By Emma Demosthens
Every Tuesday and Wednesday evening at Mt. Wachusett Ski Area, you’ll find a bus packed with about 60 excited kids between the ages of 10 and 18 from Boston pumped to get on the mountain and snowboard. These children are part of the Burton Chill program and to snowboard instructor Shawn Stafford-Hohler of FSU, they are reminders of what it means to have someone believe in you.
The Burton Chill Program is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “provide underserved youth ages 10-18, with the opportunity to build self-esteem and life-skills through snowboarding and other board sports.” They initiate a six week snowboarding program at Wachusett, with each week focusing on the following themes: patience, persistence, responsibility, courage, respect, and pride. These themes provide a framework for learning and personal growth in the lives of these children.
“Snowboarding is very tough to learn, right from the get-go….there’s a very steep learning curve.” Stafford-Hohler tells of one student he had, a very hyperactive child who, during the early phase of the program, had trouble controlling his body and his words.
“Once we put him on the hill, that all stopped,” says Stafford-Hohler, “he’s actually listening, and following directions, and giving us feedback.”
After witnessing this drastic change in his behavior, one of his teachers stated, “this is the most control I’ve seen this student have in his life, with both his body and his mouth”.
It’s more than just the physical activity that has helped settle this particular student down.
Stafford-Hohler attributes it to the supportive environment that the Chill instructors and volunteers provide: “it’s having somebody, just believe in him, that he can do something, and it’s a sport that he actually wants to do. It’s not like a classroom setting where you’re doing something because you’re told to do it. This is something that they want to do, and everyone is very supportive of that, and some of these kids have never had that supportive environment before.”
The youths are selected from either social service agencies, schools or other organizations. The program is run nationally with locations in Boston, Chicago, DC/Baltimore, LA, and NYC. The program is free to the participants, including lift tickets, rental equipment and transportation. The Burton Chill program receives its funding on a national scale by the Burton Snowboarding, Bank of America, and Chase Bank. On a local scale, it receives funding from many small businesses.
One of the cool things about the program is how the character building lessons are incorporated. All of the kids take the bus together and the lessons are taught on the ride up to the location, and are reinforced by instructors and volunteers on the mountain.
They’ll learn about respect in their lesson on the bus ride, and instructors will teach and encourage them to practice respecting their equipment and other riders on the mountain. The youths are allowed to participate for two seasons, and have the opportunity to give back by serving as peer leaders afterwards.
It’s a trip filled with very gratifying opportunities for both teachers and volunteers. Snowboarding is commonly seen as the sport that only “rich people do”. Burton Chill dispels that notion.
“[Snowboarding] started as as sort of a rebellion to skiing. Even though [snowboarding] joined the whole ‘money phase’ of it’s career, it’s not where its roots are and that’s not what snowboarding is about. So being able to be a part of a program that provides this opportunity to kids, is really great, especially since I love teaching” says Stafford-Hohler.
In past years, the Chill program at Wachusett has seen a large volunteer base from students and faculty from BU, and this year, many of the volunteers are from FSU and include members of the Outdoor Adventure Club and Exercise and Sports Science majors. Two of the Chill program instructors are FSU alumni,one is a sophomore at Monty Tech, and all of them are and are loving it.
“It’s a really great opportunity for a lot of these kids, who otherwise would be wandering around downtown Boston getting into who knows what kind of trouble,” says Stafford-Hohler. The program is in its third week and is always in need of more volunteers.
This season will end with ShredFest, a concert and day of celebration for their accomplishments. Those interested in volunteering can contact Shawn Stafford-Hohler at email@example.com . For more information on the chill program visit http://chill.org/