Olympic Alpine skier Laurenne Ross said current and alumni U.S. athletes formed a diversity, equity and inclusion working group last spring around the time of social justice movements nationwide.
“We all kind of agreed that we wanted to do something, but we all realized that we didn’t know what that was,” Ross said.
Research and learning led to a connection with Winter 4 Kids. The New Jersey-based organization provides healthy meals, equipment and mentoring and uses winter activities as a means to change the lives of children who traditionally don’t have access.
It acquired a dormant ski facility and repurposed it as a space for kids with opportunities for Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and snowboarding starting in 2015.
By 2020, it had more than 3,000 kids participating. Sixty percent are Black and Latino. A majority were on free- or reduced-lunch programs. Ross said Winter 4 Kids has brought groups in from as far as New Orleans.
“When you give kids something new, you instill the fires of opportunity,” Winter 4 Kids CEO and President Schone Malliet said. “They are engaged to pursue things that may or may not have been readily available or accessible to them or within their sphere of vision.”
It’s more difficult to make a personal impact during the coronavirus pandemic, but Ross is working with the organization to create virtual visits with kids who come to ski. Malliet said Mikaela Shiffrin has been a supporter, and Ted Ligety a board member.
“The Olympics is an event, a big event, but it’s not the end of it,” Malliet said.
Olympic freeskier Julia Krass, a leader of the U.S. athlete group, has supported Share Winter, which works with grantees to make winter sports accessible to a more diverse community.
“The overall goal is to get as many kids and people of color and underserved youth out on the hill as possible,” Ross said.
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