by Vanessa Park
Skateboards and mental health. An ideal pairing.
Both shrouded in stigma. Both requiring enormous stamina and perseverance. When someone struggles with mental illness or addiction, the path they walk is not flat, not even, not easy to navigate. They fall down. They get back up. They fall again. And then… Get. Back. Up. Again.
Sound familiar? As the mom of an avid skateboarder, I saw how many stumbles and falls it took before he landed on his wheels. My admiration for the grit and determination required to master even the simplest skateboard maneuver is enormous.
I also saw this: a neighbor accuse my son of stealing lumber from her yard. She assumed he was a thief because he was a skateboarder. What’s that called? Stigma.
Like the stigma that shrouds anything that hints of struggles with mental health, alcohol, drugs.
As the daughter of a parent with schizophrenia, I saw that stigma hold my mother in its grip. She would not, under any circumstances, seek help. She would not, under any circumstances, admit she needed any.
Are things “better” now? Sure. A bit. But at Fairwinds, we see stigma, and the shame and fear that comes with it, as an enormous barrier to care. A barrier, even, to simple conversation. Stigma ensures that people will continue to struggle alone and in the dark. At Fairwinds, we think that is not okay.
ACK Mental was all about bashing stigma and opening doors and windows to communication and, ultimately, care.
Our hope abides with the young. With ACK Mental, Fairwinds sought to bring a community—including its youngest members—together at the skate park to become part of the conversation. While most of the day was about fun—skateboards and scooters in the park, art projects and face painting, raffles and great music—we all knew why we were there, even before Tess de Alberdi, Executive Director, and Mayo Funderburg, Fairwinds’ Coordinator of Substance Misuse Services, said a few words.
Who was there? Summer visitors, year-round residents, people who have benefited from Fairwinds’ services, and many who have not, including people who learned about us for the first time that day. Friends and families watched from the bleachers, chatting, taking videos. Grown skateboarders sailed through the skate park with ten- and twelve- and seven-year-olds, high fiving them, empowering them, modeling kindness and warmth and athletic fortitude. Well over 50 action sports enthusiasts of all ages signed liability forms (or their parents did) and sported their blue wristbands in the park as they ollied and kick flipped and joyfully rode the curves.
A few older skateboarders spoke openly about how their time in the skate park throughout their lives has helped them cope with anxiety or depression. Parents were grateful for an event that included families in a great public space. Sue Mynttinen program director of our sister non-profit, ASAP, joined the conversations and helped Fairwinds hold space. A dozen helpers sold raffle tickets, handed out helmets, painted faces, made art with children, and became part of the fabric of ACK Mental.
Back in April, when Hugh Robbins, Fairwinds’ Outreach and Prevention Coordinator, mentioned to me his idea for a skateboarding event, I knew within a millisecond that it was a brilliant one. From that moment, we worked to make ACK Mental a reality. And we could not have done it alone. The outpouring of generosity and just plain enthusiasm from the community cannot be overstated. The DPW bent over backwards to help get the park ready. And underwriting, raffle items, in-kind sponsorship, and lots of volunteer legwork from a fabulous committee made this first ACK Mental happen.
This is just the beginning! ACK Mental—we’ll see you there next year.
Nantucket Island Resort
ASAP (Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention)
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
ACK Surf School
SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
Sea Nantucket Paddle Sports
The Nantucket Hotel
Monument Running Group
Lisa and Josh Lothian, William Raveis
Kip and Curren Robbins
Nantucket Culinary Center
Myles Reis Trucking
Nantucket Boys and Girls Club
Nantucket Community School
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Vanessa Park is Fairwinds’ Advancement Director, charged with overseeing development, marketing, communications, and outreach programs. She moved to Nantucket from New York in February of 2019 to join a remarkable team of professionals at an agency that inspired her. Though she is a writer, fundraiser, and bridge-builder—not a clinician—her passion for mental health and community support is lifelong.