Jackson Darr, 17, has been skiing since he was 5 years old. He loves how it relaxes him and gives him a clear state of mind. But what bothered him and his younger sister, Mia, is that because skiing is an expensive activity, there are many kids in the nearby city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin who aren’t able to access the experience. In the fall of 2021, they decided to change that and founded Positive Altitudes, a nonprofit organization with the mission to increase the participation of kids from underrepresented communities in the sport of downhill skiing.
Each year the organization and their partnerships host about 60 participants at Sunburst Ski Hill. They provide transportation, ski lessons, rental ski equipment, winter clothing and meals. The age range of participants is from 6 to 18, and Jackson is always delighted by how quickly everyone is able to get comfortable with skiing by the end of their fourth lesson. Over the past two years, Positive Altitudes has provided 400 ski lessons and taught over 100 kids how to downhill ski.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Skiing has had such a positive impact on my life and Mia’s. It was something we gained an even deeper appreciation for during the COVID-19 pandemic as it was one of the only activities we could to safely. We know there are many financial barriers that prevent kids from being able to experience the sport and wanted to change that.
What motivated you to start Positive Altitudes?
My sister and I came up with the idea when we were actually on a chairlift skiing and thinking of ways how we could bridge the diversity gap in the ski world. Milwaukee, the nearest major city to Sunburst Ski Hill, the local ski mountain, is one of the most segregated cities in the United States, so we thought it’d be a great place to start Positive Altitudes. Also Sunburst Mountain is a smaller ski hill, so we knew we could make it possible.
Describe your volunteer role with Positive Altitudes.
Not only are my sister and I the founders, we basically run everything relating to Positive Altitudes. Whether it’s teaching the ski lessons, getting all the clothing and equipment, picking up the food or working with the lawyers to establish a 501c3 nonprofit organization.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part is seeing the Positive Altitude participants on their third or fourth lesson and they’re already starting to be able to ski on their own – and they usually look pretty good for skiing for the first time. Hearing them describe how they feel like they’re flying, or hearing them say it’s an experience that they thought they would never be able to have is a great feeling. I love connecting with them, because we are all similar ages and have fun together. Many say that our program is a break in their stressful day. To know that we can provide a life in the day of our participants feels great.
What has surprised you about teaching people who have never skied before how to ski?
I am so impressed with how resilient our participants are. They may make a few spills at first, but the progress made week over week is so awesome to see. Every single person by the end of the four sessions is able to go down a run and make turns on their own. It’s pretty cool to see that.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I’ve learned that you can’t get down about any setbacks, you have to keep moving forward and keep trying. For example, one of the biggest problems is getting transportation to and from the ski mountain for the participants. Most of the kids come from four different Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee locations, and buses aren’t always reliable because of the snow and the 45-minute drive to the mountain. Trying to coordinate everything and making sure every sure everyone’s there on time is the most challenging part of my role. But I also think being able to show that kids can do like what most of adults can do. So, even if you’re young if you have an idea – keep pushing forward. Running the organization is so much like skiing, there are going to be spills along the way but if you get back up and keep trying you will succeed.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
Yes! Last year we had a lot of donations for food and clothing, so we hope to form even more partnerships with different organizations in the coming months for this upcoming ski season. Especially clothing donations because that is one of our most expensive costs. Also, after the participants ski all day, we give them dinner. So, this year we also want to try to add a speaker series during their dinner of influential people in the community to come out and talk to us about what has led to their success.
Why is it important for others to get involved in causes they care about?
I think it’s important because sometimes when people are doing service, they’re just doing it to get it done. And when that is your mindset, you don’t really see the impact of what you can have on different communities. If your volunteer work is something that you’re interested in – for example, for me it’s skiing – I’m able to have fun skiing and teaching kids how to ski, but I can also see the impact and feel how rewarding it is to be able to help these kids. Finding service that you’re interested in, and impacts people I think is the most meaningful type of service that you can do. Getting involved in causes you care about is super rewarding. Being able to see the smiles on the faces of our participants and knowing we may have had something do with is a really great feeling!
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