Organizing For Community Support

How Do We Get Organized?

Building a skatepark will take all the help you can get. A solid grassroots organization of skateboarders and their friends is one of the first things you will need in order to gain the support necessary to build your skatepark. This organization will be the key to planning, promotion, design and construction of the park.

We have found that few city council members want to listen to adults (who did not skate) lobby for the construction of a skatepark that they will not use. In order to be successful the city government needs assurance that those who are slowly losing their places to skate due to legislation and tenant complaints will be involved throughout the process.

Form an Organization

The first step in forming an organization is to get in touch with every skateboarder you know or see. Often skatepark committees are formed after the publication of an advertisement in the local paper. This advertisement should ask all concerned parties to attend a meeting to discuss the building of a skatepark. During this initial meeting, plan how to reach other members of the community. Maybe putting up posters designed to increase public interest and ask for broader community involvement.

As members of the skatepark committee are recruited ask them to make a strong commitment to the organization. Each member needs to be made aware that it was going to take a lot of work to build a park and that there was strength in numbers. All members should be asked to put aside any hang-ups regarding the involvement of a mix of skateboarders, in-line skaters and BMX freestyle bikers. First, all of these interested parties need to be represented by the organization as a whole, as all are going to share in the use of the park in the future. Second, it can be assumed that when working with the city, any hint of disagreement among group members or potential users of the park is going to be the surest way to get the project placed on the back burner.

The organization also needs youth spokespeople who are willing and comfortable talking to the public. It is helpful to choose a few articulate (outspoken) individuals that will consistently act as public spokespersons for the skatepark organization during speaking engagements while other members may come and go. It is also helpful to choose members to help coordinate, organize and record the events of each meeting.

Have Regular Meetings

A newly formed skatepark committee should plan regularly scheduled meetings. Places for meetings will depend on the size of your community, but usually public locations like the city library or recreation center are among the best possible choices. By using a community facility you might get access to computers, fax machines, telephones or a copy machine.

As an alternative, a local skateboard shop or a residence might serve as a meeting place. Find a safe and comfortable place to hold meetings where parents and other interested adults (including the press) feel welcome. Parents of skateboarders are excellent resources for establishing contacts for meeting locations and access to needed resources. Just ask, you might be surprised by what you get.

Meeting Agenda

After you have an organized a skatepark committee and have set a specific date and time to discuss issues, begin to plan a campaign strategy to increase the commitment of the members. Ideally there should be no change in meeting day and time throughout the entire project. Maintaining a consistent meeting day and time allows members to disappear for a bit and then drop back in.

Changing meeting times increases the likelihood that only the core group continues to participate throughout the project. This directly limits the number of individuals who participate, feel committed to, and ultimately go away with a sense of ownership in the project.

Who Should Come to Meetings?

Members representing interests in various sports including skateboarding, in-line skating and BMX freestyle biking. The assistance from a dedicated group of skaters will not only help to reduce the overall cost of the park, but will also increase the skaters' feelings of ownership of the park after it opens.

In addition, the newspaper, radio and television media enjoy the various opportunities to capture the youth in action, either fundraising or working on construction of the park.

It is necessary to have at least two adults present at all meetings. Preferably, one adult should consistently attend and facilitate all meetings for safety and meeting management. It is very helpful to involve as many parents and other interested adults as early in the skatepark campaign as possible.

Adults are essential connections to city government and business. At first, the city council as well as other groups and businesses might not pay much attention to a group of local youth, but recognition improves when youth are backed-up by a group of adults who are taxpayers and voters. Adults simply have much more experience accessing and working within the "system" in ways that younger members do not.

Who Else Can Help?

Religious Officials:

No matter what a person's personal religious practice or belief, these individuals are powerful members of almost any community or government. When you approach the religious community, it helps to stress the community-based need for the skatepark. Take time to emphasize the positive aspects of skateboarding and the skateboard community. For example, emphasize how the park can help kids promote the sport in a positive manner by keeping skaters "off the streets" and out of trouble with the law. This is the kind of emphasis that will garner their support. Give examples like Skate-Church in Portland, Oregon that has ramps and obstacles for skaters to use in a safe and controlled atmosphere. Try to make contact with as many religious organizations as possible and when you find ones that support your cause ask them to write letters of support to the city council.

Non-profit Agencies:

A non-profit community service agency can help in many ways. In addition to grant writing, they may offer staff time to over-see the project, handle the disbursement of funds and work with the committee to contract for construction. This also enables the committee to operate under the umbrella of their non-profit status. In short, when you go asking for money or materials you are able to say those magic words - "it's tax deductible."

Most umbrella organizations will not take just any group under their wings. They will consider the nature of the project and the impact that it will have upon the community. Non-profit and umbrella organizations rely heavily upon grants to pay overhead and salaries. Their ability to receive grants depends largely upon the success of the projects that they sponsor. Do your research before approaching an organization. This will increase your likelihood of success. Your research should include learning about the long-term goals of the organization and past projects. Determine beforehand as accurately as possible what your needs are, and how much of the organizations time and resources will be required. Then, make an appointment and ask for what you need.

Local Business Community:

The local business community is generally tired of skateboarders bombing down sidewalks, frightening customers, and tearing up their benches, ledges, rails and other structures. Ironically, this means members of the business community can be powerful allies. Try to gain the public support of the business community as they typically have deep ties within the community and may come up with leads that would have otherwise been overlooked.

The approach that meets with the most success is to actively demonstrate that the problem is not skateboarding, but the lack of a suitable place to skate. Once the local business community is convinced of the seriousness of the skatepark committee they may consistently supply in-kind donations of construction materials and items for fundraisers, as well as monetary contributions. If you cannot get business owners to city council meetings to speak out in your favor, ask them to write letters of support. At the very least ask them to sign a petition reserved only for businesses and professionals.

Whenever your organization needs something, identify businesses that can best address that need. Then, just walk right in, explain why you are there, what you are out to accomplish and what you need from the business. This simple approach can get the skatepark committee free typesetting, printing, tools, construction materials and all sorts of other goods and services.

Law Enforcement:

Most cities have ordinances against skateboarding in certain or all areas of the city. Of course, it is the duty of the police to enforce those ordinances. All jokes aside, the police really do have better things to do than write tickets and confiscate skateboards because of a city code. However, until laws change or more skateparks are built, it will remain the job of law enforcement to stop individuals from skateboarding wherever it is prohibited. If you can get a few law enforcement officials on the side of the skatepark committee your efforts to build a skatepark will go much easier.

In many instances the chief of police, or another representative from law enforcement regularly reports to the city council. So, go straight to the top. Contact the chief of police or head of emergency services and ask his or her opinions about building a public skatepark in the community. Most likely, the response will be positive. In our experience, the law enforcement and medical services communities were very accepting and supportive.

They supported the idea of a skatepark because they understood the dilemma that skaters were in and could see the skatepark as a solution to a problem. Basically, law enforcement did not enjoy stopping skateboarders on the street and confiscating skateboards, so they were interested in reasonable solutions.

Written by Anthony Gembeck