He asked once, and received more than he could imagine. And now, in the name of giving a gift to the kids on his block, he’s asking again.
In the spring of 2010, Max Garter, a youth treatment specialist at Wedgwood Christian Services in Grand Rapids, Mich., sent a letter to several longboard skateboard companies asking for donations to help the kids he works with and lives near do something constructive on the streets where they play.
Max was overwhelmed when longboard skateboard and apparel companies such as Sector 9, Original and Vans donated 19 boards and safety gear for Max and the kids he assists. The youth treatment specialist said the gift helped him connect with the kids better than he could have imagined. “I am able to show them that I am more like them than they know,” he said. “They have gained a new joy in a life filled with sadness.”
Max not only works with low-income, high-risk youth, he also lives downtown Grand Rapids where he spends a large amount of time with the same types of economically challenged teens.
Best friend and fellow community-building advocate Will Weatherhead, 25, said Max uses the donated boards and encourages other outdoor activities to include kids in proactive fun.
“I drive by Max’s house multiple times a day and I have seen many kids on a regular basis riding these skateboards,” Weatherhead said. “These kids would normally just sit out, but Max gets them involved.”
But Max has set his sights set on teaching the youth another skill: Stand-up paddling.
Max is a surfer and stand-up paddler as well as a skateboarder, and wants to let the kids experience what it’s like to be on the water. Grand Rapids is a thirty-minute drive to Lake Michigan—an ideal place for stand-up paddling in the summer—but inner-city kids rarely get a chance to even see the lake.
“It’s right here and they can see it and taste it, but it’s like rubbed in their face that they’re poor,” Max said.
Max first saw the impact being in the water had on inner-city kids as a counselor at Camp Blodgett in 2006. Camp Blodgett is a camp built especially for kids and teens living in underprivileged homes in the West Michigan area.
At the camp, Max and a few other counselors let the kids experience the water on surfboards. Though not much more than paddling on the surface happened on the counselor’s boards, the kids couldn’t talk about much else, Max said.
“Their stoke was like for days,” Max said. “That’s all they wanted to tell their parents about.”
In many ways, Max can understand why the kids love the water and any sort of boarding. When Max’s parents went through a “hairy divorce” when he was in high school, Max took to the slopes as a snowboarder.
“Divorce is something that makes no sense. We’re not made for it,” he said. “And to process it, it doesn’t process.”
Max said the connection to nature and gravity helped him to cope with the uncertainty at home.
But the snowy slopes couldn’t contain Max for long. He soon turned his attention to surfing, and took this new passion as he traveled around the world with a Christian, non-profit group called Youth With a Mission.
From Australia to Hawaii, Max gained skills on the water while he continued to connect with nature. So enamored by the sport, Max took a 45 day solo surfing trip on the West Coast after gaining his bachelor’s degree from Liberty University in Religion and Biblical Counseling.
It was on this journey that Max finally realized where he really wanted to go in this world.
“The huge thing I realized on this trip was I could do more at home with people I already knew,” Max said. “There’s broken people right where I’m from.”
So in a coffee shop in California, Max applied for the position at Wedgwood. Within a few days, Max was back home and later hired by the ministry.
But Max’s passion for the water didn’t recede. It simply transferred to his desire to connect kids to the constructive joys it offers.
Stand-up paddling seemed like the logical choice so near a lake that is only ideal to surf during storms or in the winter. Max said he could stand up and paddle with kids all throughout the flat summer.
It would offer the kids a lot, he said. “Just [to] do something different…Something more than the little concrete playground that they know.”
All he needs now are the resources.
To contact Max for information on his vision or to donate new, used, scratched and dinged boards or equipment, please email Max at