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Half-pipes For Healing

Northern Colorado’s Youth for Christ Serves Kids’ Mental and Physical Health through Skateboarding

Article by Kelly Zeillmann

Photography by Alec Street Media

Originally published in Greeley Lifestyle

Jeff Neel spends a considerable amount of his time with teenagers. However, Neel, the Director of The Refuge Indoor Skatepark at Northern Colorado’s Youth for Christ (NCYFC), doesn’t “just hang out with kids.” For 20 years, Neel has been committed to serving young people who have experienced challenging life circumstances. He helps them overcome their mental health issues through the programs offered at NCYFC, specifically The Refuge and Rebalance.

“Poor mental health is a starvation issue that most of our society is currently experiencing,” Neel explains. Neel and his team at NCYFC are committed to helping young people through their volatile teenage years. Skateboarding is one of the most impactful ways they accomplish this goal.

Founded in 2001, The Refuge has seen significant growth in reach and impact over the past 20 years. The skatepark provides opportunities for free skating on Friday nights as well as skate leagues and other group activities throughout the week.

Although to some, the idea of skateboarding leading to improved mental health may seem strange; there is real science behind why skateboarding helps. When children experience trauma, their rational decision-making ability can get “hijacked.” “Kids making dumb decisions seems really annoying until you learn what they’ve gone through,” Neel says. 

There are four areas of the brain involved in decision-making. Most therapeutic recreation activities activate one or two of these areas. Skateboarding, however, activates all four areas of the brain, allowing kids to overcome this “hijacking” and make better decisions. Research shows that teens who skateboard make more progress in their mental health therapy than their peers who don’t. The neuroscience behind skateboarding helps teens process their trauma and improve their mental health.

Neel and his team took this science-driven research a step further and created a mental health improvement program called Rebalance. This program hires and trains adult volunteers to guide kids through a 12-week program. Each session starts with skateboarding or an obstacle course designed to highlight a specific character value such as honesty. A roundtable discussion follows, where teens get to explore the importance of each value, and trained adults utilize Trust-Based Relational Intervention to help kids work through their trauma and heal. Partnering with District 6, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Justice, NCYFC offers this program to at-risk youth in Northern Colorado.

The community is taking notice of the incredible results being met through these programs. Recently, a teen receiving parole requested that the judge assign him to Rebalance, and parents regularly ask if their children can continue even when the program ends.

Jeff Neel does way more than hanging out with kids. His goal is that “for the entirety of their teenage life, teens have adults who care enough to help them walk through difficult situations.” Greeley is fortunate to have people like Neel who care so deeply about our young people, organizations like NCYFC who actively engage in serving this population, and programs like The Refuge and Rebalance, help kids belong, heal, and thrive.

 You can help raise awareness about these incredible programs by inviting Neel to present at your business or organization, or you or your business can partner financially with NCYFC to enable more teenagers to engage in these life-changing programs. Find more information at  https://coloradorefuge.com/.

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