It’s more than kickflips or frontside 180s on a skateboard. For the Skate After School program in Phoenix, it’s about 180s in life: Teaching life lessons by turning afterschool into a skate park—and giving back to kids in need.
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“We work with around 230 kids a week,” said Ryan Lay, Skate After School co-founder. “We primarily run our programs in South and Central Phoenix. The classic underfunded public schools—there’s not a lot of quality after-school programs, unfortunately. The public parks are lacking. The local community centers are lacking or sometimes non-existent. So, we kind of aim to fill that need a little bit.”
Lay, a professional skateboarder founded this program four years ago with Tim Ward, the program’s director, and Bobby Green, a co-owner of a local skateboard clothing company. Combined, they all have more than 60 years of skateboarding experience. They say they have been profoundly impacted by the sport and want to give back to their community.
“We’ve heard from kids that said they wanted to skate but they didn’t have a skateboard. So they just watched TV instead,” Ward said. “That’s not even the worst thing they could be doing. But, I’d like to think that we’re giving them another option, as opposed to watching TV, playing video games, or getting in trouble in their neighborhoods.”
Alejandro Gaxiola, 12, said he learned how to skateboard in the program and now volunteers his time to help other kids learn.
“The program means a lot to me,” Alejandro said. “It means the whole world to me. It helps me a lot through trouble. It’s going to help a lot of kids around.”
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Now all 230 of those little skaters have a skateboard of their own after Skate After School implemented the Skate Angel Program during the Christmas season. In the inaugural program, community members could pay $55 to buy a skateboard for a kid.
Alejandro helped kick off a donation drive. By Christmas, 270 skateboards were donated. It was enough to give each kid in the program a skateboard of their own – a gift sure to cause kickflips this season.
“Oh, it’s just unbelievable,” Lay said. “When we started doing the Skateboard Angel program, we were like, ‘Oh, it’d be amazing if we could give out 10 boards to the program. I thought the hurdle of a $55 Complete (skateboard) would be pretty steep for a lot of people around Christmas time. But, we started producing videos of us giving the boards back. With the initial 20 boards we received, we were already giving them out. I think people really got a lot of enjoyment out of that. And it’s just been amazing. I could not believe that so many people in our community came together to buy skateboards during the (holidays).”
Along with skateboarding skills, the main focus of the program is teaching kids life skills. Ward says they developed their own core value system based on life lessons they believe skateboarding can teach. It goes by the skate acronym “GRIP”standing for generous, respect, innovation, and persistence
When staff sees kids aligning with any of those four core values, they give out stickers.
“We don’t reward kids for being good at skateboarding,” Ward said. “We don’t reward kids for being able to do the best tricks. We reward kids for helping each other up off the ground, showing respect to the volunteers and to each other, trying new things, and also working hard, not giving up just because something’s hard the first time they try it.”
That crucial life lesson volunteers teach the kids is that when you fall, you get right back up.
“I’ve been skating for 20 years and not a day goes by that I don’t fall miserably,” Lay said. “It really teaches you the lessons of being comfortable with failure, learning from failure, and growing from it.”
Alejandro said it has helped him look at life differently.
“I’ve fallen many times. I got many bruises. When you get those bruises, you know you can get back up. It may hurt but you can get back up, you can try it again,” Alejandro said. “It could affect your life…in a good way. When you fall and get back up again, you can try at one thing and then you can keep on trying until you get that job interview. So, you might want one job, but if you keep at least trying other jobs, you can get one and find it and it’s good…Keep on trying. Respect others how you want to be treated. Never give up.”
It’s exactly what Alejandro and Skate After School staff plan to do. The program is currently in seven schools but Lay says the program could expand to more than 100 schools in the next few years.
It’s enough to make anyone do a 360 flip.