The Softer Side of Skateboarding – Skate After School is Changing Stereotypes
Because I’m a total sappy mom, I get goosebumps (and maybe a little teary eyed) whenever I hear of organizations and individuals who are supporting kids in skateboarding. Let me grab my tissues before I tell you about one rad organization right here in Phoenix called Skate After School.
Each week Skate After School loads up boards, pads, helmets and portable ramps in the back of a truck and travels to schools in low-income and under-served areas throughout Phoenix to deliver an after-school program that encourages Generosity, Respect, Innovation and Persistance through skateboarding. They call it G.R.I.P. and it’s a set of core values with positive attributes co-founders Ryan Lay, Tim Ward, and Bobby Green feel they learned through skateboarding. Throughout their program they teach what these qualities mean, why they are important and share examples of them.
“Our idea is that although the kids are there to have fun and to get some energy out, we can also use our time with them to help them grow as people.” – Tim Ward, Co-founder
In the 2016-2017 school year Skate After School has served eight schools affecting the lives of nearly 250 kids.
I met co-founder Tim Ward only a few months ago but but can already see his generosity, compassion and commitment to these kids. Here are a few questions I asked him to get to know a little more about Skate After School and how it’s changed his life.
How long ago did you start Skate After School and how did the idea come about?
The seedlings of Skate After School started to form in the spring of 2011 when I discovered a community center called The CARE Partnership in Mesa, Arizona. I visited CARE on a class field trip and met the woman who ran the youth after school program there. I asked if she thought that the kids there would ever want to try skateboarding and her face lit up at the idea. She told me that kids had already been asking about getting skateboards but the people at the center didn’t know how to go about making that happen. I then started a donation bin at an indoor skatepark that I worked at and made a post on facebook that I was collecting gear. Right away people started dropping off their old skate stuff or giving it to me when they saw me at skateparks and I was able to build a few boards for CARE. I started bringing the boards to the community center and skating with the kids there each Friday afternoon. I stayed involved with them on and off for two more years and then in 2013, two of my good friends, Ryan Lay and Bobby Green, got involved and with their help we were able to collect more gear and bring the program to more locations! From there we turned the program into a full blown non-profit and it’s just grown from there!
What are the biggest challenges the kids in your program face and how do you think skateboarding bridges those challenges?
The kids in our program are very diverse and the areas that they live are generally considered low-income or under-served communities. We don’t really know specifics about the home lives of the kids that we work with but we have certainly seen and heard examples of some of the issues that come with working with kids in these areas. Challenges that some of our kids face or kids like ours face are lack of supervision at home, lack of parent involvement in their academic lives, lack of access to safe parks and playgrounds or parks or playgrounds at all. One of our schools where we have our highest participation in the program sits in a neighborhood of phoenix where the closest park or playground is 4 miles away! So we offer the kids in that school an after school option to have fun and socialize with their friends while being active and getting a lot of encouragement and attention from our volunteers and staff.
Do you have a story of a particular child who you’ve seen positive change in since they started skating with you?
One of our kids, named Jeremiah, told me that he had just a slight interest in skateboarding when he heard his assistant principal announce one Friday afternoon that a “skateboard club” would be meeting after school. He said he thought that it was just going to be some lame thing with people hanging out talking about skateboarding but he wanted to check it out anyway. When he showed up to his school’s first day of Skate After School, he was surprised that we had a full blown after school program ready to go complete with skateboards, helmets, wrist guards and some small ramps! He became one of the most involved skaters at that school and he learned quickly. He showed so much enthusiasm towards skateboarding and proved himself to be such a great kid that he was chosen that year for our annual Woodward West Scholarship. Each summer our program is able to send a few kids from Skate After School to Woodward West Skate Camp in central California for a week of skateboarding and hanging out with skaters from around the world. Jeremiah had a great week at the camp and has remained an active part of our program ever since. He made a post recently on his Instagram about his trip to Woodward and how it was the best week of his life! He went from having a slight interest in skateboarding to having what he refers to as the best week of his life! He’s now a great skateboarder and helps us at one of our other locations as a ‘junior volunteer.’ Our hope is that he’ll remain with our program into his later teens and become a full blown volunteer and maybe even a staff member someday!
I find sometimes there is a stigma around skateboarding, that it’s dangerous, that only punks and troublemakers skate. Have you ever had to overcome that with schools and parents in order to get their kids involved and how do you convince them of the positive side of skating?
We haven’t heard much of that directly. We did have one school where the PE teacher really wanted Skate After School to come to her school but the school district’s attorney advised against it and the school ultimately decided not to offer the program. A cool thing that we’ve found is that a lot of schools around Phoenix are run by relatively young people who grew up seeing and knowing about skateboarding. With one of our schools, Crockett Elementary, the principal actually skates!!! He comes by sometimes and skates with the kids during Skate After School and the kids love it! I’d like to think that we’re contributing to a change in some of the stereotypes about skaters by starting and running this organization. At some of the schools we work with, their only experience with skateboarding is that they have to kick skateboarders off the property on weekends. Now these schools have a new idea of what skateboarding is and who skateboarders are, especially after seeing how much fun their students are having in the program.
What do you see for the future of the program?
In the future we plan to expand to new schools and work with more kids around Phoenix and maybe someday branch out of this area and take the program to other states! A lot of people have reached out to us through social media asking us to bring the program to their cities so we know there is interest out there.
How has working with kids changed your life? Is there a specific lesson you’ve learned along the way?
One of the main lessons that I’ve learned through the experience of starting and helping to run Skate After School is that it’s possible to do anything if you just START. When we first started collecting skateboards in the beginning, our goal was to put together a few. That few turned into many very quickly and from there things have grown to a point that I would have never imagined. My guiding principal in life is the idea that something that is easy for one person might be impossible or difficult for someone else. For me, collecting old skateboards and bringing them to kids was easy, but for the schools to start their own skate programs would have been very difficult or not possible. It’s a simple concept but I think it’s important for people to find a way to contribute to the world, even if it’s just something small like donating skateboards! I’ve relearned this lesson many times through the people I’ve met through Skate After School who are doing amazing things in the world and it all started with small ideas. For example, through one of our schools I came across a 7th grader who started collecting school supplies and backpacks for kids in Phoenix who can’t afford them and her idea has taken off (Backpacks for Kids Az). The overall lesson that I’ve learned is that if you have an idea for anything, just start working on a small version of the idea. Collect old skateboards, school supplies, or whatever else you can and then find a place to drop them off and you’ll be on your way. Or whatever your version of that would be.