More than 30 children came to the Napa Skate Park on Sunday morning, many already equipped with their elbow and knee pads and their sticker-swathed helmets. But before a single skateboard turned a wheel on the concrete bowls and steel rails, the girls and boys lined up at a folding table for their main business of the day.
Under numerous pairs of small hands, an array of water bottles, toothbrushes, toothpaste, trail mix and Ziploc bags became 240 supply kits for homeless people in Napa. By that afternoon, the packages would be dropped off at the South Napa Shelter a mile and a half north.
It would be the latest good deed on the Feed the Need Tour, a five-city West Coast excursion by the Southern California group Skate Rising. At each stop of the tour, which began July Fourth in Scotts Valley and concludes Saturday in Eugene, Oregon, its organizer has sought to create a welcoming place for young female skateboarders, while also helping local people in need.
Calli Kelsay, a mother of four from the coastal San Diego suburb of Encinitas, founded Skate Rising in 2016 as a monthly program in her hometown after her two oldest daughters, then 7 and 5, took up the sport.
“We decided to get them skateboards when it was too cold to surf,” Kelsay said last week. “Right away, I saw the positive life lessons that came from skateboarding, like falling and getting back up, to get what you want, to work hard, to push through your fear. The confidence that comes from skateboarding has been so positive and wonderful for them.”
In the two years since, Skate Rising has sponsored free events in Encinitas and Phoenix directed at girls ages 4 to 18, where skating instruction is combined with service projects benefiting low-income youth, foster children, children’s hospital patients and others in need. The program also has become the youth division of Exposure Skate, a nonprofit advocating for greater female participation in skateboarding.
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Kelsay’s oldest daughter Aubrey remembered the challenge of taking up a pastime that often felt like a boys’ world. “They didn’t put me down, but there weren’t enough girls to make me want to keep going,” said Aubrey, now 10.
The resulting skateboard tour struck a chord with one of the first mothers to arrive at the skateboard venue at Napa’s Kennedy Park. “We’ve been looking for something like this where we can help and have fun at the same time,” said Beth Moore of Napa as she arrived at the skate park with her 10-year-old daughter Avery, a skateboarder for a year and a half.
Before children took to the stunts a few yards away – often with lessons from skateboard instructors or free loans of skating gear – Kelsay and other directors let some of them describe their struggles for acceptance. One boy, hesitant at first, volunteered his story about being bullied by a schoolmate while in first grade. Another girl described a classmate who had warned that “if you don’t stop crying, I won’t be your friend anymore.”
“Who is willing to commit to being kinder and more supportive?” asked Kelsay. Numerous arms stretched upward, beside helmets from which pigtails spilled out. “Yes! You guys rule!” Kelsay replied, before steering her audience toward a booth to sign “kindness contracts” pledging to be mindful of others and to report bullying to adult authorities.
The Feed the Need tour, which earlier visited Sacramento and San Francisco, will wrap up this weekend at the Washington-Jefferson Skatepark in Eugene. Organizers have set a goal of distributing 1,000 supply kits for local transients during the trip.