As a teacher, Brit Oliphant is always looking for ways to connect with her students.
She teaches fourth grade at Kula Elementary School on Maui, Hawaii. She grew up in Southern California, where surfing and skateboarding were her favorite ways to pass the time. This hobby turned out to be the perfect way to bond with a shy student named Seth.
Seth was a lovely boy, but Brit couldn’t figure out what made him tick. One day, by chance, she decided to show her students a video of skateboarders tackling a ramp at pro skateboarder Tony Hawk’s camp. When she glanced at Seth, she saw his whole face lit up with joy. She had found something that excited her!
She and Seth bonded over their shared love of skateboarding, but when she asked if he’d like to join her at a skatepark, the boy’s face fell. Embarrassed, he told her he didn’t own a skateboard.
Brit felt bad. Many of his students come from low-income households where expensive sports equipment is simply not in the budget.
“It just didn’t cross my mind that he could love skateboarding so much and, you know, skateboarding being the light of his life and [he doesn’t have] his,” Brit said. “If your parents work three jobs so they can pay rent, of course they won’t have time to take you to the skate park or, you know, take you surfing, let alone buy you that surfboard at $400 or $200 skateboard.”
Brit returned home to Encinitas, California for spring break. She was hanging out with some of her old skater friends when she told pro Zach Miller, one of her best friends, about Seth. Zach was so moved that he immediately pulled out an old skateboard for Brit to pass on to Seth. He also gave her a signed pro-model board to hang as a decoration in her bedroom.
He wrote a personal note for Seth that read, “It’s amazing where skateboarding can take you in the world. Skating will make you feel better in the hard times and make the good times even better! Never be afraid of other skaters either, we are one family!
Zach’s gift inspired Brit, who began to think of ways to use other athletes’ gear to donate to kids who couldn’t afford to buy gear. She focused on skateboarding and surfing, and all the gear that goes with it, like knee pads, helmets, and more. Zach agreed to help collect the goods in California and ship them to Hawaii for distribution by Brit and her boyfriend, Nic Hibdige.
They call their local effort Boards 4 Buddies. All of the organizers believe that providing children with the tools they need will help them lead happier, healthier lives.
“Skateboarding can be super-therapeutic, and it can be escapist,” Zach explained. “It gives you an outlet that requires very little money, very few resources, and it’s all up to you. You don’t need a team. You don’t need a field. Once you have a skateboard, you’re good to go. You can physically transport yourself.
In about three months, Brit, Zach and Nic distributed over 50 surfboards and skateboards to underprivileged children. Brit and Nic sometimes take short plane trips to neighboring islands to bring these items to children in remote locations. Seeing the joy on their faces makes all the work interesting!
“I was so happy to see how thrilled they were when we walked into the school with all the guidance,” Nic said. “All credit goes to Brit, though. She’s an amazing teacher and person, and seeing her help kids in and out of school inspires me.
Boards 4 Buddies is another way Brit is improving the lives of her students. She hopes they’ll develop social skills and learn a valuable life lesson: sometimes you fall.
“I think it’s like the best social-emotional learning you can give a kid,” Brit said. “Like falling down, getting up, trying again, helping others and just skating and having fun, you know. It’s something that’s really hard to teach through, like a picture book or a socio-emotional lesson.
Brit has applied for non-profit status for Boards 4 Buddies, and she hopes to take the initiative nationally. Way to get off the beaten track!
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