STOKED to Serve - A Mentor's View

Words and photos by Vanella Richardson STOKED mentoring is as bold and dynamic as the name suggests: all-day snowboarding in the winter, surf Saturdays in the summer, and skateboarding sessions in-between. My first introduction to the program was far from the slopes of Belleayre or the beach at Rockaway but just as impactful. On a bitter-cold but sunny day in November 2014 I trekked up to the Bronx to volunteer for a community service project, STOKED to SERVE. I nervously stepped into my first STOKED circle, introduced myself, and the rest is history. To this day STOKED to SERVE is still one of my favorite parts of the program.

April 16th was the first STOKED to SERVE of 2016, and it did not disappoint. The weather was perfect. The kids and mentors, a hearty mix of familiar and new faces, were happy, eager, and present. The agenda for the day was simple; spend the morning cleaning and beautifying the East Side Community Garden followed by an afternoon skate session and a well-deserved pizza lunch in between. After a quick run-through of what needed to be done; raking, weeding, planting, we separated into our groups, tools in hand, and dug right in. I am always impressed by the work ethic these kids have. Even though we weren't perfecting 180s or paddling for a wave, everyone had that same quiet focus. The plant boxes were cleaned and filled with flowers, carefully spaced out and alternating in color. The dead, twisted ivy that covered the chain-link fence was picked clean and raked into neat piles.The kids who trickle in later in the morning don’t hesitate to ask where they are needed and jump right in. I had the pleasure of getting to know Ronny. We instantly connected over a shared interest in nutrition and botany. I can see it in his face and hear it in his voice that he is passionate about the subject. Although he mentions that he has a more “sensible” back-up plan, for the moment it’s nice to compare notes and share ideas without the pressure of having to “figure it all out”.

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Admittedly, although I told myself that I couldn't stay the whole day, that I needed to go home and tend to some overdue "adulting"… I couldn't resist. Two hours later I’m borrowing a skateboard I swore I wouldn’t ride and learning a trick I didn't plan on learning. The atmosphere is so magnetic and the people so fantastic that you cannot not want to be a part of it.

Eventually we regroup for our closing STOKED circle, which has somehow tripled in size since the morning, and give out our kudos. STOKED to SERVE may officially be over but we still linger. Some stay and continue to skate, most kick over to a nearby skatepark, while a handful of us stay on for a bonus pick-up soccer game. When I get home, content and relaxed from a full day of fun and fresh air, I realize how important days like these are for both mentors and mentees. They provide a welcomed break in our hectic routines, an outlet for our stresses, and an environment where existing relationships are maintained and new ones fostered, strengthening our bond as an organization.

If you'd like to get involved with STOKED, go here.