After losing the warehouse that hosted its indoor skate gatherings in 2012, Serious JuJu Skateboard Ministry was forced to set up in parking lots, including at partner churches, a perpetually temporary arrangement that bred uncertainty.
Not all congregations were enthused about their parking lots serving as makeshift skate parks, and finally an older gentleman at First Presbyterian Church in Kalispell decided to address the resistance head-on at his church.
“He said, ‘If you’re worried, I’ll sit at the door and watch them,’” said Miriam Mauritzen, a First Presbyterian reverend and now the community pastor for Serious JuJu.
What the man saw wasn’t a group of hooligans, but rather a bunch of kids enjoying themselves and thankful to have a space to do what they love, among a community that loved them back. A door was opened; perspective was gained.
“It allowed the church to be the church all because this older guy said, ‘I’ll lead the way,’” Mauritzen said.
That moment was an important step in a relationship between First Presbyterian and Serious JuJu. The church now oversees the skateboard ministry, which began in 2007 when founders J.D. and Nicci Carabin opened their garage to young skaters who often were escaping difficult situations at home: abuse and trauma, parents in jail or addicted to drugs, poverty and hunger, housing insecurity.
The relationship between the church and Serious JuJu paved the way for another major breakthrough in the skate ministry’s growth, announced earlier this month: Serious JuJu was named a recipient of the $50,000 Sam and Helen R. Walton Award through the Presbyterian Foundation. Serious JuJu and a church in Georgia were the only ministries of 340 eligible new churches to receive this year’s award.
“This award comes at a pivotal time in the development of our ministry,” Mauritzen said. “It’s a true affirmation of this work. These skaters are often neglected, traumatized and rendered invisible — for a time — by poverty and youth.”
“They know Pathways Treatment Center,” she added, “not Glacier National Park.”
Serious JuJu eventually moved out of parking lots and indoors. Today, it provides a free skate park for kids in a warehouse on Kalispell’s Center Street. Every Friday night, “hungry children, youth and adults are fed while experiencing shelter, sanctuary and community,” according to a press release announcing the recent award. Now that the weather is nice, the ministry also holds weekly skates at Woodland Skate Park.
While skating and community are key draws for many kids, Serious JuJu also holds Bible studies and provides mentorship at the Friday night gatherings. The free meals and snacks are significant as well.
“Everyone gets fed,” said Jordan Sterrenberg, one of the older Serious JuJu attendees. “Some kids are hungry and don’t have much food at home, so there are snacks for them to take home.”
Sterrenberg says Serious JuJu teaches lessons, such as respecting each other and fostering community, that are important regardless of one’s religious beliefs.
“Not all of us are Christians,” he said. “We all go for the community. It’s not really a church; it’s a community. I’m not Christian, but I love it.”
More than 30 donors support Serious JuJu, a nonprofit organization. The ministry also has a close relationship with Spirit Skate Shop.
Serious JuJu believes in strengthening community outside its ranks as well and participates in a number of community events, including serving a meal every month at the Samaritan House. The organization was also selected to put up Christmas lights on 183 historic lampposts in downtown Kalispell.
Kianna Chandler, 18, got involved with Serious JuJu at age 12 after her mother moved away and her father was in jail. She credits the ministry with steering her away from an unwanted path and redirecting her to a lifestyle that has led to her currently in her second year of earning her associate’s degree in substance abuse counseling from Flathead Valley Community College.
Chandler, who now sits on Serious JuJu’s board, says the ministry offers a hard-to-beat combination of skating, warmth, food, community and adult role models.
“Having adults you can depend on is really important,” she said. “Not everybody has a certain adult that they can look up to.
For more information, visit www.seriousjuju.com.