Eighteen years ago, in 1994, a young snowboarder named Jay Bateman was tragically killed in a drug-related murder. Members of the snowboarding community took his passing as a call to action. They could no longer sit by while the youth around them grew up engaging in consumption and competition. With that moment of realization, a group of local activists decided to create an amazing program where the youth could come together to laugh, dream, think, and explore the true meaning of community.
The Service Board was born.
The Service Board (tSB) lives by six core principles:
* tSB believes fun, discovery and adventure are valuable and productive teaching tools.
* tSB seeks to harness and encourage the individual talents, strengths and abilities of all those involved with tSB – youth, mentors, staff and parents.
* tSB wants all participants to find their own distinctive voice and actively develops opportunities for speaking up — and listening.
* tSB reveres and nurtures the gifts of others and values treating all people with respect, dignity and compassion regardless of station or adversity in their lives.
* Breaking bread together and eating well are fundamental to tSB, and to a lifetime of health.
* tSB fervently believes in and supports the ability of youth to tackle challenging situations, to solve problems and to create a strong community built on social justice.
Located in West Seattle, I interviewed three inspiring and remarkable women who work for The Service Board. Ashley Miller, the fearless executive director, started working at tSB in 2006 as an administrative assistant. Over the past six years, she served as the in-house chef and Director of Development, and soon found herself in her position today. Anna Nguyen, born in the Philippines and raised in southern Seattle, first became involved in tSB in 2010, and today resides as the Outreach Coordinator and VISTA member. At only 19 years old, she is already a role model for women of all ages. Lace Lawrence started at tSB two month ago. She graduated from Washington State University and soon after dedicated her career to the non-profit world while helping coach women’s rugby. Only two months into her career at tSB, she can already see the impact on youth.
Q: Tell us about the origins of tSB in 1994, after the passing of Jay Bateman.
Ashley: The Service Board came out of the tragedy, losing a young man named Jay Bateman, who had been hanging out at the local snowboard shops and had built relationships with John Logic the owner, and other folks. As you know, the snowboarding community was much smaller back in 1994, they were still duct-taping their boots to the boards! He had built some relationships, and after he passed away, that community of adults that had known him, were shocked and came together. Thomas Goldstein, our founder, had been thinking about starting a mentoring program and it all fell into place. In those first early years, John Logic would just have the kids come and pick out their snowboarding gear from the shop. It was a much smaller group and throughout the years, we have grown a lot. We serve about 50 students a year now. The snowboarding program is the largest program we have now. This summer for the first time we are going skateboarding and we are really excited about that. We use skateboarding and snowboarding as a vehicle for kids to learn courage, and it makes them more humble. It also shows that with practice, they can get better at things and translates into a lot of different aspects in their lives. I think the other pieces of our program, the service learning projects, getting involved in your community, the mentoring – they build really strong long lasting relationships, and opportunities to develop relationships and learn about themselves and each other. It makes tSB really strong and our students are really amazing.
Q: Tell Miss A about your journey with tSB, how it began, where you are today.
Anna: Three years ago, I was 16 and a junior in high school. I was at a friend’s house and he had a friend over and that girl happened to be in tSB. She started telling me about tSB and how they give you all your community service hours in one year and that’s what I really needed. I signed up and I got really lucky and got in. I know there is always a huge line of people who want to get into tSB and they have to turn people away every year, so I got really lucky. I was a Prophet, which is a first year student in the program in 2010. The next year I became the media intern, doing some blogging and posting some photos and videos. This year I was hired and I’m working here as an AmeriCorps intern. This is a really awesome job and I love it.
Lace: My story’s not as cool as that, I’ve only been here about two months. I started working at non-profits right out of college through Washington State University’s foundation here in Seattle. I got into skiing when I came over here; my boyfriend’s a huge skier. When I left my job at WSU and took four or five months off and just skied and enjoyed the mountains. One of the interns that used to be here, Sarah, she is a rugby coach with me, and she told that this position was open and she knew that I was looking and I started learning what the program was about, the organization, and I got really excited. I started working here in development and admin. This organization is much smaller than the last one I worked at, and it’s been really exciting to see such an evident impact so quickly.
Ashley: I’ve been at tSB for six years. I actually started in 2006, as the administrative assistant. Because we are a small organization, another great example of being able to build leadership – after a couple of years when we had an executive director transition, at 24, I applied for the position. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I got hired, but they had a lot of faith in me. It’s been a hard time for non-profits, but we right now, I’m so happy to say that we are doing really well. We’ve made good decisions, our program is really strong and getting stronger. As an organization we are growing, not necessarily bigger, but better. I’ve had tremendous opportunities here, I did not know how to snowboard when I started working here, I didn’t care about it at all, I didn’t like the snow, but I learned alongside youth. I think that is a pretty common thing in our organization, giving people the opportunity to learn and when they are striving to keep pushing themselves to be better. I’m six years in now and feel pretty good!
Q: Tell me how you live out the six core principles of tSB?
Lace: I can speak to one of them. When I first applied for the job and was doing research, I got really excited about the principles and what they meant. The one I got the most excited about and I brought it up in my interview was breaking bread together. It’s a really unique principle for an organization to have, you don’t really see that kind of emphasis around food. When I went to my first program night, it was really exciting to see that actually play out. The youth along with mentors cooked food together. Usually it’s always really healthy and some of it is ethnically and culturally different food and they bring it out, and all the youth, mentors and guests eat for a bit together. It’s really fun and very family oriented. You see the kids yelling across the room, chatting, catching up and it very much reminded me of a big family dinner at my house growing up. That is one of the really cool parts, you grow as a community over food, and it’s really interesting that tSB thought about that, so that’s the one I like the best.
Ashley: It can be easy for people to think of tSB as just a snowboarding program, and while snowboarding is a reward, there are a lot of lessons on the mountain and there are a lot of lessons in the programming nights. Having the opportunities for students to talk about things that they are not talking about in the classrooms, sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, poverty, environmental justice, how to deal with the police, all those things, knowledge is power. There was a point last year, when we were doing some evaluations, trying to understand what our evaluations were telling us, we asked them and the beginning of the year, “Do you think that your school and your community supports you” and those scores were really high. At the end of the year, we asked the same question, and those scores dropped. We sat down with some students and they said so easily, “Ashley, that’s because you taught us about what’s really happening in our communities that we didn’t have language for before and now we understand how our communities can be better.” They start to learn through the service projects, through those deep relationships where they have opportunities to be really honest to tell their story and be heard by others to develop and understand across cultures. Our program is really diverse in every way. I really do believe that all high schoolers are at risk and there is just so much out there taking our time, with what’s out on the media, what’s in the streets, there is so much free time. It’s so hard for a kid to get a job these days. There are a lot of competing opportunities and not all of them are healthy for our students. We provide a space where they hear yes, where they hear they are good and that there is not anything wrong with them. All those things just build really strong young people who will become our next leaders or who already are.
Q: Talk more about your programs like Arts in Service, Peer Leaders, etc?
Ashley: So we have three main programs. The winter program is six months long from January through June. That’s the biggest program, students meet twice a week on weeknights, and they follow a curriculum of social justice, the job-life skills, there is art mixed into all of that, and finding new ways to share your voice. On Sundays, they are either going snowboarding or they are doing community service projects. The service is related back to the curriculum, for example, on the nights we talk about poverty, we then do a community service project at the food bank. If we are talking about environmental justice, then we partner with a group like the Nature Consortium and work in the greenbelt. There are also two retreats where they have space to build really strong relationships and we do these things called a heart circle which is a time for a lot of them to share their struggles. You know, we all put on this front where we are tough and strong and all good, but especially with the students, they have just gone through a lot and to have a space to share that is really powerful. At the end of the year, we have the students sit in a circle and everyone else tells them what is awesome about them. I just feel like we don’t spend enough time giving gratitude and acknowledging our talents and strengths, and hearing all the wonderful things about ourselves and the people in our lives and it’s a really beautiful thing. Then we can ask the kids, “What are you good at?” and they can answer that, because they know! That is our sixth month program. In the summertime, right now, we are in the midst of our arts and service program. We are working with Skate Like a Girl, for girls skateboarding for the first time. We combine the community service piece so they can get service hours, along with art and skateboarding. Right now we are skateboarding on Monday mornings from 10-12 p.m. and then in the afternoon, they do a community service project which is either at or around the skate park. We are all over the city, looking at different neighborhoods and communities, and woven through it we have storytelling – what is the narrative about our communities, about teenagers, skateboarders, communities of color, what do people think about those and what are real stories. They will be doing a documentary project to tell that story, and we are also trying to bring it out in different ways through DIY silk screening and make our own t-shirts, go glass blowing next week as well as muraling, poetry and weaving in art to find new and creative ways for positive expression. That is about 15 kids. The fall is the peer leader program, and that is the facilitation, leadership development training for a smaller group of 5-10 students who have gone through the program for one year and want to come back for a second year. They help plan the curriculum; they help choose the mentors, recruit students and choose who will be in the program, and help facilitate programming. They make decisions and really have a lot of leadership, it’s pretty phenomenal.
Q: Miss A is about empowering women. What does tSB mean to you as a woman?
Anna: tSB to me, as a woman, I think before I came in, I didn’t understand what to expect from relationships, not just like with my boyfriend, but with anybody. I didn’t know what healthy relationships looked like and feeling comfortable asking for what I needed when I needed it, accepting help. I think tSB empowers women, especially with Ashley running the whole show. tSB is just a big part of my life and Ashley has been my role model for so long. She’s helped me a lot. We have a really close relationship with all the mentors of tSB, we are very open and talk to each other about everything. I feel comfortable talking to mentors about the situations I’m going through. I’m learning to talk about it instead of holding it in.
Ashley: Being a teenager is hard and no matter what, it’s hard. You are being pulled in all different directions deciding who you are and who you want to be, being told who you should be, and how you should look and how you should act. I really think for our young women, we definitely give them more options, but I also think what’s really important is that the young men are learning along beside them about respect and expectations. I know personally, I was an athlete in high school, and I graduated and I thought that was the end of athletics for me, the end of sports. I didn’t think women did that, and I don’t know where I got that message or why I thought my mom wasn’t an athlete, but tSB pushed me to remember that “I can shred!” and now I play basketball again and I’m back in my body in a way I wasn’t for a few years in between because I just thought that was part of being a woman. Even on a program night, making sure we are setting norms, who is doing the dishes, who is setting out the food, it better not be only the women. We talk about that very openly, expectations of how to behave, what type of community do we want to see. We talk about gender and gender norms, its absolutely powerful to women as well as men.
Lace: I think for me at tSB, something that I really like is that you can look right now and the three of us are women and Khalil is the only guy in the office, which is pretty unique in really any business to have that. Our board is also incredibly female dominated and very diverse in age range and career paths. It’s really interesting to see so many women in the mix, especially on a board, you don’t normally see that. On program nights and with mentors, I think the diversity of the type of women that are attracted to this organization, the different personalities, so I feel like any girl or boy that is in the program are seeing so many different types of women that they are recognizing it’s not just one type of person, its all types. I also notice, that as women, in order to be strong, we have to be tough instead of being able to talk about our emotions, we have to “man up” so to speak. I think tSB is good about helping women feel stronger. I like seeing that our young women are able to talk about their emotions and still feel cool and tough at the same time. That’s unique to this 16-20 age group as well.
Q: How can the public get more involved in tSB?
Ashley: There are a lot of ways to be involved in tSB. To be really involved, you can become a mentor. I want to be really up front that it is a huge time commitment, it’s twice a week for six months plus twenty hours of training before and extra nights outside of the programs giving rides, going to movies, going out to lunch, tutoring. But it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences. You get just as much from the students as you give. You can also come out and do a service project, come to one of our fundraising events. We also provide meals at every program and those are cooked by volunteers, sometimes with students, sometimes now. Donating snowboarding equipment or outdoor equipment, coming snowboarding with us, it’s great to have more women on the mountain with us.
Lace: One thing I wanted to add is that both snowboarding and skiing are male dominated sports. The first day when I went up the mountain with the kids, I was so excited to see so many women up there and to see that at this age and it’s great to see that growing. The first time I went skiing and to see women skiers, just in the last five years, how much it has improved and I can see that boom starting to happen. It’s really awesome to have more girls and more women up there who are starting young and somewhat stick with it, that’s a really cool thing.
You can find out more about The Service Board and find ways to get involved here.