Q&A: Skateboarding Gives Homeless Youth Skills, Pride and Discipline

Photograph of a young person skateboarding.

Ten years ago at a skate park in Orlando, FL, Drew Campbell noticed teens bumming boards off of skaters. Instantly interested in helping the young people, Campbell, a professional surfer, founded the Getaboard Foundation to teach homeless and other at-risk youth how to skate.

The foundation and its staff of professional surfers and skateboarders work with the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida in downtown Orlando. Each Friday the instructors take 20 youth from one of the coalition’s shelters to the local skate park for skateboarding lessons. Once a year, the youth get a chance to learn surfing, too.

We talked to Campbell about his foundation and the difference he’s seen it make in young people’s lives.

NCFY: Tell us about a young person who improved their skateboarding skills and also overcame adversity in your program?

Campbell: We had a youth participant who had some skills in skateboarding, but we helped him develop his skills further. Tank was a trouble maker; once he began participating in the Getaboard Foundation Skateboard Program he became a leader. Tank began to show promise as a great skateboarder and eventually a junior counselor, teaching the younger children the skills he knows. By the end of the program, Tank had done a complete 180. He had a purpose and an outlet.

NCFY: What skills do the youth in your program learn that can be used outside of skateboarding?

Campbell: The participants learn many skills by being in the program, but the most important skills we see are, one, development of self-esteem. When the youth learn how to skateboard and become comfortable with the board it gives them a sense of pride. Two, self-identity. Skateboarding also helps youth create their own identity outside of being in a homeless shelter. Most kids in care don’t have much to do, so this is a great resource that they can not only use to build skills but as a form of transportation. Three, self-discipline, creative problem solving and positive peer pressure techniques. These skills are developed when a youth is unable to master a trick. They must practice. When youth in the program are able to attain new skills, it helps other youth work harder to learn.

Most importantly, we are trying to help the kids we work with to be able to have an outlet and overcome their circumstances through hard work. Our main goal is to work with youth during a six to eight week time span to make an impact in their lives. At the end of the program each participant is given their own skateboard.

NCFY: How can communities replicate this program?

Campbell: We plan to expand the program to implement it in schools, as well as trying to branch out nationally by having communities start Getaboard chapters in their states. That way they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. In order to get supplies, such as skateboards and safety equipment, we set up stations around Florida where the community can donate these types of items. Programs who want to start a similar program can also connect with skateboard shops and local programs for at-risk youth to make the connection.

To learn more about similar programs for youth check out:

Next Up Foundation is a resource for kids and teens who live in underserved communities and helps them to achieve success; located in Orange County, California.

Nashoba Youth Foundation is bringing skate parks to rural Native Oklahoma to help those youth with developing self-esteem, encouraging healthy lifestyle, and diversion from violence.

Just One Board takes used skateboards and refurbishes them and then distributes them to underprivileged youth in California.

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