Monday, July 15, 2013

The SKaB or How I Got Involved in a Community Project

In the small town where I grew up, things haven't changed much.  It's a safe town to grow up, a place where you can still walk or ride your bike to school.  Being an economically depressed area, there are very few recreation programs, so kids have to entertain themselves.  They ride skateboards and bikes that go vertical as well as horizontal, but without a designated place to do this, otherwise good kids end up riding where they should not - on the handrails of church steps, on public benches, and even on the roof of the post office.  And when church ladies,  township officials, or the postman would yell at them, these little smart asses would say, "Build us a skate park."

Cheeky, yes.  But they were right.  They are the next generation of the town's citizens and this is what they do for recreation.  And while the township had parks with swings and ballfields, there was no skate park, at least not until a small group of citizens, including my wife Donna and I,  took up the cause.

Township officials were divided on the issue, the naysayers parroting the usual fear rhetoric associated with anything to do with teenagers.  "Vandalism!  Fighting!"   And when that was rebutted by facts and solutions, they changed their mantra to "Danger!  Liability!  Lawsuits!"  And when that was rebutted, they finally hid behind "Tax burden!".

So they placed the burden of paying for the skate park on us.  Our group had to raise $65.000 with no help from the township.  Over the next five years, we held all sorts of fundraisers, from selling cakes and root beer floats to hosting a beef n beer dinner, Valentine's Dances, and a Bar-B-Q Chicken dinner.  On a cold December night we stood on in front of a skate shop with a donation jar begging Christmas shoppers for change.  I even hit up my Facebook friends, who coughed up over $1000 for a skate park in a town that 98% of them will never visit.

For all of these events, my job, among other things, was artwork.  We needed a logo and a catchy name, something shorter than The Commercial Township Skate and Bike Park.  I took some liberties creating an acronym our of "skate and bike"  and came up with "SKaB" - a fitting name for a skate park, I thought.  I designed a simple black and white logo which we used on fund raising letters and our Facebook page.  The rest of my artwork was for fliers. I wanted to do some skate graphics, or at least something like it, so I picked up a book of Jim Phillips art for inspiration and guidance.  Any excuse to buy a new art book.

Community efforts like this bring out the very best and the very worst in people. Some great people stepped up, offering their time to cook and work at fundraisers.  Some donated food and supplies, or supported us financially.  Many of the construction crew donated their own time. Even those who offered only moral support were appreciated, keeping us from getting dragged down by the dregs - those with no stake in the issue who become viciously vocal opponents.  

The idea of creating something new causes a knee-jerk negative reaction in certain people - the scientific term for them being "jughead".  Some township officials threw everything they could to stall the process, turning the issue into another excuse to show what manly he-men they were and who you messin ' wid, boy.  After several years of fundraising, literally a dollar at a time, and finally raising the money, these same hog floggin', chest thumpin' Buford T. Justices told us they could not accept financial donations from private groups. 

"But you told us to raise the money to begin with."

"We can't accept it."

"But you told us to raise the money."

"Yes, but we can't accept it.  You will own the skate park and we will own the land where it sits."

"Since when?"

"That was the deal."

That was NEVER the deal, you're just now bringing this up."

"Yes, but that's the deal now."






To get this skate park through, we had to get rid of the mayor and the administrator, both of whom were embedded in the township like blood filled ticks on a mule's anus.  
New Mayor Donna reviews plans with the engineer and the head of public works at the site of the skate park.
Donna ran and beat the mayor in the 2010 election, an election where the 21-year incumbent and his side-tick boasted, "She doesn't stand a chance." And on a wicked hot day last last June, concrete was poured.  A week later, kids skated on a brand new skate park and the world did not end.  There were no fights, no vandalism.  Taxes did not go up.  The only thing that happened was that teens skated with little kids and young adults alike.   Kumbaya.  

Obstacles cleared, construction in progress.
Now that the park is a real thing,  naysayers have been forced to see it for what it is: a place for kids to play.  Turns out the only scary things were the demons in their heads.  And while some have admitted they were wrong to oppose the park, there are those people, those who contribute nothing and take all, who now say "It shoulda been bigger."

The SKaB today.  
It's very satisfying to look at that once empty lot and see kids skating.  I think of the great people who pitched in to help, and of the twisted people tried stop it.  Then I think of the kids skating and say to myself, "Right on!"

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