Skateboarding issue needs call to action

As reported in the Mirror’s Oct. 17 article, “Skateboarders to face stiffer fines,” Hollidaysburg Borough leaders have increased the fines for those found violating the borough’s skateboarding laws.

This decision provides an opportunity for community reflection and conversation about skateboarding, skate culture and the kids who participate in it.

As a member of our community, a father and a youth ministry director at a local congregation, I feel compelled to offer some thoughts and challenges for us all.

I cannot claim to speak to the appropriateness and validity of the decision itself.

Our law enforcement officers are the ones who have to deal with the legitimate concerns about public safety, business operation and safe traffic that skateboarding brings, and they deserve our thanks for ensuring the well-being of us all, particularly our community’s youth.

However we may all feel about this decision, I hope that we can agree that it is part of an unfortunate reality.

Skateboarding culture provides belonging, identity and an outlet for teenage kids who may find it hard to include themselves or be included in other extracurriculars.

As a sport and form of expression, skateboarding is deliberately grassroots, unorganized and self-made.

I have always admired it as such. Skateboarding is not the only outlet for kids that instills creativity and persistence. Organized athletics and art provide much of the same opportunity for the kids involved.

Skateboarding, however, can attract a different population of youth. These are often kids we may find on the sidelines of our community life; kids who are in desperate need of positive influence, mentorship, support and encouragement.

The context in which they grow is one that can be devoid of such necessary tools for any young person.

In reference to the idea that “it takes a village,” it is we, the “village,” who bear the responsibility of shaping a new context for these kids.

I doubt that our borough leaders imagine that harsher punishments and skateboarding laws can solve the problems that these youth both cause and face themselves.

As someone who is heavily involved in the local recovery community and efforts of drug and alcohol prevention among youth, I am troubled by the vacuum created in the lives of these kids.

I encourage us all to view skateboarding not as a problem in and of itself, but as a potential opportunity to encourage, interface with and support a segment of our young population that we might otherwise miss.

Taking hold of this opportunity is no small task. It brings with it complications, challenges and expense. There may be those who have tried in the past that would speak to such experiences.

However, I believe that positive rhetoric and a call to action can elicit a creative response from an entire community.

We are blessed with a wealth of experience, perspective, talent and compassion here in Hollidaysburg.

I feel personally and professionally responsible to speak and work on behalf of these kids and imagine there are others who might feel the same.

Ryan Custead