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Zero Ceiling: A journey to the top

Eight-year-old program for disadvantaged youth making a difference in people's lives

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Another challenge that McDonnell deals with is the local perception that disadvantaged and at-risk youth don’t fit into the tidy resort community of Whistler. Fortunately, many Whistler businesses and families have welcomed the participants with open arms. One example involves a local couple who invited the SIP program participants into their lavish home along Nicklaus North Golf Course for dinner. The experience of being welcomed into a family home and sharing food, one of the most basic tenets of social interaction, had a major impact on the youth and instilled a sense of confidence that no financial donor could match.

Whistler-Blackcomb has also been instrumental in Zero Ceiling’s success. The company provides lift tickets, rental equipment, lunches and instruction. Additionally, they provide employment opportunities within the Snowboard School and housing at their staff facilities.

Zero Ceiling has also received funding through the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation to create welcome packages for SIP participants upon their arrival to Whistler in mid-December. The packages provide basic necessities such as warm clothing, bedding, toiletries and food staples. Also key is the generosity and support of the general community, who have enthusiastically supported Zero Ceiling since the beginning.

But are the Zero Ceiling programs working? Do they make a difference? The best people to answer these questions are program graduates. Whistler resident Carter Hack was a SIP participant in 2000, after four years of living on and off the streets of Vancouver. What inspired Hack to give the Zero Ceiling program a chance was the fact that it was a way out – not just out of the city, but also out of dead-end jobs and an unhealthy lifestyle. Before moving to Whistler snowboarding was just something that Hack and his friends saw on TV. Joining the SIP was a chance for him to quite literally "live the dream."

For the first few months, however, it wasn’t an easy dream to live. Each day provided constant challenges – working to improve his snowboarding and teaching skills, learning how to integrate into the mainstream Whistler social scene, and gaining an understanding for how his appearance impacted those around him, at work and at play.

But for Hack, the hard work was worth it and he garnered inspiration to succeed through an appreciation for the beauty of the surroundings, the fresh mountain air and the opportunity to become a part of something big – Whistler-Blackcomb, the snowboard scene, and the Whistler community at large. In Hack’s words, "Zero Ceiling provides an opportunity for youth to replace unhealthy substance addictions with an alternative form of stimulation – a dose of something strong with no side effects that lasts forever." It’s the ultimate high.