STOKED | Empowering Youth From New York to LA
Meet Steve Larosiliere. He’s the Founder of STOKED Mentoring, Inc., an empowerment program spanning seven communities across New York and Los Angeles that teaches under-served high school students about opportunity and success through action sports, such as snowboarding, surfing, and skateboarding. STOKED was founded eight years ago – in 2005 – and so this year marked a very special milestone: Last Spring the first generation of the STOKED mentoring program graduated from college. Larosiliere is on a mission to close the opportunity gap of these youth by growing a mentoring community – and he wants to do this a thousands times over and across the country. With bi-coastal program sites, and over 3,000 students who have participated in STOKED, Larosiliere’s mission is fast becoming a reality.
“By putting a kid on top of a mountain who has never been outside of his or her city– who has never even seen snow – and by putting together projects and creating things with their hands, they gain the confidence to know that they
can start and finish something.” – Steve Larosiliere
Q | How did you realize that action sports were a way to connect with under-served youth? I think one of the ways I realized it was as a snowboarder myself. I was learning that if you wanted to achieve a goal, no matter what, you were going to fail along the way. But as long as you have your eye focused on that goal, nothing can stop you. I was learning a lot about myself, and I knew that this was something I wanted to share with the kid that I was mentoring. I saw [action sports] as a tool to connect with yourself, with nature, and really accelerate your skills.
Q | You launched STOKED after working with Mentoring USA. What other factors helped you determine this path? There’s only so much you can grow by staying in one place…I wouldn’t have been able to come up with STOKED if I hadn’t been snowboarding. That’s it…There’s value in doing things that are out of the ordinary…You take yourselves out of your context and normal routine. And that’s how you’re able to grow. So that’s my hypothesis: that if we take kids out of their normal routine, teach them skills and surround themselves with positive role models, they will then become successful.
Q | STOKED partners with high schools, and then goes into classrooms to pitch the idea to the kids. They have to choose to become a part of it. What tactics do you have to make the student feel comfortable from that initial pitch in the classroom?We focus on our core values: Success, Teamwork, Openness, Kudos, Energy, and Determination. It’s our acronym. Our core values dictate and lay the groundwork for STOKED, and help set expectations for the kids. The kids have the opportunity to self-select themselves out [of Stoked]…We wanted to work with the kids that didn’t have a place at school. STOKED is that place for them. They can take chances. They can say the things that they wish that they could. They can dream, and their dreams are OK. They are the kids that don’t fit into any other after school program.
Q | STOKED has a focus on real life in the 21st century. Can you tell me about the action sports and the lessons you’re teaching through them? That’s a good question, especially because many people think, “Oh, you’re teaching kids how to skateboard; they’re building their own skateboard brand; they’re making skateboards after school.” But they don’t understand the connection. I’m using action sports to teach core skills of how to: set goals; overcome obstacles; think and dream big for your future; value and respect your community; communicate in large groups of people; and form relationships. These are all skills the kids learn while snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing. For us, it’s just a tool. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen with tennis. But you’re not learning all of these things with tennis. Maybe someone in tennis would argue otherwise, but you won’t learn about resiliency, falling down, and getting back up from a team sport or a stick-and-ball sport. [Action sports] are more about a lifestyle. Your [physical] environment changes so you’re forced to be adaptable. There’s no winning or losing, but you’re constantly pushed by yourself and the people around you who help determine how well you perform. Those are 21st century skills that kids and students need to be successful.
Q | I read that over 3,000 students have participated in STOKED. What goal are you hoping to reach? Now it’s about community. I want to grow communities. We’re in seven different communities this year. In all communities there are a group of kids that are not just under-served, but the offerings of those communities are not attracted to them, and it’s causing those kids to act out academically, socially, and behaviorally. We want to work with the kids that are lacking drive and motivation, and are missing out on the big picture. We want to work with the kids that don’t even know their greatness yet.
Q | Working with teens that face such daily obstacles must be an incredible journey. What is most inspiring? There’s this kid. He doesn’t do well in school at all. But in STOKED – he’s a super star! This kid has sold his own skateboard brand through STOKED; he’s a salesperson; he’s charismatic; he can public speak. I remember his excitement after leaving Stoked – after having an amazing encounter with one of our supporters – where he was able to sell one of the skateboards that he created. He said, “I’m so excited for my future. I’m 15-years-old and doing this. Imagine what happens when I’m 25.” The fact that he’s thinking ahead to 25 when he’s just 15 makes me thinks that we’re doing something right.
Q | What do you draw on from your own life to help STOKED succeed? I have a young son, and that’s motivation to know that the work we’re doing at STOKED will help lead to a better world when he is older. I am no different than the kids that we work with. I’m from a lower-middle class immigrant family who struggled to give me the things that I needed. I had a lot of help along the way. I see myself as part of this cycle. I’ve had a lot of opportunities. It’s my mission to serve these kids so that they can in turn do the same thing that when they’re older. I just want to do that by a few thousand. I want to do that thousands of times over, across the country.
Q | What are your greatest successes with STOKED? Being around for 8 years and growing. Expanding communities. Greater successes like kids graduating from high school. Kids are now starting to graduate from college, which is great. I’m proud of our direction right now, our office, and what we’re building. I’m really excited about creating a space for kids in our community. Because we’re really only as strong as our community. I realize that what we’re doing is community development as well. Community development in the microform, not in the physical form. If we can help make our community better – our community of supporters, volunteers, and our partners stronger – STOKED would be able to benefit from that as well.
Q | What are your greatest obstacles? Right now: up-and-down funding. Having people understand the opportunity gap. Collaborating with other organizations – that’s an obstacle. And having people see that we’re not competing, and that we’re all good at certain areas. Geography – not all geographies are the same, so it’s hard to look at what growth looks like in different geographies. I think that’s it.
Q | If there were one lesson you could teach your teens, what would it be? Appreciate everything that you have. Also the cliché – ‘have an attitude of gratitude.’ Appreciate everything and never stop going for the things you want in life. Don’t ever stop, no matter how hard it gets.
Q | What can our readers do to support your mission? If they’re in LA or NY, they can volunteer. They can donate. They can be part of the STOKED Igniter Program by donating monthly. They can get their companies involved. If they’re not in NY or LA and they’re interested in opening a STOKED chapter… I’d be open to that.
From the Editor
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