Seventeen miles and a wall of perceptions separate Steamboat Springs from Oak Creek.
But through a grant from the Legacy Education Foundation, two local chapters of the Future Business Leaders of America are working to shorten the distance between their schools by breaking down that barrier, stereotype by stereotype.
Earlier this year, the Legacy foundation provided the FBLA chapters from Steamboat Springs High School and Soroco High School $600 each for the purpose of bringing the two groups together for joint activities.
"The whole idea is to spend time together and promote awareness of each other," Steamboat FBLA sponsor Shirley Belz said. "There are some real misconceptions of each other."
Those misconceptions, Belz said, include portrayals of all Steamboat students as spoiled and snooty and Oak Creek students as rural and hickish.
"It's just the misconceptions about a rural community and a tourist community," Belz said. "(In reality) they have more things in common than they have in difference."
Steamboat student and FBLA member Rebecca Herman agreed the stereotypes exist.
"I think ever since we were young it's been, 'we're like this, and they're like that,'" Herman said. "With as close as we live to each other, we don't know each other at all, and we haven't been given the opportunity to get to know them."
In the spirit of the holiday season, students from both chapters gathered at a bowling alley in November for "Teddy Bear Bowling," an opportunity to not only get to know kids who live less than 30 minutes away, but also to provide stuffed animals for children staying at Advocates Against Battering and Abuse's women's shelter.
"We had a huge turnout," Soroco FBLA sponsor Angie Blair said. "That was the first step in introducing the Soroco students and the Steamboat students."
The bowling night, Blair said, was a huge success for the kids and the spirit of giving.
"They intermingled pretty well," Blair said. "They're actually asking if they can do it again."
The price of admission for the bowling event was one stuffed bear, and more than 50 bears were collected by the end of the night.
"It's our way of giving back," Steamboat senior Luke Belz said.
Advocates director Diane Moore called the group's effort "incredible" when she arrived at Steamboat high school last week to pick up the bears.
"It just sort of warms my heart in terms of the giving," Moore said. "It's a nice way for (the students) to become more familiar with our community. Not everyone has a safe place to be."
The teddy bears will be given to children, and sometimes mothers, who arrive at the shelter. Many of the families that Moore meets come to Advocates without any possessions. The bears, she said, can be a treasured item for a lonely or sad child.
As for building respect between Soroco and Steamboat students, both FBLA sponsors said group activities will continue in the future, and the two chapters may travel together for competitions.
"There were a lot of stereotypes we were able to start to break down," Shirley Belz said. "It was a great thing."