BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Michael Hutchins was climbing out of a low point in his young life. He was living in a group home and working to stay off drugs when a social worker suggested a sport he'd never tried: snowboarding.
The lessons he learned on the slopes would provide Hutchins some of the confidence and sharp focus he needed to fix what had gone so terribly wrong in his life. "The more I went, my mood started lifting again -- just getting out of the house and challenging myself to do something," the 21-year-old said.
The nonprofit Chill program, run by a company called Burton Snowboards, can take some credit for setting him straight. It works with social services agencies and schools around the country to provide free weekly snowboarding lessons to young people in need or in crisis.
Fifteen hundred youngsters in nine cities across the nation are signed up for the program this year. Many come from innercity neighborhoods, some live in foster care. Some have trouble in school, at home. Some are at risk of falling in with gangs or using drugs.
Being role models
"We work with a lot kids that are discouraged by a lot of things," said Jenn Davis, the program's director. "They don't have people in their lives to model persistence, to model stick-to-it-iveness."
The program helps them cope with frustration. "Because of that, kids who tend by nature to quit things, they tend to stick with us longer," Davis said.
Burton Snowboards was founded in 1977 by Jake Burton Carpenter, a pioneer who turned his love of snowboarding into a bona fide sport and developed his company into a leading manufacturer of snowboards. In 1995, he founded the Chill program in the Burlington area.
It has since expanded to include New York, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, Washington and Toronto.
In notable ways, it's redefining success for some young people.
Hutchins finds himself on more solid footing today. For six weeks this winter, he's helping others in the Chill program get excited about snowboarding while he prepares to move out of the group home into his own apartment.
"He's become way more responsible," said Justin Varette, his social worker. "He's just really positive."