Passing It Forward with Steve Larosiliere, Founder of Stoked.org
The first things that comes to mind when I think of the words Spread Stoke are thoughts of paying it forward, random acts of kindness, giving back and simply making the world a better place. Spread Stoke to me is just the lesser cliché version of these mottos.
As an outdoor enthusiast, I believe it is essential to practice gratitude and kindness daily. Our community of explorers, athletes, nomads, adrenalin feigning yahoos, or whatever you like to call your passion-driven self, is so fortunate to be able to play in the outdoors, breathe clean air, drink plentiful water and most of all, dream big. Spread Stoke was created to tell a story. Not just the story of the gnarlist line or sickest shot (although we love that too) but it is for all the amazing, honorable, and often unmentioned stories of those doing exceptional things in the industry and overcoming the odds.
In order to give back to those that inspire us daily, Spread Stoke will highlight individuals, organizations, and businesses that are doing just that. This week I got the chance to interview Steve Larosiliere, Founder of Stoked.org, a non-profit organization that empowers kids through action sport culture – how cool!
Steve’s story starts out like a lot of us… we’re introduced to an action sport by an older kid on the block making it look easy and attractive (not to mention all the babes the older kid is attracting) and think wow… I want to do that! For Steve, it was skateboarding. Growing up in New York, that ‘older kid’ would let the little groms borrow his skateboard and take it out riding. Steve was instantly hooked and would let skateboarding be a big part of his life until college. It wasn’t until then where he came across his first snowboarding catalog. After sometime drooling over snowboarding pics in the magazine, he was invited by a college friend to take his first snowboarding trip. Like all of us who have tasted the white, fluffy, milky, blower pow of the mountains, (should probably stop before I start frothing from the mouth) Steve fell in love with riding the white wintery wave! He went to a local board shop, picked out his gear, and rode Hunter Mountain as much as possible for the coming years. At the time, Steve had started and was running his own marketing company. On his off time, he took up volunteering at a youth mentorship organization. Steve realized that the little time working with the kids was making a huge difference in their lives.
“I wanted to be something bigger then myself, and I realized I wanted to devote a career to helping kids.” – Steve
Steve took on youth mentoring full time and wanted to focus on being a positive role model. During this time, Steve’s life started throwing him curve balls. His relationship was shaky and he was seeking something more in life. He packed his bags and headed to Whistler, BC where his uncle lived. On the last day of his trip, Steve sat on top of the mountain in solitude, looking into the vastness, when enlightenment happened.
“I thought to myself, how cool it would be to have my mentee here with me (a 17 year old kid from the Bronx who had never left his neighborhood) learning what I have was learning, sitting on the chairlift with me, and seeing that there is a big world out there for him.”
That’s when the idea struck Steve, “the experience of having a big brother, big sister could be incorporated into extreme sports.” He knew sharing an experience through a sport could build a relationship and develop lifelong skills. When Steve returned to New York, he quit his job, ended his relationship and moved in with his family. He spent all his time developing a program where action-sports would not only provide an educational experience, but it would also alter the lives of those growing up in underserved communities. With the help of family, friends, and anyone that would listen, Stoked.org came into fruition.
Steve started to recruit mentors, kids, and sponsors (Burton allowed them to use their gear) to help the program get on its feet. However, he would need more help. As you may notice, the action-sport industry is not the most culturally or economically diverse. Steve’s Haitian background empowered him to bring board sports to minority youth because he knew how much it had given him in life. Steve sought out X Games host Sal Masekela and thought Sal would be a great way to introduce minority youth to action sport lifestyle. Not knowing Sal personally, Steve called his number once a week for two months. Sal finally got back, and instantly fell in love with the program and jumped on board. With their collaboration, Stoked.org grew it’s legs in New York City and Los Angeles. In February 2005, Stoked.org was launched!
Stoked.org is now a four year program that works with youth from underserved communities. During our interview, Steve emphasized the long term goals of the organization, in that he hopes to close the opportunity gap from middle and low income brackets with early child development.
“The middle class spends 3 times more on enrichment than low income – which is 6000 hours of more learning than low income, so we use action sports – a great way to accelerate enrichment- that’s what we give in order to close the opportunity gap.”
The program develops life skills through action-sports, and prepares the student for college and the professional world.
“You can teach a kid to code, how to become a programmer, but it won’t be guaranteed that kid pursues a career in programming.”
With action sports – Steve explained – it develops an array of skills. The program starts with freshman, where mentors build a relationship with their student through action sports – surfing, snowboarding and skating. These sports teach them how to get up when you fall, communicate effectively, over-come fear, and think critically. The program also uses project base learning, where deadlines and working together play an essential role. The students are required to build and design a skateboard their first year. By the second year, they build a brand around that skateboard. Third year, students are introduced to professionals and are given expert advice on how to manage and grow their brand. They shadow professionals, attend workshops, and never miss a big swell.
“This is giving the kids a chance to build confidence and play in an environment where the middle class is often thriving.”
By the fourth year, the kids are finding internships and preparing for college and the professional world. Service learning also plays a vital role, where community projects are taken on by these new leaders. By the end of the program, the kids are more resilient, self-reliant, have a sense of community and big dreams. With an internship already behind them, the kids are well connected with many successful adults and have a supportive community. This ‘social capital’, as Steve likes to call it, “gives the kids a chance to get out and leave their block.” To become an entrepreneur, leader, create a huge network, AND become a ripping shredder all in the same four years, is quite impressive!
Steve concluded his story with something I could relate to very much. His goal in stoked.org was to create a bunch of outliers. Take the path less traveled and develop life skills by taking chances, doing what you love, trusting yourself, and most of all, dreaming big and knowing that there are no limits. Stoked.org provides the perfect framework for kids coming from underserved communities a chance to succeed in today’s world. With action sports, you are giving the kid a sense of fearlessness and empowerment, or as I like to think of it, quite literally spreading stoke.
Find more about Stoked.org by visiting www.stoked.org. Please help support Steve’s mission by donating. By donating, you too can directly impact the future of our youth and pass it forward.