There's not much the Whistler community enjoys more than dressing up in costumes, participating in extreme sports and partying for a good cause.
That said, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the 21st annual Whitewater Rodeo, held last month in support of local charitable organization Zero Ceiling, was another huge success.
"We smashed it out of the park with fundraising. It looks like we've raised $40,000 all up, which is incredible," said Zero Ceiling co-executive director Chris Wrightson.
That total was the result of a sold-out crowd of 50 teams of six taking to the Green River rapids with Wedge Whitewater Rafting, before returning to Cougar Mountain for an afterparty—all dressed up in a wide range of creative team costumes, from superheroes to iconic ski runs.
"I think it epitomizes Whistler," Wrightson said of the event. "For us, it's such a great alignment with our program. It's all about getting outside, having fun, being a community. It's a really grassroots event, too. I think that's what people really connect with."
The total amount raised through this year's event is enough to fully fund two people's participation in Zero Ceiling's Work 2 Live program for a year, Wrightson said. The 12-month program provides employment, subsidized housing, support and adventure-based learning for young people at risk of homelessness.
That program, which was extended from a summer program to 12 months in 2016, currently has seven participants. The program follows a rolling intake model, with participants arriving throughout the year. Many participants choose to continue working and living independently in Whistler once their year has ended, Wrightson added.
"That change happened because we recognized that the people in the program needed longer support," Wrightson explained of the change. "Often they've come from, for example, foster care, where they age out at 19 and then all their support's taken away. We didn't want to be a program like that, that does that, so that's why we're here when people need it."
During the first six months, the program's stability and support allows participants to relax and settle in to their new environment, Wrightson said. "After that, they can really take advantage of the opportunities around and think about, 'OK, I've got this job, but what job do I want to have?' or 'what's my next step, where do I want to go?' That takes, I would say, at least 12 months for lots of people."
This is the second year in a row that the long-running Whitewater Rodeo has also served as a fundraiser for Zero Ceiling.
Included in the many sponsors that make the event a fundraising success are The Adventure Group and Wedge Whitewater Rafting, owned by Zero Ceiling board member Joey Houssian, and Gibbons Whistler. Both donated time and resources, with 100 per cent of ticket sales and revenue from the event going to Zero Ceiling.
"(Last year), on our board, we had been talking about an adventure-based fundraiser, and then Joey (Houssian) said, 'Actually, I've already got the event. It's the rodeo,'" Wrightson recalled. "It's been so nice, and such a great community event. I feel like at a time where we're all kind of questioning what the Whistler community's like or worrying about it, to me it really showed the strength of the community. That's been fantastic."