Extreme sports have always been a part of Domenic Buccilla and Michael Bain’s lives.
“Michael and I were introduced to [skiing, snowboarding, canoeing and kayaking] as kids,” said Buccilla, who grew up in the cold Central Ohio weather and was encouraged to love outdoor sports like skiing by his father and grandfather.
“We were always doing adventure sports,” said Bain, who was born in Utah and moved throughout his childhood because his dad was in the Air Force. His dad taught him how to ski during a stint in Colorado.
Bain and Bucilla met at a bonfire through mutual friends. They started talking extreme sports, and the rest is history. Their shared passion fuels Buccilla and Bain’s organization, Hero USA, a local nonprofit started by the duo in 2009 that serves the youth of Central Ohio, including underprivileged kids who may not have access to the cost-prohibitive sport of skiing.
“It’s creating the opportunity for the kids. We partner with these groups who would never get the opportunity to try these [sports] because they’re very expensive. Snowboarding is like $85 per day, per ticket,” said Bain, citing local youth organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbus as beneficiaries of the programming. “So we try to raise money to keep it free or low-cost for community-based youth groups.”
Another way they keep costs low is by being a volunteer-only organization. They always need more assistance, even if it’s just people who want to learn at the same time as the kids.
“We bring up to 12 kids and 12 volunteers [each trip],” Bain said. “When we first ask them to help, they’ll say their skill level isn’t good enough. We always tell them, ‘We mainly need you to be there to get up and spend time with [the kids] on the hill, to see adults learning by their side.’”
Hero USA’s winter programming offers weekly snowboarding and skiing? lessons on Thursdays and Saturdays at Mad River Mountain Ski Resort, about an hour outside of Columbus. Courses include all equipment rentals, a lift ticket and a one-hour lesson by Mad River staff. The classes are filled first with kids from Hero’s charitable partners, and then they open up to anyone in the community at a discounted rate. The nonprofit can also schedule private group outings upon request.
Buccilla said it was his own childhood that inspired him to reach out to less fortunate kids.
“One of my big driving factors was that I’m a little, tiny, short guy so I was always one of the kids that got left out of [sports in school],” Buccilla said. “So, for me, I gravitated towards other sports that I could still participate [like snowboarding]. That’s one of the factors that motivates me – realizing that so many kids get left behind because they’re not the best in the class.”
Kim Wilson, a Hero volunteer and longtime friend to both Buccilla and Bain, said she’s proud of the men she described as “driven, friendly, and they make everybody feel welcome.”
“It’s great to see somebody be that focused and to bring that to other people,” said Wilson, who has volunteered with Hero USA since the beginning. Not an avid skier when she started, she said she now snowboards – and loves the opportunity to see how Buccilla and Bain are helping disadvantaged youth.
“I love it because it’s actually giving them exposure to these sports – some of these kids haven’t even seen these boards on TV,” Wilson said. “It’s sort of an untouchable thing to them, and then they actually get out and do it.”
Wilson said the experience “plants a seed” in these kids about what they can accomplish.
“I don’t think it’s that obvious to the kids because they’re just having fun; they’re playing,” said Wilson. “But it opens up their minds to, ‘Wow! I can actually do this.’ So maybe later on, if they get chances to do other things, they take them.”
Buccilla said it’s not just exposure to the sports that these kids glean from the experience – it’s the incidental lessons of the time on the slopes, too.
“I love it because it’s actually giving them exposure to these sports – some of these kids haven’t even seen these boards on TV.”
“It’s situations as simple as taking them through a concession stand, and picking out what they want, and telling the cashier what they want and [giving] them money,” Buccilla said. “Just teaching them general things of life outside of sports. That’s rewarding – getting them out of their comfort zone. Hopefully down the road in different situations it may help them.”
And the two want to grow Hero USA to affect more Central Ohio kids.
“Our biggest challenge is we serve as many kids as we can. We don’t get to reach nearly as many as we’d like,” Buccilla said. Hero USA will serve more than 600 children in Ohio by the end of 2014. “A lot of that stems from being volunteer-based. And it’s always a struggle finding funding.”
As a nonprofit, donations are tax deductible and volunteers are always welcome, especially those who want to make a difference in a child’s life.
“The biggest thing I try to keep in mind is taking the sports element out of it. Most of these kids are just happy to have someone pay attention to them,” Bain said. “Some of the kids are a little harder to get through to. Regardless of where the child is coming from, we get through it somehow.”
Buccilla and Bain feel blessed to be able to help kids and to work with the people who volunteer their time.
“It’s a sense of pride, it’s a sense of accomplishment [for these kids],” said Buccilla. “It’s rewarding.”