Skateboards Close the Learning Gap for Teens

What do you get when you assemble a small group of creatives who want to give back to teens? Project LOOP. Started by photographer Brent Humphreys and run by a board of internationally recognized designers, artists and musicians, this nonprofit has gone from mentoring teens in Taylor, Texas, to a nationwide movement that is bringing a much-needed skate park to a small Texas town.

“Brent Humphreys started Project LOOP to help close a gap in creative learning for kids in his hometown of Taylor,” says designer and Project LOOP board member Geoff Peveto. “He recognized there were some good kids in Taylor who didn’t have any direction. He also knew the value of a mentor from his own experiences as a young photographer.”

LOOP, which stands for Lessons On and Off the Playground, engages youth who wouldn’t otherwise have creative outlets or mentors to facilitate the hands-on learning that budding creatives need. The program teaches camaraderie, teamwork, communication skills and other life lessons.

The organization, founded in 2011, offers its young participants ways to learn about and give back to the community. You might find the kids creating an art installation for the town’s animal shelter or touring a small-batch coffee roaster in neighboring Austin.

But the skateboard is what binds this group of professionals and teens. It is what kept Brent out of trouble when he was young, and it is what keeps these kids tethered to Project LOOP, which holds workshops on creating and designing skateboards.

A Future Through Art

While traditional extracurricular activities like athletics are great diversions for energetic teens, they’re not the right fit for all kids. Some, for example, prefer to get their exercise with a skateboard or BMX bike. In some places, kids who skate or ride are stigmatized or labeled. The same thing can happen to kids who focus on creative pursuits.

“I grew up in a very small, rural town called Orlando, Oklahoma,” Geoff says. “And I know first-hand that if you are left alone with little direction and nothing to do, odds are you are going to get into trouble. I also had little access to any creative outlet. What I learned I had to seek out myself.”

The nonprofit has been a boon for teens and attracted enthusiastic mentors and other adult supporters.

“They all have the common thread of wanting to be artists when it wasn’t the cool thing to be in school,” Geoff says. “A huge majority of them grew up skating, so they have felt the stigma of being labeled a punk kid and getting hassled by misguided authority.”

Geoff believes that kids exposed to art, music and design as early as possible will retain that appreciation for the rest of their lives. And he remembers that his mom, an educator, had a framed American flag with the inscription “Education is Freedom.”

“A creative mind is a healthy mind,” Geoff says. “A creative mind is a growing mind; a creative mind is an enlightened mind.”

Next Up: A New Skate Park

With a population of just over 16,000, Taylor doesn’t have a community recreation center. So in 2013, Project LOOP held its first 50/50 event to raise money for a skate park within the town’s borders. The idea was to ask 50 creatives who had some involvement in skateboarding to customize 50 blank skateboards, which would then be auctioned off. This first auction, held online and kicked off with an Austin gallery launch party, ended up with over 100 creatives participating.

“For the second show, we added even more,” Geoff says. “All told, we’ve auctioned over 250 one-of-a-kind works and raised nearly $80,000. This is a huge step toward building the park, and the kids of LOOP have been fully involved.”

Geoff adds: “It’s not just the funding that’s important. These kids hand-wrote letters to the artists asking for support, many of whom wrote back — including Michael Stipe. Just imagine the significance of that when you’re a 14-year-old living in a small, rural town. Your world just expanded greatly.”

Project LOOP just wrapped 50/50.3, and the town’s skate park is becoming a reality thanks to Brent, board members like Geoff and the kids of Project LOOP — who’ll have a new place to be their authentic selves.

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