For the past 10 years Zero Ceiling has been giving underprivileged, homeless and at-risk youth a chance to start over in the mountains.
On Saturday, six youths that met Zero Ceiling’s criteria are arriving in Whistler and will start new jobs with Whistler-Blackcomb. They will be provided with equipment, given spots in staff housing and all the benefits that go with being on staff.
Greg McDonnell from the Whistler Community Services Society, and a former director of Zero Ceiling, will be on hand to give the newcomers food from the Whistler Food Bank to get through to payday, as well as advice on what services and options are available through community services.
The six were chosen after 18 youths were interviewed at a Vancouver drop-in centre. The top nine were chosen, and in December they spent a week in Whistler learning about the Work to Live program. They were fed nightly at the Garibaldi Lift Company, and stayed at the Tantalus Lodge, while getting a sample of what their lives might be like if they moved to Whistler.
Of that group of nine, one dropped out with personal challenges, while another was injured. Another decided to work at the Cypress Mountain Snowboard School to be closer to the city.
Of the six that followed through, three will be joining Whistler-Blackcomb Snowboard School and three will join the company’s food and beverage department.
The first few weeks are generally the most challenging, according to Zero Ceiling Founder Chris Winter.
“We’re throwing them into Christmas in Whistler, when everybody is taxed,” said Winter. “It’s a difficult time for them for sure, but we have got a pretty good system in place for support and the WCSS is helping out with their own support network by dedicating time each month to work with our graduates.
“We also work closely with supervisors at Whistler-Blackcomb to keep abreast of how everyone is doing… and work with youths to establish that whole community feel. I know I was here for a few years, coming out from Ontario, before I figured out that I lived in a community, and we try to expedite that.”
Winter says it does take extra work in the beginning to train employees, but Zero Ceiling graduates have gone on to win employee awards in the past. One of the first Zero Ceiling graduates is still with Whistler-Blackcomb 10 years later, and works with new groups when they arrive.
“Zero Ceiling gave me the opportunity to get out of the cycle in the city with no job and no place to live,” said Tyler Rivard. “When you are living on the streets you have no safe options — life consists of staying up all night to stay warm and then finding a safe place to sleep during the day. I’ve been here for 10 years now and I’ll be here for another 10.”
In addition to the Work to Live program, which has also been implemented at Mont Tremblant, Zero Ceiling brings up underprivileged and at-risk youth from centres in Vancouver and First Nations during the winter, to give them an opportunity to try snowboarding and enjoy a day in the mountains. Some of the young people who have participated in those days have found their way into the Work to Live program over the years.
This is also the first year that Zero Ceiling has offered youths a chance to branch out into other departments from Snowboard School.
“We’ve always known that our graduates put a considerable amount of pressure on the Snowboard School in terms of extra attention in the beginning stages of becoming instructors,” said Winter. “We’ve also learned through our interviews and getting to know street youth that not all are able or interested in teaching, or are a long way from having the skills where they would be comfortable to teach.”
This year the program has expanded to the Food and Beverage department, and other departments will follow in the future. The goal, says Winter, is to get at-risk kids off the streets and onto career paths.
“Snowboard school was a good way to attract candidates in the past and will always be a popular choice, but there are so many other opportunities with the mountains,” he said.
Zero Ceiling will be planning a celebration to mark its 10 th year in operation this winter, with more details in the new year.