The Tony Hawk Foundation seeks to foster lasting improvements in society, with an emphasis on supporting and empowering youth. Through special events, grants, and technical assistance, the Foundation supports recreational programs with a focus on the creation of public skateboard parks in low-income communities. The Foundation favors programs that clearly demonstrate that funds received will produce tangible, ongoing, positive results.
At first glance, the goal of the Tony Hawk Foundation is almost mundane: to help promote and finance public skateparks in low-income areas across the United States. But the foundation’s true mission goes beyond simply making sure skateboarders across the country have a curvy place to play. We’ve discovered that the benefits derived from the process of getting a skatepark built, while not as tangible or quantifiable, are often more valuable than the product itself. If it’s done right, a skatepark project can teach young people a lifelong lesson in the power of perseverance, and remind adults that kids with funny haircuts and pierced lips not only can be good people, but also can get things done.
Tony Hawk helps open the Willamalane Skatepark in Springfield, Oregon, 2003.
Although skateboarding has received much mainstream credibility in recent years, thousands of communities have yet to provide skaters with a place to legally practice their sport of choice. As a result, many adults still regard skaters as disrespectful troublemakers. Business owners chase them away. City officials pass ordinances to impede them. Police give them tickets. Shrouded in stigma and with few resources to overcome it, many skaters still grow up feeling disenfranchised, and the institutionalized image of skaters as delinquents becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Skateparks are great, but sometimes the process is the best part.”
In a growing number of communities, however, skateparks have proven to be the perfect hammer to break this ugly cycle. At its best, it works like this: a skater gets in trouble (maybe a ticket, maybe a call home from the principal) and complains to his parents that he has no place to skate. His parents persuade him to write a letter to City Hall, or to attend a city-council meeting. The skater gets some friends together, puts on his cleanest shirt, sits through a boring meeting, and then makes a nervous but respectful plea for a skatepark. City officials, impressed by the courteous request, agree that it’s a good idea and commit to including a skatepark in the next parks-and-recreation budget and designate a central location for the project.
A real-world scenario is more likely to include city-donated land, but require the skaters to find the money to build the park. With the help of one or two city officials and a handful of parents, the kids form a committee and spend the next year or two raising money and community awareness. They hold car washes, barbecues, raffles, and skate-a-thons. They do yard work for their neighbors and donate the wages to the skatepark fund. Eventually, the community rallies behind the determined youth brigade. The police chief writes an editorial in the local newspaper praising the kids for their efforts. The local Lion’s Club holds a pancake breakfast, and the paper runs a photo of some beribboned World War II vet flipping flapjacks for skaters.
This is when attitudes change. The kids realize that the adults really want to help them, and the adults realize that the kids are willing to work hard for this thing they love. Most important, the kids learn that they can actually accomplish something by working with the system rather than beating their heads against it, or sitting at home complaining about it. They learn how to communicate in a way that will encourage adults to listen, and they go from feeling alienated to empowered.
We don’t want to sound too sappy, but we are convinced that when teenagers, parents, police, politicians, business leaders and civic groups all get together and push the same wheel, and that wheel actually turns, the effort alone makes the world a slightly better place.
That is the kind of skatepark project that the Tony Hawk Foundation seeks to fund.