Encounter Youth Center opens new skate bowl in downtown Duluth
Carter Nguyen can be found at the Encounter Skate Park in downtown Duluth at least a few afternoons a week. The 14-year-old was zipping back and forth on his skateboard in the park's new skate bowl on Wednesday afternoon. He started skateboarding...
Carter Nguyen can be found at the Encounter Skate Park in downtown Duluth at least a few afternoons a week.
The 14-year-old was zipping back and forth on his skateboard in the park's new skate bowl on Wednesday afternoon. He started skateboarding seven years ago and started visiting Encounter two years after that. He now has sponsors and travels to the Twin Cities for skateboard competitions. His favorite part is "the thrill of learning new tricks" and says the community at Encounter is like a family for him.
"I just meet all my friends here. It's a place where you can feel welcome. It's also a Christian skate park, but they don't pressure it onto anybody," he said.
The Encounter Youth Center at 201 E. First St. strives to provide a safe place where young people can be empowered to become leaders, said Erick Hermanson, executive director of Head of the Lakes Youth for Christ, which operates the youth center.
"I think it's really important for older people, adults to believe in these kids and give them an opportunity and a place where they can dream, and encourage them, and then give them a place to fulfill that," he said.
Hermanson said it's great to be able to see the kids grow up and to provide a supportive environment as they go through their teenage years, when life can be challenging and they may not have control over events happening in their home lives.
The new 55-foot skate bowl opened this week. To celebrate the new addition, Encounter is hosting Bowl Jam from 4-8 p.m. Friday at the youth center, featuring free skateboarding, free food from Bridgeman's and prizes from Damage Boardshop. Bowl Jam is open to the public and Hermanson encourages people to stop by to see what Encounter is about.
A few years ago, Head of the Lakes Youth for Christ had its First Street building on the market, but it found a church to rent space in the building and the building is no longer for sale, he said.
The skate park operates Tuesday through Saturday and is open to skateboards, BMX bikes, blades and scooters. It offers skate church, which includes free food and free skateboarding, from 3-6 p.m. on Tuesdays and then open sessions from 4-8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Cost for the open sessions is $8, but for kids who aren't able to afford it, they'll work something out, such allowing kids to do a chore in lieu of payment.
Encounter's new skate bowl, one of only a few indoor skate parks open in Minnesota, originally belonged to a private indoor skate park in Duluth, which donated the bowl when that park closed, Hermanson said. The skate bowl had to be dismantled, moved piece by piece to Encounter and then reassembled in a process that took about five weeks. People have been saying Encounter needs a skate bowl ever since the skate park opened in 2002, but it's costly to construct one, Hermanson said.
"To get it donated to us was really an awesome blessing," he said.
The skate park usually has about 15 to 30 kids visiting per day and has about 14,000 visits per year. Hermanson explained that their mission is to engage teenagers in meaningful relationships that propel the teenagers' lives in a positive direction. To build relationships with teenagers, adults need to do things that teenagers are interested in, he said. In addition to the skate park, Encounter also has a concert venue and hosts activities such as movie nights and video game tournaments.
"How we reach kids is just engaging them through relationships, getting to know them and really hearing their story and where they're from and what they go through on a daily basis and then, through our experience of the staff here, trying to speak to them through examples from our lives and skate church," Hermanson said.
The challenge is being there for the kids while seeing them make mistakes, but life is about making mistakes and learning from them, he said.
Hermanson grew up in the Hillside neighborhood and understands what some of the kids at Encounter experience. He began going to Encounter himself when he was 18 years old and it made a difference in the path he took in his life, he said
"You see a lot of people making poor decisions and you feel like that's kind of going to be your life one day," he said. "Once you find people that are doing positive things and wanting to improve their life, it makes you want to find out why they're different or why it seems like they've got something figured out and you want to learn what that is. That's what it's about - engaging kids in real relationships."