Zero Ceiling youth program enters fourth year 

The Whistler Zero Ceiling Street Youth Program is back at it this season, putting 94 inner city street youths on snowboards and providing them with instruction.

This year, citing the past success of the program, Zero Ceiling organizers are preparing to take it to the next level and apply for charitable status.

"It’s time for the program to become non-profit and apply for charitable status," says Zero Ceiling founder Chris Winter. "If we are successful in achieving charitable status, the sky will really be the limit for the program and the youth that participate in it."

Winter, with the help of Whistler’s Christine Buttkus, have been working towards this goal through the fall. A steering group of four volunteers has also been created to help with the process. Achieving charitable status will help Zero Ceiling raise funds and expand its goals and operations.

It is already showing results – this year, four out of five youths passed a special Snowboard Instructor Training Program. It would have been five of five, but one girl broke her wrist.

"She’ll be back she says, and we’ll take care of her," says Winter. "She was doing great before the accident, and there’s no way she’s giving up now."

The students who passed are able move to Whistler to begin further training, and could eventually work as snowboard instructors at Whistler-Blackcomb. A dedicated youth outreach counsellor will interact with the youths to help the transition to Whistler go smoothly.

In the meantime, the four students who passed are in need of gear – four sets of bindings, one 164 cm board, three 160 cm boards, and three sets of size 10 boots. They will also need four pairs of goggles. If you have any gear to donate, call Chris Winter at 905-4404.

From January until May, two groups a month will be brought to Whistler to try snowboarding. For some participants, it will be their first time ever on the slopes.

"It’s a nice break for the youth," says Robin Bonner, Zero Ceiling’s Program Co-ordinator. "For a day they can be active in the outdoors, have fun, and hopefully be inspired to change their lifestyle."

Bonner will be working with other Whistler-Blackcomb instructors, including some graduates from previous Zero Ceiling instructor training programs. "Having past graduates work with the youth that come up is positive for everyone in the program," she says.

For the second year in a row, Whistler Lodging Company (formally known as Powder Resort Properties) provided accommodation for the weeklong instructor training course. Uli’s Flipside provided the group with a dinner on the final night. The five students were also treated to a snowmobile trip with the Whistler Freeride Team.

Whistler-Blackcomb provides all lift-passes, equipment rentals, meals from Merlin’s and 18 Below, and snowboard instructors for the seven day program and 10 one-day visits.

"It’s fantastic to see the community come together and endorse Zero Ceiling," says Winter. "From individual volunteers to local business and corporate support, it’s been very, very positive."

If the government approves Zero Ceiling’s non-profit, charitable status, the program name will become The Zero Ceiling Society of Canada and fund-raising will begin in the spring. Future goals include the creation of a summer recreation program involving youth from other organizations in B.C. and First Nations youth, and going national to provide similar programs across Canada.

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