Hairston is describing the inspiration behind SHRED Foundation, an organization that harnesses the creativity and stick-to-itiveness of snowboarding to build job and life skills and offer alternative career paths for young people. Hairston founded Beacon-based SHRED (Students Helping Re-imagine Education) in 2014, applying insights from more than 20 years of working in youth development, from directing a violence-prevention program at a Brooklyn high school to serving as the fundraising and events coordinator for Burton Snowboards’ Chill Foundation.
Growing up, snowsports were foreign to the Ohio-born Hairston, but after moving to Brooklyn he started snowboarding with his kids and quickly fell in love. “You talk about being outside of your element, falling and having to get back up,” he says. “There are a lot of lessons that build in self-efficacy.” Hairston saw a new approach that could be applied to helping youth in the community, and began developing a curriculum around a six-week beginner’s course of snowboarding lessons.
SHRED Foundation operates on three pillars of motivation: Fear, Fail, and Flow, which describe the progression of learning how to snowboard. But they also apply to other areas of life, Hairston explains. “A lot of our kids are risk-averse, afraid of failing, especially in a school setting where the motto is, ‘Failure is not an option.’ But you’re always going to fail. What’s not an option is giving up. What do you learn from failure? What do you do moving forward?”
To further its mission, SHRED partners with like-minded organizations in the Hudson Valley, such as the Boys and Girls Club in Poughkeepsie and Blacc Vanilla, the popular community hub/coffee shop in Newburgh, which helps Hairston make inroads with youth in the area via outreach. Another partner is Windham Mountain Resort, where the snowboard lessons (which began January 27 and continue every Sunday through March 10, skipping Presidents Day weekend) take place.
After each session, those in attendance tour a different component of the mountain operations so they can learn the aspects of the snowsports industry. “It’s about creating opportunities for kids who may not be college-bound right away,” Hairston says. SHRED also brings in people from across the industry to talk about their careers, from marketing and human resources to graphic design and videography.
This year, SHRED is piloting a junior instructional program at Windham, where attendees will apprentice alongside snowboard instructors before returning next year to be instructors themselves. “We want it to be a bottom-up approach, one where the kids are learning as they go through this experience,” says Chip Seamans, the president and general manager of Windham Mountain Resort. “They’re getting a taste of some of the careers in the industry.” SHRED works with youths from fifth grade through the age of 21. By the time they’re 18, Hairston says, the goal is for them to have enough skills to get a steady job, or a strong-enough portfolio to get accepted to college.
“Potential” is a hazy harbinger; its meaning is often in the eye of the beholder, which is why those who dedicate their lives to helping at-risk youth develop their potential are generally so optimistic: they have to be. Where many might see attenuated prospects and dimmed hope, others see the opportunity to make a life-changing difference.
“As far as youth development, I didn’t see anything that worked quite as well as this,” Hairston says. “This culture has a real DIY, creative aspect to it. There are people looking at outside-the-box ways to shape the world. We want to impart that to our kids: just as you see the mountain in a different way as you learn to snowboard, you can apply that same outlook to the world. See what’s out there that needs to be changed, and create something.”