Even in the smallest towns there are lots of organizations, social clubs, and governmental agencies that will want to know about the skatepark project. Reaching them and organizing a short presentation on your skatepark effort is usually a welcome diversion from their typical meeting topics.
You will want to reach the most important groups early in your awareness campaign. The more awareness you build, the more likely you are to awaken those people in your community that will oppose the skatepark project based on negative stereotypes or some abstract political philosophy. You need to get out there and put a face on this project so that your audience can relate to the project on a personal level.
The goal of each of these meetings is to provide audience members with an accurate and positive impression of the skatepark project. It will help your efforts in the long run to come away with a letter of support endorsing the project.
You will want to reach the most important groups early in your awareness campaign.
Building widespread awareness and philosophical support for the skatepark project will open up greater opportunities when it comes time to raise funds. Consider this analogy where the skatepark is a garden, the seed is cash, and the fertilizer is awareness. The seed will struggle to grow if you don’t fertilize the soil. With good awareness, that seed will take off and produce an incredible skatepark.
Here are some of the common groups you will want to focus your attentions on.
At this point you should have already presented a brief description of the skatepark project to the City Council. If not, start with this group. See Section 2.2.2 for instructions on how to do this. This meeting will take place during a City Council meeting and follow formal meeting rules.
Individual City Council Members
It’s perfectly appropriate to meet with your elected officials on a one-on-one basis. Meet at a locally-owned business, like a café. You can contact the Council member directly via email usually found on your city’s website. This meeting will be casual and more conversational. After describing the project, ask the council member for their input and advice on how to advance the project. They will appreciate you looking to them for guidance.
NOTE: When you meet with individuals, especially those unfamiliar with the process of building parks, they may ask where the skatepark will be located. You may have ideas about the best place already, but it’s a good strategic move to not mention anything specific. You can answer with something like the following phrase instead:
“We won’t recommended a location until we’re sure that we’ve considered all of the factors. We plan on using a specific evaluation criteria while considering potential locations, and will share the recommendation when that study is concluded.”
This response works well because it won’t corner you into a fight over the merits of a particular location when there’s so much other important work to do.
Some larger cities and towns are divided into neighborhood districts. Each district will have its own board of commissioners, almost like a miniature City Council. The neighborhood councils will address concerns facing the whole city but will mostly focus on issues affecting their neighborhood. Neighborhood councils advise City Council and serve as “eyes and ears in the neighborhood.”
The structure of neighborhood council meetings is patterned after those found in City Council meetings. You will speak during the “public comment” period. At subsequent meetings you may request, or be invited, to make a special presentation and be put on the agenda. This will allow you to spend more time going over the skatepark project. This will commonly happen after the site is determined and within that neighborhood council’s jurisdiction.
Incidentally, neighborhood council meetings are where most pro- and anti-skatepark points are made. (That said, the most common place to find inflammatory anti-skatepark rhetoric is in the comment section of online newspaper articles.) It is highly unlikely that you’ll encounter any of this at your first meeting, but as time goes on and the skatepark’s location is revealed, and receives more mention in the local news, the anti-skateboarding public will begin to challenge the project.
Parks & Recreation Commission
Your community may or may not have an independent Parks & Recreation Board. Smaller towns often have advisory boards comprised of appointed members of the general public. Larger cities will have Parks & Recreation Commissions with elected commissioners representing the different parts of town.
Start by finding the Parks Board’s schedule on your city’s website. If you discover that your town doesn’t have a Parks Commission, look for a Parks Citizen Advisory Group (or something like that). You can plan to attend their next public meeting, but also consider inviting them out individually for a one-on-one meeting.
You can approach the Parks Board a lot like you did with City Council. The tone, topics, and requests should be almost identical. The big exception is that you may not need to ask for the formation of a Skatepark Advisory Committee.
These groups are a bit harder to find out about. Planning commissions tend to be more technical than other meetings you’re likely to attend. Planning commissions will occasionally host public-input meetings designed to solicit feedback from residents in order to prioritize projects. The public-input meetings, particularly when they concern public parks, are incredibly important opportunities to advance the skatepark mission. When input is being requested from the public on park developments, you should make every effort to get as many local skateboarders to the meeting as you can.
Chamber of Commerce
It may seem that the Chamber of Commerce would be an unlikely ally in your skatepark effort. Positioned correctly, the skatepark can be expressed in ways that depict it as a component of a larger effort to make the city more livable, get more people out of their cars, and bring activity to under-performing park spaces. In these meetings, skateboarders should be characterized in every way possible as pedestrians that will bring non-motorized activity to the downtown areas. Skaters can also bring desired activity to area around a skatepark in the early evenings and help displace those individuals that might prefer a desolate area.
The following civic groups are great places to seek support. Before you reach out to these groups, decide if your intention is to raise awareness or seek support. If you’re seeking support, knowing exactly what kind of support you’d like will increase the likelihood of getting it. Make it as easy for them as possible.
If you are asking for your contacts and audiences to show their support by writing letters and emails, it is very helpful to have prepared a short hand-out that describes the key reasons why your community needs a skatepark, and who precisely the letters should be directed to, (along with their snail-mail or email addresses). This reduces the amount of work for your supporter. Make it easy for them to support you!
Fraternal organizations are clubs like Kiwanis, Rotary, Elks, Masons, Lions, and so on. There are lots of different kinds but they all essentially operate in the same way. You can find meeting schedules for most of these clubs online.
When presenting to fraternal groups, focus on the social good that the skatepark will bring to the community, as most of these groups have missions to improve the quality of life in those areas where they’re active. You can ask them for a letter of support, or see if they’d be willing to volunteer for upcoming events.
The local school board provides public oversight of the budget and activities of the local schools. Their role is largely administrative, and their focus is on the quality of public education. The connection between skateboarding and education is not apparent to most people, but you can certainly draw a link between athletic activity and academic performance.
Parent-Teacher Association (PTA)
Your community will probably have an active PTA, but if you live in a smaller community, it may not hold independent meetings. You can find out who the president of your local PTA is by contacting a nearby school principal. If you can present to a group of PTA members, or even if you meet a PTA liaison individually for a casual meeting, you’ll want to focus on the social and health benefits of the skateboarding, and explain how a skatepark is safer for local youth than the street.
It’s likely that the PTA members will have questions about risk and safety.
A letter of support from the PTA can be a valuable addition to your growing list of supporters. You might also ask to include a small message about the skatepark in their newsletter, if they have one, because it will likely reach a good number of local parents. (If they agree to promote the skatepark project in their publication, be sure to include instructions for the reader to get more information, get involved, or show their support.)
Police departments are often one of the easier municipal groups to solicit support from. Contrary to the impressions of many skateboarders, most police officers do not want to write tickets for skateboarding. They have better things to do. The police benefit in two critical ways from a local skatepark. First, the skatepark attracts youth so—in the event they want to talk to them for any reason—they know where to find them. Secondly, and more importantly, the police understand that someone drawn to skateboarding is not as likely to be doing anything illegal. Skateparks do not reduce crime because skateboarders are criminals, but because skateboarding can intervene in a young person’s life and provide them with a healthy physical outlet and positive social environment.
You can schedule a meeting with the Police Chief or Community Liaison Officer, depending on the size of your community, or simply write a letter (a traditional letter, not email), directly to the Police Chief asking for a letter of support for the skatepark project. A self-address stamped envelope may expedite a reply.
“Friends of” Groups
A “friends of” group can be any community group that has rallied around a particular facility or project. You’ll find “friends of” particular parks, community theaters, libraries, waterfronts, and beaches. “Friends of” groups often serve as advocates in their own right. They have awareness and fundraising events benefiting their facility.
These are terrific groups to appeal to. The individuals in these groups, like you, are your community’s most dedicated and involved citizens. They have relationships with community leaders and can provide lots of opportunities for networking, event partnerships, and expanding your public audience. In other words, these are the people you should spend your time networking with. Most “Friends of” groups will recognize that your group is encouraging young people to become more engaged with their community and will appreciate your message on that aspect alone, so don’t be shy about bringing along some of your younger skaters to help you present the skatepark concept.
Letters of support from these groups are good, but there’s a better way to create a mutually beneficial relationship with them. When the “friends of” group has an event that they need volunteer help with, recruit your local skateboarders to help out. During that event, members of your group will have lots of access to members of their group. Skateboarding will be talked about a lot, and the help with the event won’t be forgotten. By volunteering for their events, you can implicitly expect mutual support from their group when it’s most needed.
Be especially alert to “Friends of (a particular local park)” groups. Even if you have little interest in a skatepark at their location, they will be another significant source of support with access to powerful decision-makers in the Parks and Recreation Department.
You may find Friends-of groups for:
Local theaters, libraries, and public institutions
Particular athletic activities
Environmental issues or locales
Transportation issues or locales
Neighborhoods and business districts
Youth and/or poverty issues
Elderly residents are valuable allies for several reasons. Most importantly, they are respected and often influential members of the community. As matriarchs and patriarchs of their families, they can often directly reach people that you cannot. They will share their opinions with others about skateboarders and the skatepark, and it’s in your group’s best interest to have them say positive things. Furthermore, being retired, they usually don’t have the same demanding schedules that working residents have. They are able to attend civic meetings and tend to stay abreast of local news.
The challenge for you, as an advocate, is that seniors are not an organization. However, you can reach some of them where they are.
Senior- and Assisted-living Homes
For most senior encounters, you’ll be best off by just explaining the project and answering questions. The goal with these presentations and conversations is to leave a positive impression.
If you live in a town with more than 25,000 residents, you could probably spend several months gathering letters of support from all the local businesses. Frankly, it’s not worth it unless you plan on building your skatepark out of paper. Focus your attention on the area’s well-known businesses, then on locally-owned retail and restaurants. Local construction companies are also valuable allies; not for their support but instead for the later possibility of providing technical support or an in-kind donation.
Letters of support are good, and if the business seems very supportive of the skatepark project, you might consider negotiating some fundraising help. Few small businesses have cash to donate, but there are lots of ways they can provide significant help during your fundraising campaign.
Advocating for the skatepark and soliciting support on a one-at-a-time basis is an inefficient and often ineffective way to advance your skatepark project. Unfortunately, it’s where many inexperienced advocacy groups start. However, in conjunction with reaching the other types of groups in this section, one-on-one advocacy can amplify the importance of the skatepark to your elected officials.
There are a number of ways the general public can support the skatepark cause:
A. Letter-writing Campaign
To encourage individuals to contact their elected officials, you should prepare for them a sheet containing the email and business addresses of your City Council, Mayor, and Parks Director, along with a dozen or so very brief benefits about the skatepark. Some sample benefits might be: Promotes healthy outlet, Improve quality of life, Over 6-million skateboarders nationally, Popular recreational activity, Improve public safety, and so on.
Presented by themselves, petitions are not very effective advocacy devices. If your group is intent on collecting signatures, focus on students and younger residents. These are people that cannot vote, so presenting their support in this fashion makes sense. Be sure to get approval from the property managers where you intend to collect signatures. Outside of schools (usually off-campus) and in front of supermarkets are common locations.
Door-to-door (sometimes called “doorbelling”) is a great way to put a personal face on the skatepark project. Doorbelling is essential for residents near final skatepark locations because they are the most likely to oppose the project there. By soliciting support before locations are discussed publicly, you can build support for the project without the distraction of it being located in a particular place.
When doorbelling, it’s handy to have prepared fact-sheets or flyers about skateparks and your organization. Some people won’t want to talk to you on the porch but are happy to read your flyer.
Remember, building strong awareness and philosophical support for the skatepark will make your fundraising campaign that much easier.