A group of 12 young adults came to Foxglenn Park for a recent Thursday skateboarding session with +swappow PLUS as part of an annual convention meant to help youth with the transition out of foster care.
The Arizona Department of Child Safety (AZDCS) puts on the conference every year, providing people in foster care ages 14-20 with workshops, resources and a variety of activities to help them develop life skills during the transition.
Arizona has about 4,000 youth between the ages of 14-21 in its foster care system, according to AZDCS. Each year, about 700 young adults in foster care turn 18 without having found a permanent placement. The conference — and the Young Adult Program more generally — is meant to help such young people successfully age into adulthood.
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PK Wood and Kenzie Clark are both AZDCS Youth Advocates who helped arrange this year’s conference.
Clark said she hoped the workshops would help youth gain “resilience, vulnerability and perseverance.”
“I think a lot of foster youth have a hard time making connections with people and when you take them to a place like this, they can all mingle with each other and have a similar understanding of experience that feel they’re included, they’re valued,” she said.
“It gives them an opportunity that they’re not used to. You never know what their lives are like in general,” Wood added. “…This might be something they’ve never done before, so they’re stepping outside of their comfort zone for the first time and they want to spread their wings and take risks.”
About 70 teenagers and young adults in Arizona’s foster care system visited Flagstaff for the conference recently, staying at Little America. Among this year’s workshops were sessions on gun safety, substance awareness, Native American beading with Three Precious Miracles and the +swappow PLUS skate session.
After going over some of the basics of skateboarding — the best positions, where to use different kinds of boards, how to get off a moving board — +swappow PLUS Director Michael Shapiro told the group to pick out their boards and start practicing.
The participants started out riding straight lines across the park’s sidewalks before some went on to try their skills in the skate course.
This type of session is the first of three tiers of programming +swappow PLUS offers to youth in foster care. Founded five years ago, the organization’s goal is to help those in foster care gain confidence and other life skills through skateboarding.
“When you’re riding a skateboard, you have to focus on your balance and you’re paying attention just to staying upright,” Shapiro said. “You’re present in the moment and you’re not thinking about what’s happened or what might happen. For the first time for a lot of these kids, they’re able to be kids. They’re able to just be present.”
The group offers the tier one skateboarding workshops to kids ages 7-21. Participants are given a donated board to take home and they spend some time trying out skateboarding for the first time or advancing their skills. Youth ages 13-21 can also take a 12-week personal development program, which is meant to help those who enjoy the sport progress in their ability while showing how they can move toward their goals over time.
The final tier offered is a professional development program for youth 16-21, and it focuses on teaching them how to make their own boards alongside business skills such as marketing, sales and graphic design. Participants in the program create four custom skateboards with their personal logo, keeping two, selling one and donating one to others in the program. One of those boards is made entirely by hand and another is made from recycled water bottles.
Each course, according to Shapiro, also uses skateboarding principles and techniques to teach more general life lessons — such as, for instance, that “falling isn’t failure” and to “look where you want to go” rather than focusing on obstacles.
“If you see an obstacle, a crack in the sidewalk, don’t focus on that. Focus on the pathway through it,” he said as an example. “In the same way, if you have a person in your life you really don’t care for, you don’t focus your energy on them; you look at the people you want to be like.
He added: “We always say, you find what you’re looking for, so look for good things, then you control the narrative a little bit. … We really try to encourage our participants to aim high.”
More about foster care in Arizona can be found at azdcs.gov/foster. To learn more about +swappow PLUS, visit swappowplus.org.