Skating for a Higher Power

By Beacon Staff

With his rock star dream fading, J.D. Carabin looked elsewhere. He looked to rebuilding custom Jeeps, to his roots in the Flathead Valley. He looked to God.

Then he found skateboarding.

Now the 39-year-old ex-rocker runs a youth skate ministry out of his garage in Kalispell, mentoring kids in need of a role model and providing a safe haven for them to skate and interact without the influences presented by a skate park with dozens of teenage boys and no adults. Every Friday Carabin invites up to 30 or more kids to his house, ranging from 7 to 14 years old, for dinner, a bible session and lots of skateboarding.

He wants to change how skating is perceived, and he’s off to a good start – good enough that he desperately needs a new venue.

“We’ve obviously outgrown this little bungalow,” Carabin said, motioning to his 18-by-24 square foot garage, decked out with a quarter pipe at each end.

Having sold his house and looking at only a month or two before he must leave, Carabin said he is hoping to find a building with at least 5,000 square feet to accommodate his skate ministry’s rapid growth. The problems are, as always, finding the right place and the funding. Carabin said he has looked at the old Flathead Industries building, among others.

“If we can get some good people behind us, we can do even greater things,” Carabin said. “Our future’s uncertain but we’re going to keep our faith.”

Several years ago, Carabin moved his custom off-road Jeep rebuilding shop called Serious Ju Ju from Lewiston, Idaho, to Kalispell. He is originally from the Flathead. Through his Jeep business, building roll cages and customizing bumpers and more, Carabin apparently had all the fixings for top-notch grind rails. He just didn’t know it. He didn’t really know anything about skating.

Then Scott McGuffie, who runs the skate ministry with Carabin, walked into Carabin’s garage one day. McGuffie pointed to the roll cage tubing.

“He was like, ‘Dude,’” Carabin recalls McGuffie saying, “‘my buddies that skate would grind all over that.’”

After figuring out a formula – “God bless Google,” Carabin said – he and McGuffie put a few rails together and took them down to the Woodland Skate Park last July to see what skaters thought about them. The rails were a hit. But aside from the popularity of their new creations, Carabin and McGuffie also noticed something else: an environment they wouldn’t feel comfortable sending their kids to without adult supervision.

The park has rules, but what kids need, McGuffie said, is positive interaction.

“Rules without relationships always lead to rebellion,” he said, explaining that if the police show up to enforce the rules, it breeds discontent.

And so Serious Ju Ju Skateworks and the garage skate ministry were born, with meetings beginning in October. Michael Odom, a sixth-grader at Kalispell Middle School, was the first member. He lives across the street from Carabin.

Last Saturday, Odom turned 12 and the day before at Sk8 Night – as Friday night’s sessions are called – the ministry threw a birthday party for him. Odom, like many at the ministry, comes from a single-mother family where good male role models are often hard to find.

At the party, Odom’s mother, April Hart, beamed as the kids sang “Happy Birthday” to her son.

“(Mike’s) father walked out on him,” Hart said. “And J.D.’s been such a good role model for Mike. I’ve noticed that his life has totally changed.”

More than 30 kids munched on nachos – prepared by Carabin’s wife Nicci – and joked with each other inside the garage before Carabin began speaking. Immediately, they silenced and listened intently. Each kid, as is routine, was asked to tell the group the best and worst thing that happened to them in the past week. Kids were allowed to comment or question as they pleased.

Then Carabin read a bible passage and described the importance of peer support, finding strength in each other and picking people up when they fall. He then opened himself up to questions.

Carabin’s talks can hardly be described as sermons, though in essence that’s what they are. Instead they resemble chatting: light-hearted and laid-back approaches to difficult themes, including suicide and one kid’s confusion over Jesus being Jewish yet guiding Christianity.

One central principle that Carabin and McGuffie emphasize is the relationships between the kids themselves. As adults, the two men said, they can only do so much through teaching, but ultimately the kids decide how they treat each other and how they live their own lives.

“They hold each other accountable, which is pretty paramount these days,” McGuffie said.

The group has its regulars, though it is always welcoming newcomers. But Odom was the first and is still diligent with his attendance. He said his grades have risen from Cs and Ds before attending the ministry to a B average since. Kids must maintain a C average or better to attend the ministry, which also holds popular presentations at local schools, spreading the same messages heard at Sk8 Night.

“People think skaters are just drugs and graffiti,” Odom said. “But we can show them that we can put a good name on skating.”

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