Lessons in looking ahead
EAGLE COUNTY- When the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders learned they were going to spend a day on the slopes, the first thing they asked was, “How much will it cost?”Nothing, they were told.The kids from Lowry Elementary School in Denver were told they’d get dressed up in warm ski clothes and get to use skis, poles and snowboards, and again they asked, “How much will it cost?”Nothing, they were told again.And then the children learned they would be treated to lunch on the mountain, and again their first concern was “How much will it cost?”Nothing, they were reminded.”When you talk to these children, money and shelter is an issue that they’re painfully aware of,” said Roberto Moreno, the president of ALPINO, a nonprofit group determined to introduce minorities and underprivileged people to snow sports. “We got the same question over and over again. They just absolutely had to be sure.”Vail Resorts, aided by ALPINO, REI and the Anschutz Family Foundation, hosted 42 recently children from Lowry Elementary, a school with the highest concentration of homeless children in Denver. The 42 kids who arrived in Golden Peak had all recently moved into subsidized, “transitional” apartments from homeless shelters or motels.
“Just because a kid is homeless, he shouldn’t be denied the legacy of living in Colorado,” Moreno said. “Just because they’re challenged with nutrition and clothing doesn’t mean they can’t have experiences that other children have.”A bloody noseThe day of fun on the slopes wasn’t just an opportunity to get away from the city, said Patricia Vaughn, a Lowry school councilor.”The instructors taught them how to look forward,” Vaughn said. “They taught them to look ahead and not at their skies to get where they want to go, and it’s a huge metaphor for their lives – that they have control over their lives. That’s not something that comes easily to my kids.”Getting sorted into groups at the Golden Peak ski school, many children were excited but even more were nervous. Sitting apart from the rest of the group, 11-year-old Brandy Arguello glared defensively around the room.”I’m freaked out. I’m scared of breaking something,” said the girl who has lived in transitional housing with her father and three siblings for five months. She has no idea where her mother is. Across the room, Gene Spiller was giddy with nerves and enthusiasm.”I ain’t ever skied before,” he said. “I’m scared, but I’m gonna learn to do all that stuff like in the video.”
The children had watched a Warren Miller extreme skiing movie on the bus. For Naisha, who didn’t give her last name, the day began in disaster. Likely because of the altitude, her nose began to bleed, and refused to stop. Blood soaked into her clothes and stained the snow.”A lot of these kids don’t have models (to encourage them) to keep trying, and I thought, ‘That’s it, she’ll go inside and she’s not coming out,'” Vaughn said.To Vaughn’s delight, Naisha’s ski instructor took the injury in stride and Naisha was quickly on skis again. “By the end of the day, she was amazing – doing turns, stopping, getting on the magic carpet by herself,” Vaughn said. Shaping lives? Though the children were reluctant to leave Vail Mountain, they boarded the bus beaming, trading stories “that sounded like they had been in the Warren Miller movie,” Vaughn said. Eventually, the children succumbed to exhaustion, some hanging over the bus seats. Nonetheless, all 42 went to school the next day – an admirable feat among a population that often stays home when tired, Vaughn said.
“They just wanted to tell everybody about their trip,” she said. “We don’t know and we can’t predict that one experience like this, how it shapes their lives.”Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado