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Easthampton youth benefit from ski therapy

A group of adoptive and foster kids and other residents from the Treehouse Community got to hit the slopes at Berkshire East Ski Area this winter thanks to a donation from the Charlemont ski area and the efforts of organizer Wendy Gannett.

Gannett, a social worker, believes in the therapeutic power of skiing and thought it would help the youngsters at the Treehouse Community, an intentional housing complex off Button Road, where families with foster or adoptive children live along with senior citizens. She lives there with her five children, three of whom are adopted.

She contacted Berkshire East owner Roy Schaefer and told him her plan, and he agreed to donate four ski sessions for up to 40 Treehouse residents and discounted equipment rentals.

“It worked just like I thought; the kids just absolutely loved it. It was a terrific success,” Gannett said last week. She said about 30 residents, from kids to seniors, headed to Berkshire East for four Saturdays over the winter and learned the sport from volunteer instructors.

“For kids that have suffered many foster placements, abuse, starvation and lack of stimulation, you can see why skiing is a great therapy,” she said. Having fun and mastering a skill can really help children feel better, she said.

“Therapy is good, but some research has shown that two things keep kids from delinquency: The first is having someone they trust and the other is being competent in something they care about, something fun,” she said.

She saw the benefits when she taught her own adopted children how to ski. “Other organized sports were more difficult because they were shy and behind their age mates,” she said, “but skiing was not in comparison to anyone but themselves.”

After stopping at about 20 ski shops in Vermont this month, she found a shop that agreed to donate used rental equipment to outfit every interested child at Treehouse for next ski season. She hopes to continue the therapeutic ski program every winter, but she’s not stopping there. “My hope is to start an organization called Fostering Fun that will provide foster kids with opportunities to do fun activities, so they can find something they’re passionate about,” she said. Her plan is to find area volunteers willing to share their skills in sports or activities.

“You could volunteer to help with the program, like maybe you know how to kayak and could teach it,” she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Gannett or Kerry Homstead at Treehouse at 527-7966.

— REBECCA EVERETT

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