Trash to Thrash teaches skateboarding to underprivileged
Jason McKoy will be the first to admit that he’s not very good at skateboarding.
“When I got my first board I ate it hard,” he says with a laugh, remembering that inaugural faceplant at age 11. “But I didn’t stop because I loved it so much.”
Skateboarding exposed the New York native to an array of art and music and got him interested in politics and community activism. Today, at 39, he’s the owner of McKoy Creative, a Pittsburgh-based marketing and design agency.
In his spare time, he promotes skateboarding culture through the nonprofit Trash to Thrash.
The group, which was co-founded by Nick Miller of Black Forge Coffee House, collects used and new skateboard parts to build fresh decks for underprivileged kids ages 5 to 13. A small army of volunteers teaches the youngsters (and their parents) the fundamentals of skating, board maintenance and safety via workshops at Switch & Signal Skate Park in Swissvale and at various pop-up events throughout the city.
Skateboarding isn’t a cheap hobby. The average price of a complete board ranges from $100 to $150. Since the nonprofit’s inception two years ago, it’s helped about 75 kids become little shredders.
After partnering with the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation, McKoy and his crew made their first public appearance at the borough’s Two-Way Street Fest in 2017.
They transformed a church parking lot into a skate park and, by the end of the day, turned numerous onlookers into full-fledged thrashers.
“I have an 11-year-old daughter,” says Dan Elsass, 34, a Trash to Thrash board member. “This is one thing we can do that gives kids an outlet that isn’t sitting at home looking at a screen.”
During seasonal donation drives, the organization places trash cans in local businesses to collect new and used wheels, bearings, decks, helmets, pads and shoes. Boards are assembled in McKoy’s backyard, affixed with new grip tape and neutral graphics – often a Trash to Thrash sticker. He gives them away for free.
Many Switch & Signal patrons ride on their coveted Trash to Thrash boards.
The indoor skate park opened in February.
Owner Kerry Weber, 37, of Washington County, spent five years searching for the right facility. He wanted a large space in a neighborhood that was easily accessible by public transportation.
Located on Dickson Street, near the East Busway, the 12,000-square-foot building operates seven days a week. Pads and helmets are available for rent and house boards are free to use when available.
Giving kids and adults (Weber hosts skate sessions for the 30-and-over crowd on the last Sunday of each month) a cool place to congregate is only half of his mission.
“I wanted to bring an athletic activity to kids who wouldn’t usually be able to engage in something like that,” he explains. “It gives them advantages: health, mental focus, self-worth.”
While Switch & Signal serves as Trash to Thrash’s unofficial headquarters, the organization often takes their show on the road. Its mobile skate park is comprised of two quarter pipes, two grind rails, a fun box and other skateable obstacles. A few professional or semi-professional skateboarders always are on-hand to perform tricks for the audience.
In addition to getting a crash course on skating basics, kids can take a stab at other skills tied to the skating lifestyle, such as graphic design, screen printing, photography, videography and carpentry.
Community organizations can hire Trash to Thrash to bring the portable skate park and skill sets to their town.
“What we do is a little misfit, so it doesn’t seem like we would fit in with a wholesome family event, but we gain a big crowd and that’s usually when we get most of our volunteer sign-ups,” says Miller, 33, adding that he strives to be a positive role model.
Donations also are accepted at these events. New Sun Rising, a social enterprise incubator, helps Trash to Thrash and other nonprofits and small businesses manage funds and day-to-day operations so they can focus on their respective missions.
Eventually, Trash to Thrash wants to be self-sufficient enough to hire staff members and hold regular events.
While there isn’t anything concrete on the calendar, Weber says he’s planning a Trash to Thrash bash around the holidays.
In the meantime, he hopes local kids are inspired to hop on a board and allow it to take them to new places, both physical and mental.
“I started skating in 1990 when I was 9 years old,” he says. “I wasn’t’ really into group sports. It was something I could do on my own. It made me feel special and shaped my way of thinking in terms of DIY culture. It gave me direction and it’s going to carry me through my life.”
For more information, visit trashtothrash.org .
Kristy Locklin is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.