Whistler/Blackcomb offers recreation for inner city kids Underprivileged youth experience ATVs and hiking on mountain By Andy Stonehouse More than 100 kids who normally spend their free time walking the mean streets of Vancouver's downtown East Side will be getting a chance to experience a very different life, thanks to Whistler/Blackcomb. For the second year in a row, the ski company has been sponsoring a program which allows kids from Vancouver youth centres to come and spend a day in Whistler, participating in activities they might normally never experience in their urban communities. Arthur DeJong, mountain planner for Whistler/Blackcomb, said this year has already seen two groups of 30 kids aged, eight to 16, enjoying trips on ATVs or a day at the Blackcomb climbing wall. "We've aimed the program at kids in the inner city of Vancouver, who are likely economically indisposed, and would probably never come to see Whistler," he said. "We take the point of view that all youth are at risk, but that these kids probably face more challenges than others." Kids who take part are given a chance to try out a variety of on-mountain opportunities. "We offer them exposure to activities on the mountain that they probably haven't done before. We hope to initiate some new-found passions and form a positive impression in their minds." DeJong said youth group organizers have already seen some spin-offs: several kids who came up with the program to mountain bike last year have started their own program and are riding in the UBC Endowment Lands in Vancouver. This year's participants come from the East Hastings, Strathcona, RayCam and Britannia youth centres in East Vancouver, which serve some of Western Canada's poorest communities. DeJong said it took a bit of effort to convince staff at the youth centres that this program would be more than just a public relations effort on the part of the ski company, but said the Vancouver partners are now happy participants. He said his own personal experience working as a volunteer with Vancouver's telephone crisis line also helped convince them of the genuine nature of the company's offerings, as he's seen the problems that can develop amongst young people with little to look forward to. "During the first go-round, a lot of them suspected that this was just another corporate endeavour. I think we helped them get over that." So far, DeJong said the kids who have come up for the day have appreciated the opportunity. "From the kids' perspective, most may not have ever been to Whistler, and they rarely if ever leave the inner city. Youth are very real, and they'll tell you if they like something or not — and generally they've been very thankful. We want to give them a lasting memory." As evidence, DeJong relates his experience last year with two 13- and 14-year-old girls, who spent the first half of the day generally misbehaving. After a half day on the mountain, he said the pair offered a full apology and said how much they appreciated the experience. This summer's programs have seen about 30 kids at a time head to the mountain, either riding ATVs or enjoying the climbing wall in the morning, and then riding the chairlifts up to the Rendezvous for lunch and an environmental presentation. The kids then hike up the Fitzsimmons Meadows trail and take the 7th Heaven chair to look at the glacier, rounding out the day with a trip back home and dinner at the Squamish McDonald’s. Several other groups of kids are expected to participate in the program through the rest of the summer.