Jake and Donna Carpenter: Giving Back with Chill

At the heart of Burton is the teenage snowboarder. Jake Carpenter ’72, founder of Burton Snowboards, and his wife Donna, CEO of the company, always knew that they wanted to give back. Once they were in a position to do so—“When we didn’t have everything we owned pledged to the bank,” according to Donna--they decided that they wanted to give back to the very demographic that put them on the map: the teenager. 

While a student at Marvelwood in the early 1970s, Jake’s community service placement was the Head Start program in Millerton, NY, where Marvelwood students still work each Wednesday morning throughout the school year.  After graduation, Jake went on to New York University, where he swam competitively and was captain of the swim team. Having been a swimmer for most of his life, he wanted his children to have the same opportunity, but the facilities were limited in Burlington, Vermont, where Burton is based. Jake realized that with so many amazing athletes in the area--hockey players, skiers, snowboarders, hikers--it was ironic that his kids couldn’t swim for lack of facilities, so he built The Swimming Hole.  Subsidized through a private foundation, the rates are kept low so that everyone can afford to join and every kid can learn to swim and enjoy swimming. Donna remarks, “It’s a huge gift that he’s given to the community.”

When Jake first started Burton Snowboards, there were, of course, no instructors or places to go to learn how to snowboard. “You basically had to buy a board, put it together, and figure out how to do it.  If it hadn’t been for the teenagers who sort of did that and took a chance with us, it never would have happened, so we really wanted to give back to that age group. We also know that adolescence can be a tough time and a formative time, so really, we just wanted to give the gift of snowboarding to those who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity,” says Donna. So it was that The Chill Foundation was developed. 

The mission of The Chill Foundation is to provide at-risk and underserved youth the opportunity to build self-esteem and life skills through board sports. Beginning in 1996, The Chill Foundation started working with people with social-service backgrounds to develop a youth development program in the Burlington area, using snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing as the vehicle. Participants are enrolled in the program for two years; they learn snowboarding skills in the winter, and during the warmer months, skateboarding and surfing are added as a means to keep the kids engaged and to maximize the benefits of their time in the program. After two years, participants have the opportunity to come back as peer leaders. It quickly became apparent that as kids were leaving the program, they were applying what they had learned through snowboarding to other aspects of their lives.  

Since its founding in 1995, Chill has expanded and now works with social agencies in 13 cities across North America and Canada, actively seeking to identify and involve participants from group foster homes, drug rehab facilities, and schools.  Donna notes, ‘If you’ve ever learned how to snowboard or surf, you know it takes patience, perseverance, and courage. These are the qualities and skills we are hoping to instill in these kids.”