Chrys Worley, founder of A.Skate Foundation, (originally called Concrete Cures) started working with Autistic children to help introduce them to skateboarding back in 2008. Since then, the nonprofit organization has grown from Worley and Birmingham, Alabama’s Faith Skate Shop Owner Peter Karvonen holding local clinics in surrounding communities, to an outpouring of support from a solid network of skate shops, brands and families across the country.
Last November, A.Skate held its first-ever Southern California clinic at pro skater Ryan Sheckler’s private skatepark in San Clemente, with support from the Sheckler family and Corona Del Mar boutique brand Upper Class. More than 20 volunteers turned out to help, including professional skaters Chad Bartie and Fabrizio Santos, and Bern donated helmets for the clinic.
Next month, A.Skate is gearing up to return to the West Coast for an art fundraiser and a special clinic on April 2 in honor of World Autism Day and the launch of etnies and Autism Speaks’ collaboration shoe. We caught up with Worley to discuss the continued growth of the organization and the recent release of A.Skate’s collaboration skate deck with Zoo York, “Strength Through Struggle.”
How does the process of learning to skateboard help children with Autism?
Skateboarding seems to target some of the same areas of this disability that some therapists work hard to target as well. We have found that the kids who participate in our clinics are more verbal, social, and calm; have excellent eye contact, and follow directions very well according to the feedback we receive from their parents. We have given hundreds of skateboards to kids through our grant program. Many parents have contacted us stating that they now use skateboarding as a daily therapy for their children. One mom recently sent us a photo of her sons ABA therapist (ABA: Applied Behavioral Analysis) and her son at a skatepark skating to “chill” him out before his ABA session began. They report that her son’s attention and response to the ABA therapy is much better after he has had a short skateboarding session. As parents, we strive to connect with our children, and for many of us we are able to connect with them through skateboarding.
How did the collaboration with Zoo York get started?
We were in need of guys to come out and help skate with the kids at a clinic we had at LES park (Coleman Park) in New York City this past September and Ben brought the entire Zoo York team. Autism is a disorder that not everyone understands and is comfortable with when it comes to reaching out and trying to connect with a child that may not speak, act as if he doesn’t hear you, may not follow directions, and possibly never looks you in the eye. Every single guy from the Zoo York team made the extra effort to really connect with all of the children. My heart was overwhelmed watching it all happen. The next week I received emails about their experience and to process how touched they were made me realize that what we are trying to accomplish is real and happening.
I have juggled the idea of partnering with a skate brand for a collab deck for sometime now and I just wasn’t sure about it until Seamus [Deegan, Zoo York brand manager] and I spoke. I can honestly say I believe the collaboration is very special and meaningful because this is a deck made and promoted by a brand that has been touched by, and experienced hands-on the difference skateboarding makes in children with autism. The have allowed a local New York graphic designer, Brian DiNonno, who has a daughter with autism, to be a part of the graphic design. I’m really excited that Zoo York has chosen us for this project. This is the beginning of many great things for A.skate.
Tell us a little more about the 1 In 91 Silent Auction art benefit you are hosting in Venice.
We have an annual “1 in 91” art benefit because 1 in 91 children is now diagnosed with autism. That represents the amount of art that will be up for auction. We have collected 91 pieces of artwork--of all kinds. So far we have pieces from Mark Gonzalez, Todd Francis, Lucas Musgrave, and several others, and will feature a special viewing of the photography of Bruce Hall. Proceeds will benefit A.Skate’s clinics.
Have you been working with any other brands or retailers within the industry and what sort of reaction have you been receiving from the industry as a whole since the organization first took off a few years ago?
When I officially made A.skate a non profit this last April  it quickly took off and we received so much support from so many people in the industry. Some of the first were Skate One and DLX. Elliott at Skate One sent product to help supply us with more gear to hold bigger clinics. Jim at DLX, well, I can’t say enough about that guy. He supports us on his website, sends product, he even held Twitter contests for us giving out product so that people would vote for us when we were in the running for the Pepsi Refresh Everything project. We didn’t win but came very close thanks to Jim! One day we plan to bring A.skate to DLX in San Francisco. We have also received large product donations from Loaded Skateboards, Original, S-1, and Eastern to use at our clinics. Now we have good, safe gear to use for children of all shapes and sizes. Everything is working out beautifully.
How do you plan to keep expanding the organization and branching out to other regions? What future events do you have planned?
Funding is the key to everything that we do. Along with traveling costs and the cost to hold the clinics, there are also things like legal fees, taxes, cost of shipping skate gear when we travel out of state, sometimes permits and insurance that has to be purchased to hold the events. It’s really great when a community is able to join together and hold a small fundraiser to help bring us out. We want to go everywhere, we really do. We are growing fast but funding isn’t keeping up with the needs and requests.
The heart of skateboarding is in the small local core shops and that’s who we rely on for help. Without help from local core shops our skate clinics would not be a reality because we would not have the community involved helping. The skate community is core shops. So far in every city we have been to, it has been the local skate shops who have helped promote what we are doing and provide the volunteers needed to make it a success. We need to always remember to keep the little guys [local skate shops] in mind as our children with autism are also the “little guys” and are often overlooked, as well.