What’s Up Montreal? It’s the holiday season, the time to show goodwill towards all of mankind, and part of celebrating the holidays means recognizing those who are less fortunate as well as those who go out of there way to help people who need it. We at What’s Up Montreal? are always on the lookout to spread the word of people doing good deeds so we decided to look for a charitable organization this year to collaborate with. Now, while all charities deserve recognition and are worthy of help we nevertheless found that there was one organization that stood out and felt it merited getting some extra attention.
Skateboards For Hope was that organization that we felt was noteworthy with a vision and approach that was unique that shone differently from other organizations. Founded by Betty Esperanza, Skateboards For Hope has made its mission to fight poverty and help at-risk youth by fostering self-esteem and confidence in them by introducing them to the world of skateboarding. Now, most people’s reactions to the idea of giving skateboards to kids as way of fighting poverty and helping kids grow into being confident and motivated adults might be one of incredulity, and they believe that there can’t possibly be a connection between the two. But as you’re about to see nothing could be further from the truth.
We met with Betty early in December to learn more about her organization and we were immediately taken in by her passion, dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit. It didn’t take long before we were swept under her spell. Betty, a skateboarder since her youth, gave a very spirited speech about the misconceptions about skateboarding and skateboarders, showing how it has a massively positive impact on the lives of youths; how it fosters perserverence, dedication and hard work and helps young people give an artistic outlet for their growing personalities. Not only is it good exercise but it encourages kids to pick themselves up after they fall and builds up their pride and belief in themselves that they are capable of achieving success. It also helps them connect with others and bond in the worldwide tightly-knit skateboarder community. With mottos like “Be your own hero” and “shread taboos, give hope” Skateboards For Hope has shown that skateboards aren’t just toys for kids in the suburbs to annoy their neighbours but vital tools for education and empowerment whose positive effects can’t be overstated. This isn’t some patronizing charity handing out stuffed animals to kids who don’t feel deserving of such gifts; this is movement to help build the future leaders of tomorrow.
Ever since Betty gave her first board to a youth in Cuba some years ago she has seen firsthand the positive impact giving someone a skateboard has on their lives and since then she has helped over a thousand kids through Skateboards For Hope. Her videos including a TedX talk inspired the creation of the first skateboard design program in school in all of Canada and she is also responsible for sending one of the largest shipment of skateboards ever overseas and even established the Skateboard For Hope school in Cuba. In a short amount of time, Skateboards For Hope’s reach has gotten global, getting coverage from CTV to VICE, something almost unthinkable just before.
So when we learned that Betty was planning to give 30 skateboards to high school students in the community of Kahnasatake for Christmas, by coordinating with many other groups and individuals to get donated skateboards and parts, have them refurbished and rebuilt, and get them into top shape we immediately jumped on board to do whatever we can to help and more importantly show to the world the efforts people like Betty and the people she works with bring to others and the positive impact it has. Betty is close with the First Nations community and the fact that she was putting so much effort to help an often neglected and overlooked community only inspired us more to help. As Betty says, “Every small effort you make to help others must be recognized otherwise it will stop.” We couldn’t agree more so without further ado, we bring you Skateboards For Hope.
Meeting Betty Esperanza
After the initial meeting with Betty in brainstorming a plan on how we can help her with her project of helping the youth of Kahnastake, we met with Betty personally to learn more about her and Skateboards For Hope. Here’s what she had to say:
On Monday December 21 2015, we went to go pick up the skateboards to be donated and we also later met Felix, a young student who repairs skateboards who is helping Betty with her initiative.
Meeting The Vagabonnes Girls
Wednesday was a fun day where we went to Le Taz a massive and modern indoor skatepark located in St-Michel which aims to provide a safe location for wheeled and alternative sports for people of all ages and skill levels. We couldn’t have picked a better or more appropriate location to help both learn more about skateboarding itself as well as meet the others who are all contributing to Betty’s vision.
We spoke with Justin Darrow, one of Skateboard for Hope’s ambassadors who is also from Kahnasatake and is one of the main actors for the holiday initiative.
It is here we met with the Vagabonne girls a group of 4 skater girls who greatly impressed Betty with their bursting energy and artistic personalities. The girls have been active collaborators with Betty including with the Kahnasatake initiative where they brought donated parts and helped assemble the boards for the youth. We had a chat with Frédérique Luyet and Andréa Sévigny about who the Vagabonnes girls are, what they do and how they work with Skateboards For Hope.
With the boards in hand some of the What’s Up Montreal? team helped out the Vagabonnes girls in getting the boards good and ready for the delivery the next day. And while they did that we had a chat with Tony Almonte, another longtime skateboarder devotee who is also an ambassador for Skateboards for Hope. We spoke with him to learn more about his motivation and how why Skateboards for Hope is so important.
Finally, some of the What’s Up Montreal? team decided to try their hand at skateboarding guided by one of the Vagabonnes girls. As you can see we have our work cut out for us!
Thursday was the big day and we all made our way to Kahnasatake a Mohawk Territory off the island of Montreal to the local High School where the skateboards would be distributed. The kids took to the boards like a duck to water, immediately jumping on them and were allowed to skate them indoors around the gym. It was a very moving and inspiring to be in a gym surrounded by youth all skating around you.
The children will now be offered skateboarding classes and Skateboards For Hope will now do monthly follow-ups to see how their doing. We can’t wait to see how the youngsters will progress in the coming months and what will grow out of it.
Well, there you have it. I hope this story will inspire others to follow Betty’s lead, to find their passion and pursue it with vigor, and to make small efforts in helping others whenever possible. We also hope that this story will change the way people see skateboards and those that ride them and take the time to master them. We have seen how the “pay it forward” method of Betty’s work has an almost nonlinear and exponential effect in how it helps people. We thank Betty, Justin, and every single person and group who helped out for this wonderful undertaking and we strongly encourage everyone to get in touch with Skateboards For Hope and help out in any way they can. You too can follow Skateboards For Hope’s model and have a positive impact on others around you, even if it’s as something as simple as giving someone as skateboard.
From the whole team at What’s Up Montreal? we wish you Happy Holiday, Happy Skatemas and Happy Shreading!
Tiffany and Matt banter about starting up doing skateboarding.