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Young Men United Uses Roller Skating to Help At-Risk Yough

By Corrie Pelc

November 21, 2023

James Leeper, CEO and Director of Young Men United, explains that he did one pilot program in 2023 to see how it would decrease the negative referrals for behavioral issues, working on social skills, conflict resolution skills, teamwork, self esteem, etc. for students. “And then also teaching kids who would never have the opportunity to go to a roller skating rink regularly or even afford a pair of skates.”

The pilot year was so successful, Leeper has been asked to expand his program into six additional school in the North Carolina area, including middle schools. 

Why Skating? 

As a mental health counselor for over 10 years, Leeper says he is always looking for new program ideas to help reduce some of the issues he sees such as teen suicide, abusive home situations, and self-esteem issues. 

The idea for the Major SK8 Therapy program, Leeper says, came from noticing at every roller rink and skating event he attended, there was always a great deal of diversity among the crowd. “I thought of it being like a unified sport where it didn’t matter how tall you were, how fast you were, how big, even how well you skate because they love newbies,” he continues. “It didn’t have any barrier lines that would keep anybody out. If you were willing to try, then it was going to work.” 

Leeper also noticed how therapeutic skating was for many people during the isolation of COVID as they skated around their home or in a local park to have some type of normalcy in their lives. And he says the concentration required for roller skating helped a great deal with students on the autism spectrum who participated in the program. “It works great, especially for one of my kids in particular, in just building a rapport with him,” Leeper adds. 

A One-On-One Program

The Major SK8 Therapy program is a one-on-one program that runs throughout the entire school year. 

Leeper says the program is held two hours after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first hour is normally devoted to what he calls wellness checks where the students check in with each other. 

“How was your day scale of one to 10,” he details. “Any issues or things that you want to address or that concern you, whether it’s at home, whether it’s in school. If you need assistance in a particular subject because if you’re trying to learn something and you have an issue, then we can also utilize staff that’s on the campus to do a little extra tutoring.” 

Then the second hour is devoted to fitness. Leeper says they incorporate 15 to 30 minutes of working out, followed by a 45-minute roller skating session in the school’s indoor gym. 

Leeper partnered with RSA Vice President Billy Thompson's rink, Kate’s Skating Rink, who Leeper says donated a brand new pair of skates to each program participant. “They were our godfairies of the program,” he adds. 

Additionally, Leeper received assistance from two local skating groups — QCSK8TV and SK8Mafia704 — who offered assistance both outside of the school and inside as volunteers. 

Expansion In the Works

Now with a successful pilot year under his belt, Leeper says he has been asked to expand the Major SK8 Therapy program to six other area schools, including some middle schools. “They come from areas with similar demographics and socioeconomics, so we think that it could be very supportive for them in helping those students in that area mature,” he continues. 

Additionally, Leeper says they are planning to launch a Young Women United program next year as well. The Major SK8 Therapy program would have a similar structure and they’ll talk about things directly related to them developing as young women. 

“They’ll discuss life skills, conflict resolution, (and) the different things as far as them maturing and transitioning from young girls into young women,” he details. “Talking about professionalism and how to carry and conduct themselves in certain settings. Just the appropriate ways or the best way to make decisions. So it’s a lot of things that we just try to instill in them with their core values and principles.”

And Leeper has hopes the Major SK8 Therapy program will continue to be adopted in other schools across the United States and even into other countries. To help with that, Leeper says he has a book that will be published soon called I Skate, We Skate.

“It will be centered around this year’s pilot program,” he continues. “Hopefully some people will have some interest once it’s out. It’s a book that we would like to see in almost every elementary school across the U.S.” 

Corrie Pelc

Corrie Pelc is a journalist, editor, and freelance writer with more than 23 years of experience. Her byline can be found in a variety of consumer and trade publications, with past and current clients including IAPPA’s Funworld Magazine, Medical News Today, Hometalk.com, PassportHealth.com, INVISION Magazine, and Sacramento News & Review. She can be reached at corrie.pelc@gmail.com.

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