Following the opening of the Bethlehem Skate Plaza in 2011, a customer asked the owner of Homebase Skateshop if he knew of any kids at the park who needed a skateboard.
The customer offered to pay for two skateboards the shop could donate to local children. Homebase Skateshop’s owner Andrew Po said the customer’s kindness inspired him to create the annual “Complete a Christmas,” where his shop collects donations to help fund the purchase of skateboards for children in the community.
“Our hope is that it makes kids start to think of other people,” Po said. “To try to build that sense of empathy and compassion, rather than just thinking in the holidays, ‘What do I want? How much stuff can I get?’”
The program has seen strides in their goal. Po said children have nominated one of their peers who is going through a difficult time to receive a skateboard.
In 2022, Homebase’s “Complete a Christmas” garnered enough donations to cover the cost of 29 skateboards. Some were donated directly to families in the Lehigh Valley, while others were used to replenish the shop’s after-school skateboard program, Push Ahead.
Push Ahead is a community service program that has been offered throughout the school year for over 10 years. After school hours, volunteers from the shop bring skateboards and helmets to different schools in the Lehigh Valley and teach students the basics of skateboarding.
Po said Push Ahead aims to teach children social and emotional skills through the lens of the vulnerability that inevitably comes with learning a new skill.
“Kids develop empathy and passion for each other,” Po said. “When somebody else falls, you’re not going to just laugh at them for falling down because you have fallen down yourself.”
Homebase employee Coby Strausser volunteers for Push Ahead as a children’s skate instructor. He said he praises the program for the value it has for participating kids and its immediate local impact.
He said he enjoys living through the kids’ interest in skateboarding vicariously, as teaching them allows him to view skateboarding through new eyes.
“Push Ahead has frankly been life-changing for me,” Strausser said. “It aligns with a lot of my personality and my desires to spend my time doing something good for the world.”
Aidan Wilson, another Homebase Skateshop employee, shares similar experiences volunteering for Push Ahead.
“The kids get super excited and attached to you as a person, which is so crazy and fulfilling to your inner child,” Wilson said, “especially in the moments when they finally learn a new trick that they have been battling for a while.”
In fall 2022, Homebase organized the “South Side Celebration” at the Bethlehem Skatepark to promote their community outreach values. The event featured other local organizations that share similar goals in community activism through the arts and activity.
Throughout the event, Bethlehem families visited the skate park, which Po said they may have never done due to a lack of accessibility to the appropriate equipment. Several food vendors and local businesses attended, which offered activities including disc golf, various styles of dance, chalk art, painting and skateboard lessons.
“A big part of what we want to do is break down this idea that the South Side is this downtown corridor,” Po said. “When things happen in the South Side or in Bethlehem and people are considering the changes that need to be made, people tend to only look at the business corridor or what Lehigh wants, but there are families living here that need to be considered.”
With the help of other local business owners, Homebase hopes to hold this event again in fall 2023.
Homebase has worked with student volunteers from Lehigh and other local colleges. Po said he encourages skateboarders and non-skateboarders with a passion for helping children to reach out and volunteer for the Push Ahead program.