Ryan Lay is one of the good ones and I’m not just talking about on a skateboard. He’s using his talents on and off the board to give back to his local community while balancing a pro career that could easily make anyone focus on nothing else. But Ryan is not going that route, he’s taking the time to try and make a difference. Here’s how he’s doing it. —JAIME OWENS
Give me the background of the Skate After School program you co-founded with Timothy Ward and Bobby Green? When, why?
We started the program five years ago with a desire to do something constructive with our time to benefit the community. It initially started with Tim just donating boards to a local community center and then evolved into us teaching the kids how to skate and then eventually branching out to a local elementary school.
Had you done any kind of charity work prior to this undertaking?
No, not at all. I think I spent a lot of time wanting to do something but all of it ultimately felt self- serving. I think I had talked to Jack Sabback when I was living in NY about going to Skateistan and he kind of made a point that stuck with me which was essentially, “Why do you need to go all the way to Afghanistan to work with kids? There are kids right here you could help.” Aside from that, this whole thing evolved from a community project, so the whole experience of building it into a non-profit has been an exciting and challenging process.
How much time are you able to devote to it?
Tim is full-time running all the programs and managing the volunteers. I work part-time and handle most of the administrative stuff, (contracts, insurance, etc.) as well as fundraising, marketing and working with our board of directors.
I met Timothy at an ASkate event a few years back. Did you guys take anything you learned from their events and try to translate them into what you’re doing? Or were there any other inspirations for making this happen?
Yeah, we definitely have drawn inspiration from them as far as how they’ve scaled their operation and built a brand out of their program. In addition to ASkate, a few other organizations come to mind: NextUp Foundation, Skate Like A Girl, SkateQilya are all rad organizations we’re friends with and who inspire us daily!
There are even some refugee kids I saw in the promotional video?
Yeah—one of the schools we work with, Crockett Elementary, has a lot of refugee students. Most of them are from Africa or the Middle East, but we’ve really got kids from all over the world. The cultural diversity really brings a richness to the program and benefits everyone involved, from the volunteers to the kids.
What kind of impact have you seen it have on the kids?
We’ve seen a huge impact in the communities we work with. Some of the kids end up turning into skaters, which was never our goal but nonetheless rad to see. Beyond anything, participating in an afterschool program like SAS gives them a unique identity as well as a little community to belong to. We’ve seen attendance and behavioral outcomes improve, but most of all we’ve consistently seen improvements in confidence and self-esteem. I think one thing we all know is that skating is tough and teaches you to form a special relationship with failure. In that relationship you grow as a person and learn how to navigate the challenges life throws at you.
What’s the best lesson you’ve personally learned by doing this?
The best lesson I’ve learned these last few years is that public schools are the life force of our communities and we’d all be wise to strengthen them as much as possible. Volunteer at a local school, start a program, give a tax-credit donation, join your school board!
What do you need most of in forms of donations, money or equipment?
We are usually pretty stocked with equipment but can always use helmets and/or trucks. Donating a few bucks or becoming a sustaining monthly member is the best way to support our program. If you live in the Phoenix area, come volunteer! If you don’t, hit us up at skateafterschool.org and we can give you a rundown on how to start your own program.
Why do you think skateboarding is so powerful with helping the youth?
Skateboarding rules because it’s right at the intersection of sport and art form. You don’t need a team to participate but at the same time it’s a great way to build community. It’s affordable, offers literally endless hours of challenge and reward, and is probably one of the best tools to get around your neighborhood.
Learn more about Skate After School right here: skateafterschool.org/