Jake and Donna Carpenter of Burton Snowboards created The Chill Foundation to give both at risk and underprivileged youth the opportunity to experience snowboarding for the first time. Since the birth of the non profit organisation, over 20,000 youth have attended the program in North America. Now Chill has expanded into Austria, The Czech Republic, Italy and Japan and has incorporated skating and surfing into it’s program. Here Chill’s Executive Director Alex Bornstein gives us the lowdown and what we can expect for the future of Chill.
What is The Chill Foundation and what do you hope to achieve?
The Chill Foundation is a non-profit youth development organization based in the United States. We currently have programs in 13 North American cities and affiliate programs in Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, and Japan. We use snowboarding and other board sports to help youth build resiliency so they can overcome the adversity they face in their daily lives. The youth that participate in our programs all face significant challenges – from foster care to substance abuse to incarcerated parents to the full spectrum of emotional issues.
Most of our participants don’t have the resources to try snowboarding or other board sports so Chill provides the entire six session program for free, including gear, instruction, transportation, lift tickets, and all other related costs. This free approach, made possible by Chill’s 2,500+ annual donors, allows us to partner with social service agencies and schools to identify the youth that would most benefit from Chill’s unique approach to positive youth development without concern for the youth’s ability to pay for the program.
Chill uses six weekly themes to help our participants build resiliency: respect, patience, persistence, responsibility, courage, pride. Chill staff conduct activities related to the week’s theme on the bus on the way to the mountain or other location and then the theme is reinforced during the physical activity and on the ride home. The activity will stress how the theme is applicable both to the physical activity and to the participant’s’ daily life.
The Chill program is a powerful combination of challenging physical activity, positive youth development curriculum and program approach, one-on-one and group mentoring, and positive adult and peer interactions. Anecdotally the short and medium-term results for participants are extremely positive; Chill is now embarking on a multi-year program evaluation and participant tracking scheme to transition from anecdotal to proven program success.
It seems that in Europe many kids start out on skis and are now staying as skiers. Do Chill hope to change that or is it more designed for underprivileged children?
We’d love to see more kids around the world take up snowboarding but Chill’s focus in on helping youth build resiliency through board sports.
Are you updated on the kids once they leave Chill? Do you know how many people remained snowboarders?
One huge strength of the Chill program is that all of our participants are referred to the program through partner agencies – schools, treatment facilities, social service agencies, etc. This approach ensures that the youth we work with are good matches for the program but it makes long-term participant tracking a major challenge due to privacy laws and bureaucracy. Even though participant tracking is a major challenge we’re making evaluation and tracking an organizational priority going forward. This tracking will include snowboard (and other board sports) participation rates.
Chill is working on ways we can help former participants continue snowboarding. We’re considering making extra seats available for former participants on our buses, negotiating lower ticket rates with our partner mountains, and providing other incentives/rewards for completing the Chill program. The more financial resources we’re able to secure, the more we’ll be able to accomplish for both current and former Chill participants.
Chill has been running in Austria for 8 years, are there any plans to expand the program?
I’ve been the Executive Director at Chill for five months and one major goal I had coming into this position was to determine how far and how fast Chill can expand to new locations globally. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the youth of any city in the world would benefit from Chill’s unique approach to positive youth development – the demand for the program is clear.
We’ve prioritized four new sites in North America that we’re currently vetting to determine the availability of local resources and the willingness of local resorts to work with Chill. Internationally we’d all like to see the Chill program grow and expand but there might be limitations on that growth due to restrictions on non-profit organizations and our ability to secure the financial resources we need for growth and program sustainability.
A lot of brands if they conducted a similar project would use that as a major marketing campaign, Burton have refrained from making this a massive focus for selling product. Was that a conscious decision from the start? Would promoting Chill in this way perhaps attract even more applicants in the future?
Jake and Donna’s goal from the beginning was to give at-risk and underserved youth the opportunity to experience the joy and freedom they experienced every time they hit the mountain. The program has since grown into a full-fledged positive youth development organization but we retain those initial goals of joy, freedom and providing a brand new, previously out of reach experience for youths facing adversity. Selling product was never the goal, and it’s not something we ever discuss internally or with Burton. Chill’s mission is solely focused on building resiliency in youth through snowboarding and other board sports.
Chill is a 501c3 non-profit foundation, independent of Burton, and Jake and Donna are co-chairs of Chill’s board of directors. Burton provides Chill with in-kind support and we talk with Burton staff regularly about marketing and leveraging Burton’s global footprint. We’re lucky to have an incredible group of social media, marketing, and partnership experts adjacent to our headquarters in Burlington, VT and we take advantage of that proximity whenever possible. We believe that cause marketing is an effective tool to grow Chill’s profile and we are currently working with Burton on some digital cause marketing strategies that will be rolled out in the coming months.
What stumbling blocks have you encountered with Chill?
Chill is a non-profit organization so we rely on the generosity of donors to provide the financial and in-kind support we need to sustain and grow the program. The support we receive ranges from personal donations (including incredible support from Jake and Donna Carpenter) to in-kind donations from host mountains, Burton and others, to corporate and foundation financial contributions. Our donors are amazing and we need to keep growing the financial support we receive if we’re going to continue to grow and expand Chill’s footprint. I wouldn’t call this a stumbling block; it’s an opportunity to introduce the Chill program to more individuals and other potential supporters.
Have any of the first attendees of Chill become employees or even riders for Burton?
Not Burton riders, not yet anyway! We’ve have multiple participants go on to work for Chill and we’d like to see these transitions happen even more in the future. Chill participants often come back and participate in our programs as peer leaders, mentors, or even volunteers.
Chill is pushing Children to start skating and surfing in the US, are there any similar plans to introducing skating and surfing (location providing) into Europe?
Year-round programming has long been a goal for Chill and as of May 1st of 2016 every North American site will offer snowboarding plus at least one of the additional following board sport programs: skateboarding, paddleboarding and/or surfing. Europe and Japan will continue to focus exclusively on snowboarding but that could change based on program funding. The bottom-line is that Chill wants to be sure that we’re reaching as many youth as possible, as many weeks as possible during the year.
To keep up todate with The Chill Foundation head to their facebook page here
Thanks to Hanna-Marie Mayer and Alex Bornstein