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Interview with Bridge to Skate founder Chantelle Heroux
Bordered by Nicaragua , Guatemala, El Salvador and two gulfs is the Republic of Honduras. Considered one of the world's poorest nations, an estimated 7,212,000 people live there. The population is spread out over 43,433 square miles in small villages and communities, many only accessible by worn footpaths through an unforgiving terrain. It is in a region of Central America known for fresh water sharks, agricultural products, Mayan ruins, political unrest and now, skateboarding.
Sure, at first it sounds like an unlikely place to find skateboarders, but then again you and I are not looking at it through the eyes of Bridge To Skate founder Chantelle Heroux. A long-time skateboarder and all-around do gooder, Heroux sees things from atop of her skateboard that others may not. And she is hoping to take her vision and use it to change the quality of life for the children of Honduras one skateboard at a time. I was able to catch up with her this week for an interview and she graciously gave me a glimpse of the world through her eyes. Here's what she had to say about skateboarding and how she combines her passion for the sport and the children of Central America in the hopes of making the world a better place.
Gonzalez: How long have you been skateboarding and what are some of your favorite skateboarding spots?
Heroux: Wow, I guess I've been skateboarding for at least eleven or twelve years. As for my favorite skate spot - it's definitely the skateboard park Bridge To Skate built in a small mountain village named Perlas de Oriente in Honduras! All of the kids are shocked when I'm able to do anything and are rolling on the ground laughing when I fall. It doesn't get much better than that.
Gonzalez: In your opinion, how has skateboarding changed since you first picked up a board?
Heroux: I think it's actually changed quite a bit. When I was growing up, nobody skated to become a pro skateboarder. We skated to skate. I'm not saying it's not like that anymore because I'm sure this is still the case with many people. But, it's hard for me to think it's the same when I meet parents that have their children in skateboarding training programs and X-Game champions are landing the cover of the Rolling Stones.
Gonzalez: What is your preferred skateboard set-up?
Heroux: Preferably, I'd be riding a 7.62 with new wheels and bearings, and the same trucks I've been using for the last year. They're perfect.
Gonzalez: What inspired you to found Bridge To Skate and what is its mission?
Heroux: I volunteered for a non-profit in Nicaragua in the past and promised myself that when I got my act together, that I would give back. Bridge To Skate is the response to my promise. While working in Nicaragua, I was constantly exposed to the roles of non-profits in the area. Generally speaking, all non-profits are doing amazing things. However, in an area that has so much need, it's hard to focus on children. With soccer being the only option for kids, what happens to the children that aren't good at soccer? Personally, I wasn't good at soccer when I was younger. In fact, I was cut from my middle-school team. I became a confident person from art, skateboarding, wakeboarding, etc. I decided to make it my focus to fill in the void that all the other non-profits were missing and provide more options for children, as well as fun. Every child deserves a childhood and what's a childhood without a swing set? Without art? Without a skateboard? Our mission exemplifies those beliefs- "Bridge To Skate is a 501(c)(3) public charity that uses skateboarding and play to aid in the creation of life skills, promotion of health, fostering of peace and education of cultural differences internationally."
Gonzalez: Why Honduras and why the communities of Trojes and Danli? Please tell us about those skate communities and what motivated Bridge to Skate to provide assistance in those areas first? What other areas are you hoping to expand to in the future?
Heroux: Other than seeing a handful of kids with skateboards in major cities, I haven't found much of a skateboard scene in Honduras. As far as I know, we built one of the first skateboard parks in Honduras, if not the first. We really are trying to focus on providing opportunities to areas and children that wouldn't get them without our help. Lately, Honduras has had a lot of struggles. Besides the Roatan area, it's a country that has been lost in the travel books and destination guides. With safer and similarly poor neighboring countries, Honduras isn't even a popular destination country for non-profits. If non-profit organizations even make it to Honduras, they generally aren't venturing far from the major cities. We're working in areas that sometimes only have a hiking trail to them. If we don't bring these kids skateboard parks, playgrounds and art, it's likely nobody will. Overtime, we plan to expand outside of Central America. Our next focus area will probably be in East Africa and/ or Haiti.
Gonzalez: Please talk a little bit about Bridge to Skate's skateboard sponsorship program. What is it and how may skateboarders provide support?
Heroux: We've started a skateboard sponsorship program that supports children that we feel would be a good recipient of a skateboard. Often these kids are from low socio-economic communities and could be considered 'at-risk' youth. Whatever their labels are, we give them a skateboard because we think it could brighten their life. For many kids, when given a skateboard, the area they live in can be their skateboard park. The skateboard will give children a way to grieve, a form of transportation, entertainment, creativity and hopefully, friends. Every skateboarder understands the power of a skateboard. We've given skateboards to probably over 80 kids through our individual skateboard sponsorship program in the United States. Some of these kids we've met individually and we still work with one-on-one. Others, we've never met, but hear stories about. We also have people giving skateboards away in our name. We just received an e-mail from a man in the UK who had a bunch of old skateboards he wanted to send us and we recommended he find children to give to there, instead. We hope we get more e-mails like that.
We also have been working with a handful of community centers to outfit them with skateboards to have on a 'loan-basis'. We want children to be able to 'check-out' skateboards like they can 'check-out' library books. Right now, we're working with the WLCAC in Watts, California. The Tony Hawk Foundation built an amazing skateboard park there, but many of the children don't have skateboards. The kids there have been impressively good at sharing, but we're currently trying to collect skateboard equipment donations to provide to the center to loan out each day. For children that have never tried skateboarding, but want to, this has proven to be a great way to get more individuals involved at no cost!
Gonzalez: Do you have any amateur or pro skateboarders on tap to help with Bridge to Skate's skateboarding clinics? If so, who are they and what specifically are they doing to help?
Heroux: We actually don't have any pro-skateboarders helping with our clinics, yet. A lot of our clinics are very grass-roots in that we take the best skateboarders from the area, bribe them with smiles and give them the task of helping the beginners. It's really cool because it helps create a really tight-knit family of skateboarders in the community. This format also ensures that the clinic continues long past its end.
Gonzalez: How many skateparks is Bridge to Skate hoping to build each year?
Heroux: I would like to complete at least one construction project a year. This year, our focus project is to complete the skateboard park, playground and school in Trojes, Honduras.
Gonzalez: Has the reaction Bridge to Skate has gotten from the skateboarding community been what you had hoped?
Heroux: Yes and no. What we've been able to do at a grass-roots level is amazing. Most of the skateboards that we've given away in our skateboard sponsorship program and to the children in Central America are from donated skateboard parts either collected at our events, or given to us from individuals who believe in our cause. We have had some support from the industry, generally from the smaller companies, but I'd like to have more.
Gonzalez: What has been your most memorable Bridge to Skate moment?
Heroux: Gosh, these are happening every day. However, I think teaching children who have never seen a skateboard in their lives, how to skateboard is a pretty insane feeling. The first time I did it, wow. I'll never forget that.
Gonzalez: In your opinion, why is it important to provide sports opportunities to at risk and low-income youth in other countries? What benefits does skateboarding provide them that other activities may not?
Heroux: I think it's just as important to provide sports opportunities to at risk youth in other countries as it is in our own. In the case we're dealing with now, it's really about just providing opportunities. Without any options, how are the kids that aren't good at soccer (the only activity option really available in Central America) supposed to become successful and confident in anything that they do? Often the kids who really excel in skateboarding aren't the typical "team-sport superstars." Relatively speaking, skateboarding really doesn't require much to pass on. But, it can be life-changing to a child who has nothing.
Gonzalez: How have the recession and the recent downgrading of America's credit rating affected Bridge to Skate and what are you doing differently, if anything, to counter the effects?
Heroux: For us, it hasn't really changed anything. Obviously, if the economy was better, we may receive more support. However, we're very crafty with what we have and we truly use all of our resources to get things we need. As I was saying earlier, most of our skateboard equipment comes in donations from people who have extra. A lot of our competition trophies are handmade. Old skateboard decks that can no longer be used are recycled into art. Our art is sold to raise money for the construction of skateboard parks and playgrounds. It'd be great to have unlimited access to everything we need, but I think we really take advantage of what we have right now instead of comparing ourselves to other organizations or thinking about the what ifs.
Gonzalez: What has been the most challenging task you have ever undertaken with Bridge to Skate and how did you approach it?
Heroux: I feel like we're constantly facing tasks with Bridge To Skate, and each one has to be approached differently. However, remaining focused is probably our biggest challenge. When we travel to third world countries and people realize we want to help, they're quick to show you what they think you should do. It's hard to say no to medical centers, schools and homes. But sometimes you have to. This is the worst!
Gonzalez: What person do you most admire (living or dead) and why?
Heroux: Wow, this is an extremely difficult question because I've always looked up to people like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi . I'm also constantly meeting local heroes like George Sichelstiel and John Jones. But, the person I most admire is probably my mother, Maureen Heroux. She's an adventurer, philanthropist and teacher. She always has a smile on her face and a positive outlook in her horizon. She's been supportive of even my most insane ideas and an inspiration to some of them. I'm constantly learning from her and can only hope that someday I'll be as wise and considerate as she is.
Gonzalez: If you could only be remembered for one thing what would it be and why?
Heroux: I would probably want to be remembered for my positive attitude and attempt to make a change in the world. I have put so much effort into giving children opportunities and I hope they'll remember what I gave them and pass it forward in the future. Being brought up in the United States we are given an option to do great things, I hope I am able to embrace that as much as possible and inspire others as I've been inspired.
My children are skateboarders and I have a history of following the sport.
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