- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

MERCERSBURG, Pa. Maurice West, 11, of Southeast, and his pals don't get out of the District often. So when they were offered the chance to go snowboarding in Pennsylvania for free, they couldn't wait. They didn't have the slightest idea what "catching air" meant but they did know they'd be getting a change of scenery.
The D.C. youngsters were invited on the expedition by Chill, a nonprofit program started by Burton Snowboards, a Vermont-based manufacturer of winter-sports equipment. The program takes small groups of inner-city youths ages 10 to 18 to the mountains for what is, for many, a rare taste of Winter Olympics-style fun.
This winter, Chill has taken four groups from the District up to Whitetail Mountain Resort in Mercersburg, Pa., one day a week each, leaving right after school. The D.C. program began in January and ended last week.
Burton and its chief sponsor, Mitsubishi, cover all the costs and the children have a blast.
"It's fun," Maurice said, his mouth full of pizza, when asked what he thought of Chill. Maurice and his friends sat around a table in the spacious Whitetail Lodge, taking a break. A few tables away, well-dressed suburban teen-agers laughed and flirted with one another, and across the room, a television was showing the Olympics.
The cold snow, crisp air, good friends and hot food were all especially sweet for Maurice, as he'd been in trouble with his grandmother and had almost missed the trip.
Grandmother relented at the last minute, though, and Maurice joined his buddies on the charter-bus trip to Pennsylvania. When they arrived, they grabbed the free snow gear and free lift tickets, and spent the afternoon on the mountain.
Maurice and his friends attend Southeast Academy, a charter school on Milwaukee Place SE. Maurice wants to be a football or basketball player when he grows up. His friend Alexander Matthews, 13, wants to be a computer programmer.
"I think the whole future is going to be run by computers," said Alexander. "Might as well get ahead."
Maurice's other buddies have diverse interests. Reginald Collins, 13, hopes to be a cartoonist. Chris Norman, also 13, wants to be a doctor and find a cure for AIDS. Nicholas Butler, 14, is set on becoming a computer scientist.
"They make the computers," said Nicholas.
The youngsters said going on the field trips to Whitetail Lodge has given them a new outlook on life.
"It's a whole different atmosphere up here," said Alexander. "You don't get into no arguments with anybody out here."
The chance to play in the snow has had an impact on the way he and his friends conduct themselves at home and in school, he said. "Lots of times, if we misbehave, then we can't go no more." He paused. "We've been behaving. It's a way to get out of Southeast."
The mood at the table grew serious. But it didn't last long.
"I'm getting tired of smoking y'all," Maurice cracked, boasting of his prowess on the slopes. The boys smiled and laughed, and began heading back out to the mountain. They put their hats and gloves back on, and went to get their snowboards.
Youths in the program are allowed to roam the resort, but an adult is never far away. Supervision is a priority for Chill, which requires a 7-to-1 youth-to-chaperone ratio, according to coordinator Ellie Gompert.
Miss Gompert said Chill's first year in the District went well. "It's been awesome. Especially in a site like D.C., where snowboarding is so unfamiliar," she said. "Most of these kids had never thought about trying it before. To see the kids excelling and having such a blast is amazing."
While most of the younger children have stayed on the beginners' slopes, Miss Gompert said some of the older youths learned fast. "Each night, there are several kids who I ride with, and their skill level isn't far behind mine, and I've been snowboarding for nine years. I'm amazed."
The teens' progress illustrates Chill's teaching value, said Carl Hall, community resource coordinator for Southeast Academy. The students learn things on the mountain that go way beyond snowboarding.
"You have snow. You have mountains. It's something these kids have never done before," he said. "But if they're taught the skills that they need to be successful, they can do it."
"We need to take that attitude back into the classroom, so we can help our kids succeed on many different levels," he said.
Mr. Hall said the program also breaks down racial barriers by exposing city youths to people from different cultures and backgrounds.
He reminds his students that the weekly trips are not a right, but a privilege. "Just going up [Interstate] 270, through Gaithersburg and Germantown, is an adventure itself. They see single-family homes. They see there's a lot more they can reach for."
"After this program is over, the kids will have an appreciation for things outside D.C., but they'll also see they can take their skills back into their community and make it a better place."
Chill was started in 1995 in Burlington, Vt., Burton's headquarters, and has now expanded to eight U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston. Having started programs in Salt Lake City and Washington this year, Chill is now helping more than 1,300 children, and since 1995 has helped more than 4,200 at-risk teens.
Chill and its other corporate sponsors cover all costs, which are high. The youths travel in a charter bus. When they arrive, they are outfitted from a trailer stocked with $40,000 worth of gear, and are given lift tickets and free lessons.
To rent a board, buy a lift ticket and book a lesson would usually cost $83 for the day.

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