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JOHNSTOWN — A new program has paddled its way into the Johnstown region thanks to a grant through the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies’ Community Initiatives Fund. It’s changing lives and challenging teens to surf into uncharted territory.

First Waves, a Pittsburgh-based program by SurfSUP Adventures, is funded through the Foundation and is operated locally through a partnership with Benscreek Canoe Club and the YMCA, as well as Pittsburgh Filmmakers. The goal is to take at-risk youth, teach them to do stand-up paddle boarding, filmmaking and allow them to make a difference in the community.

Ian Smith, who started the program, said it’s a way to combine his passions and hobbies to inspire teens in ways that show them anything is possible.

“At first, kids are shy, and then they begin to open up and explore all these new challenges. It’s awesome to see their reaction,” said Smith. “These kids don’t just surprise you; they also surprise themselves when it comes to seeing what they can do when they challenge themselves.”

The four-week program usually works with about ten kids and there are around five mentors. It originally started in 2011 as an adventure camp for at-risk youth. This year’s summer program is based out of Greenhouse Park in Somerset County. The students, who are from the Christian Home of Johnstown, learn how to film, conduct interviews, paddle board and edit their own documentaries.

“These kids get to see side of the city they may never have seen before,” said Smith. “It’s a new view and inspiration for a city they already call home.”

Smith said he wants those in the program to see the importance of protecting the environment.

“When you enjoy something and like it, you want to take care of it,” said Smith. “I never imagined I would be doing this, and I am so glad I am and I am able to make a difference in these kids’ lives.”

This is the first time the project has received a grant through the Foundation. To see more of what the teens have been up to this summer you can click on First Waves for details.

To apply for a grant through the Foundation, click on application. The next deadline is August 28, 2015.

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