Words by Troy Bjorkman
Concrete Jungle Foundation starts with skateboarding but we do #MoreThanSkateparks. Once built, our ongoing activities and youth programmes have a far more significant impact on the communities we serve.
We believe skateboarding can be used as a uniquely effective tool for underserved children to develop key life-skills such as resilience, courage, confidence and creativity. And that the entrepreneurialism and DIY culture that permeates skateboarding can be channelled to empower locals to be positive agents of change in their own communities.
Skateparks in themselves can also provide immense value to children and young people, acting as a site for safe space, personal growth, and community building. At their best, they act as freely accessible cultural hubs for learning, positive role modelling, and social inclusivity. And their construction provides an excellent opportunity to transfer real skills to passionate groups of local youth.
And yet, in our years of experience in the field, we’ve noticed that the benefits that skateboarding and skateparks can provide are not necessarily automatic. In contexts where violence is entrenched or social issues pervasive, it is our firm belief that we as a social organisation can do better than only providing infrastructure.
For us, it is clearly a worthwhile investment to work towards ensuring that the positive values of skateboarding are not only fostered but sustained.
It’s been six years since our first skatepark was built for a school in the hillside community of Alto Trujillo, Peru. Back then we ran one programme: Edu-Skate, which worked on developing key life-skills through skateboarding.
That life-skills programme is still the base of everything we do. Yet six skateparks later, we today provide a broad suite of context-specific, targeted youth programmes to more than 315 children across our project locations.
In Jamaica, the Freedom Skatepark & Youth Centre serves a community facing many challenges. Several of the children have lost a loved one, some more, and the allure of getting involved in the conflict is real. In this context, professional counselling is crucial in order to steer youth in the right direction. Security is a must in order to ensure the skatepark is a safe space. Tutoring in subjects such as maths and writing are provided by a staffed certified teacher. And professional development workshops support adolescents to reach their full potential as young adults in the community.
In Northern Peru, where we started our work in 2016, we’ve today built three skateparks. Here, the local team serves the poor communities surrounding Trujillo, supporting children through our life-skills programme, homework & tutoring classes, as well as a number of community activities. With financing from our Women’s Leadership Award, CJF Peru has also taken a particular focus on female empowerment, hosting outreach sessions throughout Trujillo and surrounding region.
In Morocco we are active at a Children's Home, which houses 35 children that because of their family backgrounds have been relocated to the centre. Due to neglect, violence or abuse, several exhibit social behavioural issues, anxiety and depression. Therefore, in this context, the Fiers et Forts Skatepark is used primarily to work on life-skills development through the Edu-Skate programme.
We start with skateboarding and skateparks because we believe in their potential to be effective tools for positive youth development.
But we also believe that in order for at-risk youth to thrive, we can and must continue to do #MoreThanSkateparks.
Right now, we are launching a campaign in order to keep these children’s programmes alive for 2023. And we need your help.