constantly harrassed, being told no one could tell us apart. The badgering didn’t deter me from becoming an Eagle Scout when I was 14.”
When Ted’s mom realized her son wasn’t being academically challenged, the school denied him from being promoted. She took it upon herself to place Ted in his older sister’s classes. When he entered high school, Ted reveals, “I was a Doogie Howser,” associating himself with the 1990s TV sitcom about a high school boy genius who became a licensed physician. “There were over 2,000 students in my high school. Fortunately, Alan and I were reunited. He was the math whiz; I was the science whiz. We weren’t the only two minority kids. There was also one black student. Needless to say, the three of us definitely experienced discrimination, but it didn’t suppress our drive, hopes and ambition.”
It surprised no one that Ted graduated early with the ambition of becoming a doctor. He confesses, “My dad was a cheapskate and forced me to attend the University of Dayton, which I did for two years before being accepted to Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.” It was there Ted met the love of his life. “Connie and I were soulmates from the start. We married during our senior year and welcomed our son, Ted Jr., prior to graduation. Following graduation, Connie worked as a pediatric physical therapist while I completed my medical degree and internship. Before the ink was dry on my diploma, I was drafted in 1970, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division as a medical corps engineer and sent to Vietnam,” Ted explains. With Ted in Vietnam, Connie volunteered with a group that was sending aid to Vietnamese orphanages. Little did they know the impact they would make globally.
Completing his military service, Ted moved his young family, which now included daughter Heather, to Colorado, where he was accepted at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center to complete his urology residency. Connie enrolled at the University of Northern Colorado and received a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy/counseling. “During my chief residency year, Connie and I were contacted by the Mother Superior of an orphanage in Algiers who knew of our concern and devotion to help Vietnamese orphaned children. “We have the perfect child for you to adopt,” she said. Without a moment’s hesitation, we adopted Marycourtney, and at the same time became involved with Friends of Children of Vietnam, where Connie served as a social worker and I became medical director and eventually board president. Through that agency and seven others, we helped evacuate more than 2,500 Vietnamese orphans during Operation Babylift. Connie and I helped organize 4,000 Denver volunteers to care for 600 Vietnamese orphans evacuated from Vietnam to Denver as the war ended. We then established a parent-run adoption agency in 1975 which helped Vietnamese, Korean, Rwandan and Filipino children get adopted.
The Ning family moved to Evergreen in 1976. Son Travis completed the family when he was born in 1981. When Marycourtney wanted to return to Vietnam in 1988 to see firsthand the welfare of mothers and children from her native country, the Ning family toured Vietnam extensively. “We carried our own fuel, food and camping supplies. We were dependent on no one,” Ted declares. “Seeing the devastation and poverty from war deeply touched Connie, who takes compassion very seriously. She was determined to do something, so we met with the then priest of Evergreen’s Christ the King Church, Father John Murphey. He suggested we share our experiences with the congregation and take up a collection. We were overwhelmed with $3,000. That encouraged us to share our vision with the Evergreen community, who was equally as generous, which is how we established Friendship Bridge in 1988, a medical relief project and Evergreen’s first international nonprofit.
Our first project was shipping 150 tons of high-tech medical equipment, dental chairs, and medicine. We were also the first nonprofit to organize barter trades (an act of trading goods or services between two or more parties without the use of money) with over 200 attorneys who helped us pro bono. In 1992, we transitioned Friendship Bridge to focus on community development, mainly because Connie was consumed with ending malnutrition. As a physician, I could fix bodies, but I could do nothing about malnutrition. Nike Shoes got onboard and built footwear plants in Vietnam to establish jobs. They donated $350k to Friendship Bridge to establish the Women’s Microcredit and Education program. We then established Starfish One-by-One, newly named MAIA, to empower girls in Guatemala and rural Mayan communities to obtain education and mentorships. Starfish provides education for a six-year period beyond primary school to change the tradition of girls becoming mothers at the age of 15. Mentors meet weekly with the girls to teach them about birth control and other health issues as well as discussing the importance of self-esteem, cultivating leadership skills, and continuing their educational opportunities.
Ted III, Heather, Marycourtney and Travis, like their parents, all pursued altruistic careers. Change agent Ted Ning III is founder and CEO of The LOHAS Group, whose mission has spread rapidly throughout the world as an identifier of elevated and deeper connection with planet, people, profit and healthy living. Travis is living in Sacatepéquez, Guatemala and is the executive director at MAIA (formerly Starfish). Marycourtney received her BA in English literature with an emphasis in SE Asian and Mexican culture and linguistics, and is now a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and writer of nonfiction essays and memoirs. And believing there’s no better place to live than Evergreen, Heather Ning Aberg, husband Bjorn, twins Nils and Aris, and daughter Elsa couldn’t agree more. Heather’s parents and siblings pursued a traditional road to education, but Heather’s passion for skiing took her on a different run.
“Yes, I have been on amazing trips nationally and internationally, including going to China to visit our relatives. Never have I taken my privileged life for granted, and like my parents and siblings, I wanted to pursue a career that helped others, but first I wanted to pursue a career in mogul skiing,” shares the cofounder of Resilience1220. “I made the U.S. Ski Team, much at the persuasion of Troy Benson, a close friend from Evergreen High School. Troy became an American freestyle skier and competed at the men’s moguls’ event at the 1994 Winter Olympics. I was on the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team and happily worked menial jobs. When my credit cards hit their limits, my parents wisely opted not to bail me out, but even that didn’t deter me from skiing. I didn’t mind being broke. I wasn’t ready to go to college and I wanted to be a broke athlete for as long as possible, which totally went against my dad’s Chinese way of thinking.”
Skiing steered Heather to the love of her life, Bjorn Aberg, when both were at Lake Placid’s U.S. Ski Team’s Olympic Training Center. “Yes, it was love at first sight,” Heather declares, and along with love came the direction for her future. “Team members started confiding their problems to me. That’s what motivated me to return to Colorado and enroll at the University of Colorado Boulder. Unsure what path I should take, I enrolled in psychology.” Renowned founder of humanistic psychology Carl Rogers claimed, “We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy… this is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.” Carl Rogers confirmed that Heather was in the right field of study.
Heather details her subsequent life path: “After graduation, I accepted a position with Forest Heights Lodge, which was a private, nonprofit, therapeutic residential program for troubled boys 8 to 15 years old. Soon thereafter, I accepted an internship as a social worker for Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice, and got a Master of Social Work from Denver University. I started a suicide-loss grief support group through Mount Evans with Lisa Sjoden, a friend who is equally as passionate about supporting survivors. An uptick in suicides in Evergreen and surrounding areas was the impetus for a free mental health program. A few years later, the Rotary Club of Evergreen started addressing the high rates by offering preventive trainings.
“There were few options for youth or their families to turn to, aside from private counseling. It was then that a few of us created Resilience1220 with a vision to provide free individual and group counseling and prevention programs to all ages in Evergreen and the surrounding mountain communities. There was an overwhelming need and interest by parents, therapists and others. I made the decision to leave Mount Evans after 20 years, and with other community members as concerned as I, we started Resilience1220, which offers an array of programs and counseling to young people aged 12-20. We teach stress reduction, coping and life skills in a non-judgmental environment. We seek to serve youth with no barriers to service and to reduce the stigma around mental health and asking for support.”
The Ning family reflects an unspoken creed that reaching out to lift people out of their despair, fear, abuse, sickness, depression, poverty, discrimination, torment, disrespect, and harm creates a sense of belonging, purpose, empowerment and love.