Catching Up With: Crystal Worley Of Concrete Cures

When Crystal Worley realized two years ago that skateboarding gave her autistic son Sasha, 7, an outlet to get involved with his peers, she began work on an organization dedicated to connecting children with autism and the sport. Today, with help from Birmingham, Alabama’s Faith Skate Shop Owner Peter Karvonen, Worley is conveying that message through Concrete Cures. We caught up with Worley at Surf Expo and followed up with her to find out what the organization has planned for the future and how people can get involved.

Concrete Cures' Crystal Worley and husband Peter Karvonen, owner of Faith Skate Shop
Concrete Cures' Crystal Worley and husband Peter Karvonen, owner of Faith Skate Shop

How long has Concrete Cures been around?

Peter and I have been working on the idea of a non profit that helps build a skatepark with purpose now for 2 years. That purpose being how we can help children like my son become active and social and let it be on their own terms. A local Birmingham dad, Chad Johnson,  who is active and supportive of his kids skateboarding, joined in and helped us make it a reality. We just gained non profit 501-C3 status 3 months ago.

What kind of feedback from the local community have you received?

[We’ve received] tons of support and interest. It seems that everyone we talk to has some connection to autism. According to the National Autism Association, one in 91 children are now diagnosed with autism, with one in 58 of those being boys. It seems that everyone has a nephew, niece, son, daughter, cousin or what have you that has autism. With that being said, everybody wants to help or support our efforts, and with such a unique idea such as “skateboarding and autism” it is very intriguing to people. Between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, there are three major Autism treatment and schooling centers that services children from ages three and up. There is a demand for a social activity within our autism community and we want to have the ability to service the demand. Right now we are just trying to gather proper equipment to hold successful and safe skate clinics on a larger scale and be able to service more children.

Crystal Worley's children Fallon and Sasha
Crystal Worley's children Fallon and Sasha

What was the moment when you realized that skateboarding could help your son with his autism?

There were a few months during 2008 when I would take Sasha (my son) for Hyperbaric therapy everyday. We would go twice a day for treatment and have about three hours in between sessions every time. We would go to a nearby park which happened to have a small prefabricated skatepark in it. He was instantly drawn to skateboarding and running all over the ramps. Being that the park was pretty much empty during this time of the day he would use other kids boards to roll around and have fun with no pressure. After watching him and watching other kids skate, too, I realized that there is really no wrong way to skate. As long as he was having fun, then he was doing it just right in my mind.

Looking back at his early occupational therapy treatments, which started when he was fifteen months old, I remember the therapist had a small square plastic seat that rolled around on four wheels called a scooter board. Sasha could not communicate at that point but he was always seeking the need to get on that square seat that sat only four inches off the ground and roll around. It was some type of Occupational Therapy toy that helped children use their motor skills and build their low muscle tone by scooting around the room. To me, it’s ironic that although it wasn’t a skateboard he was that much into the feel of the flow at that young of an age.

What is Concrete Cures’ relationship with Surfers Healing?

We are avid supporters and advocates of Surfers Healing. I guess you could say we have a working relationship with them, but more on the individual side. We have been a part of their events, spoken with countless people about them, and have held fundraisers for them. In the future, we hope to work with Surfers Healing more and any others that would like to contribute. Surfers Healing is like a role model for us and what we are doing so we choose to include them in fundraisers we do, because we believe in what they do. We have bonded with and made lifelong friendships with other families through the Surfers Healing camps that we have attended and will forever continue to support what Izzy and his crew do for our children.

How can people get involved in and support the cause?

We are having a benefit art fundraiseron Friday March 5th at Urban Standard, 2320 2nd Ave North, Birmingham, Alabama, which is next door to Faith Skate Supply. We welcome any involvement from anyone willing to support the cause and donate their time, art, money etc… Artist wanting to get involved can go to www.sashasrecovery.com and click on the art benefit tab or direct contact at ChrisaWorley@yahoo.com This fundraiser is to support Surfers Healing and Concrete Cures. Our goal is to receive 91 pieces of art to represent that 1 in 91 children have autism. We are far from meeting our goal and need more people to get involved, this includes children and adults with autism who would like to submit a piece of art! Whatever pieces do not sell we will create an online store. Go to www.concretecures.org for updates after the benefit has come and gone.

What are your future plans for Concrete Cures?

Of course we would love to see this grow as big as possible. The more awareness we can raise about Autism the better. For now we are thinking locally, but we definitely hope to grow nationally.

One thing that we have to keep in mind is that parents are trusting us with their special needs children. In order to grow we have to do a lot of networking and find the right people to help get involved. Parents want to know that their children are safe and being taught by trusted professionals. Locally we have that network. Eventually one day our network will grow larger.

Have any skate companies got involved in the organization?

We have great relationships with many of the skate industry’s best brands. Right now we are focused on letting all of them know that we are here, our hearts and efforts are in it for the right reasons, and that their support is needed. We are getting pieces of art donated by some amazing artists that work amongst the brands right now for our Art for Autism benefit.

In order to provide the children with helmets, boards, pads, and such we will eventually need corporate sponsors but as of right now, no we do not have any official corporate sponsorships. We want to approach the skateboarding industry and show them that the seed has been planted. We now need their help for this to grow and be successful.

Fallon and Sasha skate with other children

What kind of success stories have you seen with the children you are working with under Concrete Cures?

Skateboarding is an outlet for children who are lacking social skills. I have met so many local parents who have tried to get a disabled soccer team or Tee ball team put together and it falls through. Some of our children just can’t do it. Skateboarding has given many kids their own identity and a sport that they can excel at without standard rules, without ridicule, and with the ability to do it at their own pace.

My son Sasha is so obsessive compulsive that he will play video games and specifically watch the foot positioning of the skaters and try to mimic that on our ramp in the back yard. He will parallel play with other children but will not usually join in play with other children. He is prefectly happy receiving help from an adult as far as lessons go but he does not necessarily like to “hang out” with other kids and skate. He is a loner like many of these kids are and its good to take these kids and allow them to be around other children like themselves doing something they have control over.

Any time we raise awareness, that is a success story.

Once Birmingham has a public skatepark built we plan to hold as many fundraisers as we can to build a designated area for disabled individuals. This is not to separate them from typical people, it is to give them the option to have their own area to do whatever they want. If disabled individuals want to skate the public part of the park they can. For parents who want an area that is less crowded and more chill for their kids that’s where the segregated part of the park comes in. This is also where we will hold the free skate clinics and private lessons for children with autism. We will be able to host events and fundraisers for other foundations and raise more awareness. For now we are using a park that is about 45 minutes outside of the Birmingham area.