Over 5 years ago, I was a mentor to a youth in foster care. On a snowboarding trip to Whistler, I thought: wouldn’t it be great if I took him snowboarding with me so he can see the mountains so we can experience the thrill of snowboarding together? I knew then that I should start a snowboard mentoring program.
Before Stoked, I was a recruitment manager at New York City’s largest site-based mentoring program. I saw a big gap in the field: most programs merely have kids and mentors hang out―go to the movies, play board games or eat pizza. There was no way to grow relationships. Nor ways to enhance them or have the mentoring pair learn more about themselves in the context of a greater world.
I quickly leveraged all the contacts I made in the non-profit field. With the help of a non-profit mentor I created a logo, crafted a mission, found a fiscal sponsor, and raised a small amount of money to pilot an eight-week snowboard mentoring program.
My background is in marketing, so I knew how to get the word out and publicize our start-up. Through publicity, I was introduced to many people and put together a fundraiser to raise the money needed to complete the pilot program. We started working with 9 youths in our first season. We then pursued ideas for skateboard and surfing programs. With the added programs, I decided to change our name from Snow Mentor, to Stoked Mentoring. In our first year, we worked with 45 “at-risk” and under-served youths, raised nearly $40,000 and had lots of momentum going into our second year.
By the end of our first program year, we decided to expand to Los Angeles. I thought of it as a strategic move to expand to a city where most of our product sponsors are. Meanwhile, Sal Masekela, co-founder of Stoked, made numerous introductions in the action sports industry. We partnered with a nonprofit called Heart of Los Angeles―a large community-based organization that provides the youth, the space, and the credibility to launch in a new market.
Going into the second year, I had no staff in New York but a handful of volunteers who kept things going while I went to Los Angeles for two months to do the inaugural snow mentor. We also had a lack of funds. So to raise money, I had mentors raise $700 each and I held a fundraiser that grossed us $32,000 and I used that money to expand into Los Angeles in 2006. We worked with close to 60 youths that year. We’ve been in Los Angeles for four years now. Expanding to a second city in our second year was a memorable experience
It’s been a wonderful pleasure serving our youth and communities for the last five years. Additionally, seeing all of our kids who have completed more than a year of the program graduate from high school. I’m also rewarded by the fact that my own story has inspired people to pursue their dreams and passions as a lifestyle.
BizFilings helped us by providing the infrastructure for us to do our work. From getting a certificate of incorporation to answering any questions, BizFilings has been a great partner and enables me to focus on what we do best―create successful teens from the inner city.
Collaborations. It’s a challenging economy, so we’re going to be even more fiscally disciplined while improving the quality of our programs and expanding our action sports-based afterschool program into new communities. I’m excited about developing new partnerships and collaborations with corporations and nonprofits.