Giving It Away

They don’t have a corporate building with a multistoried front of mirrored windows, the reception area isn’t guarded by a secretary armed with bleached teeth and a push-up bra, and they don’t have a decent meeting room-it might not even qualify as a “real” office when you get right down to it. It’s a small rented space in somebody else’s office. From this modest space the Tony Hawk Foundation will distribute almost half a million dollars this year to help kick-start public skateparks across the country.

Tony says skateparks had a great impact on his life, and because of his good fortune he wants to be sure that as many kids as possible have the opportunity to experience them: “I want to give something back to the skateboard community, it’s been very good to me. And I’ve also skated some shitty parks lately, and this is an opportunity to make sure they get built right.”

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (And Help Build Skateparks)?

Millions of people first heard about THF last fall from Regis Philbin, the suit who hosts the insanely popular show-and inanely titled-Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? At the time this show sucked in Nielsen ratings like a Hoover. Tony appeared on the show alongside Charles Barkley and a few other famous athletes, and won 125,000 dollars for the foundation. But more important than the money was the exposure. It shoved the skating charity into living rooms around the globe.

While the spotlight was nice, visibility isn’t a problem for the foundation. “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? was a lot of exposure,” says Steve Hawk, brother of Tony and the foundation’s executive director. “And Tony talks about it (THF) often in interviews. Publicity is not a concern.”

But money is. Even though THF plans on giving away over 400,000 dollars in grants that range from 5,000 to 25,000-an impressive amount by any standard-they want to do more. If THF were operating like a traditional fund, they’d invest almost all of that money and use it as a nest egg to ensure that skateparks would be built far into the future. But even though the IRS says that nonprofit foundations only have to give away five percent of their annual net equity every year to maintain nonprofit status, THF is cutting loose a way higher percent.

“Our mission right now is to promote and help finance public skateparks in low-income areas,” says Steve. “The need is critical right now. Skateparks are the facility of choice among recreation officials these days, and a lot of those officials have no idea how to do it right. Most private nonprofit foundations take their time and build up a huge nest egg that sits in an investment account forever, and they donate only the investment income. In our case, we’ve decided to spend about 80 percent of our annual income every year, because hundreds of skateparks are going to be built or designed over the next couple of years, and we need to help these people now.”

The Great Grant Flood Of 2002

Even with 400 Gs projected to go out the door, the flood of grants took everybody by surprise. Most of Steve’s time is being spent sorting through applications. “Right now I have a shelf stacked with 50 grant applications for our next quarterly review in early April,” he says. “And we’ll only be able to give grants to about fifteen of them. We’ll give out one or two 25,000-dollar grants, two or three 10,000-dollar grants, and the rest will be 5,000- and 1,000-dollar grants. We do that four times a year. It’s sad because almost all of the applicants deserve our help. More often than not, the projects were started by a bunch of local skate kids who have worked their asses off to get the things built, and it breaks my heart to send them rejection letters telling them we can’t afford to help them out.”

The foundation tries to target low-income areas or places with a high volume of at-risk kids. But not everybody building a park is in the running for a grant. “We can oy give to certified nonprofits or municipalities,” Steve says, “like cities or parks and recreation districts.” That means Bobby Butternuts won’t get a THF grant to build a park in his driveway.

When looking at grants, the THF board of directors checks out the median household income in the area, among other details. But Steve mentioned that they’re swayed by how much effort the skaters are applying on their own. His voice was audibly excited when he spoke about a group of skaters who sold plant bulbs to raise money for their park. “Skaters sold fucking plant bulbs!” he repeated, and it did sound as if it belonged in a David Lynch movie. With all the other prerequisites checking out, awarding that grant was a no-brainer for the board.

THF doesn’t just cut the checks and say good-bye. They have strict guidelines that the recipients must abide by to get the money: the park can’t charge any sort of fee, it must be designed by experienced and qualified park builders, and skaters must not be required to sign a waiver to skate. Some of these are built-in safety devices-what’s the point of building a skatepark if it sucks and nobody goes? We all know how talented people can be at building horrid skateparks-even if their hearts are in the right place. THF wants to stop the spread of that plague.

Avoiding Kinks

The foundation is also hooking up with the Los Angeles School District’s Beyond The Bell program as consultants to make sure the program has as few kinks as possible. A portable skatepark is being built for each of the eleven school districts in L.A. Twice a week, after school, the park’s obstacles will be unlocked and kids, any kids-students or not-are allowed to skate in a safe, supervised area. If Beyond The Bell takes off, THF hopes to begin exporting the model to school districts all over the country.

THF is also creating a package to help municipalities properly build skateparks. The package includes a park outline with basic guidelines and suggestions for avoiding common screwups that can hobble even the most well-intentioned effort. If there are no qualified skatepark designers and builders nearby, the foundation has a list of nonaffiliated experts. Steve says that this package will soon be up on the THF Web site for anybody to check out.

The Future

“I would like to see us get to a point where we can fund entire parks,” Tony says. “Right now we can only help get them started, but it’s a significant step to getting them built.”

The majority of the foundation’s money comes from Tony donating all of his appearance fees, as well as other gifts from Hot Bites and Activision. A percentage of Hawk Clothing’s sales are also earmarked for THF.

But what if they begin to have a surplus of money and can set aside that all-important nest egg to ensure that THF is around in decades to come? “Over the years, if we save enough money to become a traditional foundation, and if the need for skateparks starts to dwindle, we may change our focus,” says Steve. “Foundations need to be pliable.”

For the moment, though, THF is busy helping communities realize their dreams of building quality skateparks. The need is immediate, and THF has responded by jumping right into the mix. That may not be the way most foundations launch, but then helping build skateboarding at the grassroots level isn’t your typical cause.THF sidebar
Success Story

Skate dad Brad Durasa of Algonac, Michigan helped his son fill out an application last fall, and their city’s park became the first Tony Hawk Foundation grant recipient. The following is an interview with Brad.

How did you hear about the Tony Hawk Foundation?

We heard about the Tony Hawk Foundation from the person who handles the liability insurance for our city. We have filled out four or five other grant applications. If the grant was from someone like a bank, the application sounded like it was written by an accountant. Grants from the government were in lawyer language. The Tony Hawk Foundation grant was written in skater language.

How did the grant help your cause?

Tremendously! Parents and kids had been working hard for almost nine months. We did a car wash, T-shirt sale, cookie-dough sale, and a flower-bulb sale. During our summer carnival, kids carried a sign that said “Let’s Build A Skatepark!” and collected donations in a plastic jug. We had a “Name The Skatepark” contest. At the rate we were going, it was still going to take four years to get this done. The work we had done was like planting a seed.

In January we made a presentation to the St. Clair County Department Of Parks And Recreation. They were impressed by what we had done before we came to them. Other communities come to them asking for dollars without putting a little sweat into it themselves. They explained that because of their bylaws there was no way to help us at that time. They did say that if we got a grant, they might be able to match it. Without the outstanding effort of parents and kids, we would not have caught the attention of the Tony Hawk Foundation.

Without the Tony Hawk Foundation we would not be able to go to the county for matching funds. With our efforts and the recognition of the Tony Hawk Foundation, we were able to convince a neighboring township to contribute. I was (visiting) in the middle school when they announced the grant over the P.A. system. You could hear the cheers coming from all over the school.government were in lawyer language. The Tony Hawk Foundation grant was written in skater language.

How did the grant help your cause?

Tremendously! Parents and kids had been working hard for almost nine months. We did a car wash, T-shirt sale, cookie-dough sale, and a flower-bulb sale. During our summer carnival, kids carried a sign that said “Let’s Build A Skatepark!” and collected donations in a plastic jug. We had a “Name The Skatepark” contest. At the rate we were going, it was still going to take four years to get this done. The work we had done was like planting a seed.

In January we made a presentation to the St. Clair County Department Of Parks And Recreation. They were impressed by what we had done before we came to them. Other communities come to them asking for dollars without putting a little sweat into it themselves. They explained that because of their bylaws there was no way to help us at that time. They did say that if we got a grant, they might be able to match it. Without the outstanding effort of parents and kids, we would not have caught the attention of the Tony Hawk Foundation.

Without the Tony Hawk Foundation we would not be able to go to the county for matching funds. With our efforts and the recognition of the Tony Hawk Foundation, we were able to convince a neighboring township to contribute. I was (visiting) in the middle school when they announced the grant over the P.A. system. You could hear the cheers coming from all over the school.