It’s a program tied to a great cause, as well as a personal mission for Ray Young, the owner of Rayzor Tattoos in Steelton and one of the driving forces behind the Get on Board program.
“It’s tremendously enriching for everyone involved in the program, especially the kids,” said Young, who exudes energy when talking about the program.
Get on Board held its first event in April 2013 to coincide with National Autism Awareness Month. This month, the group will take part in the 10th Annual Logan’s 5K Run & Walk for Autism, which is slated for April 11 in Harrisburg.
Fun and Safety
There are two components to Get on Board: an art show and skating clinics.
After seeing tattoo artist Steve Kelly and artist Jimmie Campbell fundraise for another cause, Young approached Skelly about doing a similar fundraiser, with the goal of promoting skating lessons for autistic kids.
Young and the staff of Rayzor Tattoos first partnered with the Autism Society Greater Harrisburg Area. The Rayzor Tattoo staff then tapped into their connections with artists, venues and sponsors to get the program started. Since that first show two years ago, they’ve sold more than 250 skateboard decks, Young said.
The program’s second component involves working directly with the kids.
“The main point is providing fun and safety for these kids in a fun and safe environment,” said Gary Dutson, whom Young described as the head of logistics and the program’s “gatekeeper.”
The clinics, which are free of charge, allow kids to pair up one-on-one with trained instructors to learn to skateboard in 30-minute sessions.
Dutson said there are usually six experienced and well-trained instructors at each clinic, including two master instructors. They work to match kids up with the best instructor for each child’s needs—recognizing that some kids will respond better to different instructors. Kids are not required to bring anything unless they want to, as Get on Board has received support and sponsorship from several businesses.
Dutson and Young said the results are obvious and sometimes downright impressive. They’re clearly proud of the kids as they talk about a young boy who took his first ride within six minutes at one of the recent clinics. Kids are welcome to attend multiple clinics, and Young says the repeat participants’ skill levels are definitely improving.
Get on Board’s first clinic was in May 2014, at the Autism Society Greater Harrisburg Area’s 16th Annual Sensory Picnic. Since then, the program has hosted clinics in Middletown, Pittsburgh, Mechanicsburg and Elizabethtown. They even took the show on the road in December with a clinic in Green Bay, Wis.
Young jokingly described Get on Board for Autism, and himself, as a “30-year overnight success.”
He started skating in the 1970s, at 10 years old, as skateboarding was on the rise across the country. He was a semi-pro skateboarder in the 1980s and found the first outlet for his passion at a YMCA summer camp. Young designed and ran a summer skate program and taught nearly 1,000 kids to skateboard during his time there. He then earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from Millersville University.
Based on his experience and education, Young restructured and ran another skateboarding program at Camp Lohikan in the 1990s. He said the program is still running well and that the opportunity at that camp allowed him to refine his teaching method and add an educational development component.
Young came up with the idea of Get on Board for Autism after seeing a close friend’s son struggle with the disorder. He says that autistic children are very kinesthetic and sensory oriented with an innate drive for movement and balance.
The challenge for many autistic kids who want to participate in activities can be the environment. With Get on Board for Autism, kids have the chance to be in a social environment without being competitive. Young said kids can “evaluate their own improvement on an individual basis,” without their success being tied to other people.
The group’s determination to grow the program is palpable. Dutson, who has a son on the autism spectrum, said, “What they’re doing is what these kids need to do to be successful.”
He added that seeing the kids’ improvements in their own abilities and in their self-esteem is tremendously enriching for the instructors, parents and everyone else involved in Get on Board for Autism.
“You’re seeing children engaged, just being kids, having a good time,” Duston said.
To learn about Get on Board for Autism, including events for National Autism Awareness Month, visit www.rayzortattoos.com/getonboardforautism or the Facebook page.