As a teacher, Brit Oliphant is always looking for ways to connect with her students.
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She teaches fourth grade at Kula Elementary School on the island of 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 sweet kid, but Brit couldn’t quite figure out what made him tick. One day, by chance, she decided to show her students a video of skaters tackling a ramp at professional skateboarder Tony Hawk’s camp. When she glanced at Seth, she saw that his entire face was aglow with delight. She had found something that got him excited!
She and Seth bonded over their shared love of skateboarding, but when she asked him if he’d like to join her at a skatepark, the boy’s face fell. Embarrassed, he told her that he doesn’t own a skateboard.
Brit felt awful. Many of her students come from low-income households where an expensive piece of sports equipment just isn’t in the budget.
“It just didn’t cross my mind that he could love skateboarding so much and, you know, have skateboarding be the light of his life and [he doesn’t have] his own,” Brit said. “If your parents are working three jobs to be able to pay rent, of course they’re not going to have time to take you to skate park or, you know, take you surfing, or let alone buy you that $400 surfboard or $200 skateboard.”
Brit went home to Encinitas, California for spring break. She was hanging out with some of her old skateboarding pals when she told professional 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 pro-model board that he signed to hang as a decoration in his room.
He wrote a personal note for Seth that read: “It is amazing where skateboarding can take you in the world. Skating will make you feel better in hard times and make good times even better! Never be afraid of others skaters either, we are one family!”
Zach’s gift inspired Brit, who started brainstorming ways to get used equipment from other athletes to give it to kids who can’t afford gear. She focused on skateboarding and surfing, plus all of the equipment that goes with it, like kneepads, helmets, and more. Zach agreed to help her gather the goods in California and ship them to Hawaii to be distributed by Brit and her boyfriend, Nic Hibdige.
They’re calling their grassroots 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 an escape,” Zach explained. “It gives you an outlet that requires very little money, very little resources, and it’s all to you. You don’t need a team. You don’t need a field. Once you have a skateboard, you’re good. You can physically transport yourself.”
In about three months, Brit, Zach, and Nic have distributed over 50 surfboards and skateboards to underprivileged kids. Brit and Nic sometimes take small airplane rides to neighboring islands to get these items to kids in far-flung places. Seeing the joy on their faces makes all of the work worthwhile!
“I was so happy to see how stoked they were when we went into the school with all the boards,” Nic said. “All the credit goes to Brit, though. She is an amazing teacher and person, and to see her helping kids in and out of school is inspiring to me.”
Boards 4 Buddies is another way that Brit hopes to transform her students’ lives for the better. She hopes they’ll develop social skills and learn a valuable life lesson: Sometimes you fall.
“I think that’s like the best social-emotional learning you could ever give a kid,” Brit said. “Just like, fall down, get up, try again, help others and just skate and have fun, you know. That’s something that’s really hard to teach through, like, a picture book or a social-emotional lesson.”
Brit has applied for non-profit status for Boards 4 Buddies, and she hopes to bring the initiative nationwide. Way to think outside the box!
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