By Danny Hairston, Founder of Shred Foundation
Over the past several months, there has been a focus on the part of the snow and outdoor community on the rates of participation by individuals of colour. As a Black snowboarder and the founder of a youth organization that introduces mostly inner-city youth of colour to snowboarding, I find this focus both necessary and timely.
SHRED was founded back in 2014 after spending time working in leadership positions at Burton Snowboards’ Chill Foundation and for Stoked Mentoring I moved out of New York City to the Hudson Valley region, mostly for a change of pace but also to be closer to the mountains here. After moving here, I was persuaded by friends in the snowboard community to start a regional program. Additionally, Upstate New York has a strong snowboarding history and culture, so we wanted to create something that reflected and helped revive that.
SHRED is an acronym which stands for Snowboarders Helping to Reimagine Education. Our mission is to teach life skills and career pathing for youth from underserved communities. The idea, in its simplest form was to create a “snowboarding tech school” where we would introduce youth to snowboarding and also to the careers that exist within the industry. Our goal has been to allow our youth the opportunity to explore all the options available whether it be to compete, to film, shoot photos, to design, to write, to run a shop, to become a regional rep, whatever. The sky is the limit.
Our program started out with eight youth. We were able to obtain a partnership with Windham Mountain who provided us with lift tickets, rentals and lessons free of charge. The largest impediment to getting diversity on the hill is that high cost of participation, so for us it was important to find program partners that would assist us in removing these barriers. For the past four seasons with funding help from the Share Winter Foundation, we have expanded our free program to over 50 youth. We also have over a 65 percent retention rate from year to year. Additionally, with support from our partners from Union Bindings and CAPiTA snowboards, we are able to gift full snowboard set ups to our intermediate program members so that they can participate in Windham’s Junior Instructor Program. The youth who complete this joint program, become certified snowboard instructors and are hired on as Windham Ski School staff. Our youth are also able to obtain free lift tickets from our mountain partner so that they can ride outside of our regular program days.
It was actually through Chill that I was introduced to snowboarding. I began as a chaperone at the school where I was working as an after-school coordinator. Not only did I become hooked on snowboarding, but I witnessed firsthand how transformative of a tool snowboarding could be for our youth. Many of our inner-city youth rarely experience anything outside a ten-block radius when it comes to their understanding the world. As such, most have never what we would consider a true outdoor experience. I am a firm believer that some of the greatest life lessons come from being out on the snowboard. The perseverance that it takes just learning to snowboard, the falling down and getting back up is key to our kids who deal with numerous challenges in their everyday life. The understanding that there is no progress without failure is our paramount teaching. Snowboarding mirrors life. It teaches that in order to succeed, to grow, you have to be willing to take risks and learn from the failures that come so that you can eventually overcome them.
Our off the snow programming, focuses on creating career opportunities our youth. We are of the thinking that it isn’t enough to simply have diversity on the mountain, there is a need to infuse the industry as a whole with passionate snowboarders of colour who can bring their perspectives to the products and experiences associated with keeping the industry healthy. With this viewpoint, we have placed youth not only in employment as snowboard instructors, but also as employees at local snowboard shops. In addition, we work with partners in the snowboarding industry to create workshops both in person and remote in the areas of content creation, marketing, retail and design. Our partners are not only instructors, but they provide mentorship for youth to advise and guide them along in their career planning. Currently, we are in the midst of construction on our SHRED Lab, which will be the permanent housing for our “snowboarding tech school.” The Lab which consists of a little over 20,000 square feet will house our experiential retail store, classrooms and media labs. We have just kicked off a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for equipment and staffing, which will include a Social Worker for our youth. You can find the campaign at: https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/shredlab