Unique Youth Development Program Builds Character Through Board Sports

Courage and persistence are just two qualities that embody the grit and determination necessary for success. For the last 25 years, a youth development program has been teaching thousands of children these core values in a unique way.

With their safety pads strapped and bright green helmets in place, a group of 11- to 13-year-olds learn the basics of skateboarding. But administrators say it’s more than just that.

“Our mission is to help kids overcome challenges through board sports,” said Spencer Cotton, a program coordinator for the Chill Foundation in Chicago. “So, we do skateboarding, we do surfing, stand-up paddleboarding … as well as snowboarding.”

Each year, 3,000 children around the world take part in the Chill Foundation’s unique youth development program.

“We have different youth that comes from all different backgrounds. So, this may be even their first time experiencing a board sport,” said Cotton. The aim is to help them focus their energy positively and to find ways to overcome personal obstacles.

“A lot of the things I’ll focus on with them is making sure that, A, the confidence is going to be present there and that that grit is also present,” said program mentor Karina Campos. Chill currently offers programs in 24 cities across 10 countries, including in Denver, Salt Lake City, Baltimore, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Chicago. Through board sports, they focus on six core values.

“Respect, courage, persistence, patience, responsibility and pride,” said Cotton. A lot of times that means falling but not giving up.

“Having that courage is definitely vital to helping them get through the skateboarding program and also throughout life,” he said.

“That’s super important for me that they understand that they are not failing,” said Campos. “They’re overcoming that small little challenge and if they’re falling, it’s because they’re progressing.”

Jalaya Williams has taken several tumbles on this day.

“From the ramps itself, probably four to five,” Williams said. But the rambunctious 11-year-old has no intention of yielding to the halfpipes or the boards, and she wants to learn more tricks. “I learned how to do the one you, like, flip the skateboard over when you jump. I learned that one. Haven’t done it in a while due to COVID and stuff.”

The program is also about cultivating camaraderie.

“Being with the other girls is fun because we all help each other out and none of us laugh at each other when we fall,” said 12-year-old participant Eryn Gibson. “So, if we do fall, it’s not sad because we’ll just pick each other up again.”

Noble life lessons we all could learn from.

By Ash-har Quraishi, WRTV.