Brandon Brenneis is a Skateboarder, committed Christian and the founder of the Skatelife Road Tour. He shared with us his vision for helping youth see beyond their own world and use their passion for skateboarding for the work of justice. Read his interview below.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Brandon: My name’s Brandon and I am a skateboarder. I work with an organization called Skatelife which is a branch of Young Life of Canada. I got involved with Young Life a couple of years ago. I became a Christian in 2011, and I felt like the call on my life was to reach out to skaters and disciple kids who skateboard. I thought that this event would be a cool part of that. I’ve been skateboarding for probably 8 years now – maybe 9 years?
What’s your favourite skateboarding trick to do?
Brandon: It’s called a Nollie Big Spin.
Tell us about your personal justice journey. What led to your passion for justice issues?
Brandon: My wife and I like to go to Village Church in Surrey every so often. Gary [Haugen] came to speak one of the days that we went, and it was an eye-opener to learn that there’s still slavery in the world.
We often assume that it’s a thing of the past. We think that we’re advanced and beyond that, but it’s prevalent in our world now more than ever. It just looks a little different from what it did years ago. When Gary came and spoke I knew that there was something that we had to do.
My wife and I have been giving financially a little bit. It’s not as much as we would like to – we’d love to be able to give more – but I thought, how can we get more people involved in this? How can we get skaters involved? Because it’s a pretty cool cause. When people know about it, I think it really tugs on their hearts.
So many people don’t know about modern-day slavery. When people become aware that it happens, it’s easy to get them involved and giving.
What is the Skatelife Road Tour?
Brandon: This year was our second year doing it. The idea is, it’s a three-stop indoor contest series held during the winter. Usually, in the winter there are no contests going on. We have skate clubs all across metro Vancouver so we have access to indoor spaces at churches and gyms.
We thought it would be a really cool way to give back to the kids, just to do something for them, but also to get the whole skate community together for one cause. Last year we did locally-focused fundraisers and collected blankets and other items, but I thought it’d be really cool to give these guys a picture of something that goes on in the broader world. So we set out a pretty lofty goal this time.
I didn’t actually think we’d even come close to hitting our $2,000 target, but the guys raised $1,500, which is pretty amazing. One of the kids actually raised close to $500 by himself.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced in hosting the event and in fundraising? Have things ever not gone according to plan?
Brandon: Definitely. Usually having sponsors and incentives helps in advance. It’s unfortunate that it’s necessary, but it’s a priority for some so we connect with sponsors. Getting people to care can be a little hard. But when people do care and when they buy into it, it’s so awesome and really cool to see people’s hearts changing for causes like this.
Obviously, trying to get kids to fundraise is another challenge. I think kids - they have such a cool capacity once they catch a vision. I’ve done a few fundraisers and in almost everyone, the kids have raised more money than the adults.
I think it’s incredible that once you give kids a vision, they run with it. However, their first instinct is to say, "I can’t do this. I don’t have money. I’m too young. How am I going to do this? How do I raise money?” Getting the kids to believe in themselves is the biggest step for many of them.
And then for some, it’s about asking them to see beyond themselves and understand that there are people in way worse situations in other areas of the world.
Where do you see this event and this group five years from now?
Brandon: I hope to see it grow bigger. I’d love it if the skate scene saw Skatelife Road Tour as a niche and something they’re excited about. It’s definitely turning into if that. Sponsors are eager each year to give to it and the kids seem enthusiastic. I think this year was a turning point where the participants realized that the event wasn’t just a contest for them, that it was actually about something bigger.
The year before it was mainly something we wanted to do just for the kids, for them to have fun. At one of the stops, we showed an IJM video. I think it was at that point that it became real. The event was bigger than them as much as it was fun.
In five years, I’d love to see it grow numerically – grow in value to the skate scene in general, but then also grow in the amount that kids are able to raise as they become more excited and involved with every passing year.
Everything else is just the result of the passion that they are gaining for the issues. The numbers growing and the money coming in, that’s just the outward working of what’s happening in them.
How do you inspire your participants to care about justice issues and other global issues?
Brandon: I think it’s mainly about creating awareness. However, while we tried to do it through Instagram and social media promotion, I feel it only became real to participants when they were with the group and watching the video.
It was impressive because young skaters are usually hard to stop skating. That’s just who they are, they always want to skate. It’s more of a lifestyle than just a hobby. We let them warm up and I was thinking, "How am I going to stop 40 kids and get them to come pay attention to a video?” I thought they wouldn’t care, but they were completely silent as it played. Their eyes were absolutely glued to the screen for the full four and a half minutes.
That may not seem like a long time, but it’s pretty long when you’re looking forward to skating. You could tell that gears were turning in their heads thinking, "Oh my goodness, this actually happens.” I think they were all pretty shocked. We would say that we were raising money for social injustice and to help end slavery, but it’s hard to gain an understanding of those words until you see kids and images - an actual video.
Just watching kids being pulled out of the crazy places that they’ve been kept and forced to carry bricks when they should be in school or playing. Once you see faces and that these are actual people, when you realize that it isn’t just a concept, that’s when people care and get inspired.
On social media, it’s so easy to quickly ‘like’ something and watch 10 seconds of a video, and then keep scrolling through. It’s unfortunate. But when you’re together or meeting with people, showing them videos, pictures of kids, telling them stories – that’s when people listen and it changes their perspectives.
What is the one tip that you would give somebody who wants to organize a similar event?
Brandon: I have two thoughts. The first is creating an incentive for people to get involved – that’s often the initial reason that people participate. Then to make the event fun but create awareness of the issues through contact with people.
Don’t just use social media because when you’re trying to get people to give their time and energy and finances, it has to be personal. You have to connect with people and meet with them and then during the event, make it real and personal for the participants.
How can our readers or any skate enthusiasts connect with Skate Life?
Who has had the biggest impact on the person that you’ve become?
Brandon: This is a hard one. I’ve had so many people. I think the one thing that I’ve realized over the last few years is that in the growth of people, it definitely takes a village to raise a child. I’ve had so many people who have had a huge impact on my life. I guess if I had to choose one it would be Jeff Scott. He’s a police officer and he’s also our full-time Youth Director, a volunteer at our youth group, and he’s just a great guy.
If you could be anyone for a day, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Brandon: I think it would be the Roman soldiers at the tomb of Jesus because those were the only people who were eyewitnesses of what happened and that would’ve been cool to see since that event pretty much writes history.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?
Brandon: Just don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and do something like this. Create awareness. Do a fun event. It takes effort, but not a ton and it’s a lot of fun. And it’s so incredible when you see your efforts actually come to fruition.
Our goal was $2,000 but I would’ve been stoked if the guys had raised $500. And they raised $1,500. To see that one kid raised about $500 himself, and another $300 – I think people will be blown away with the results.
Even if you only raise a couple of hundred dollars, it’s going towards something with a lot of meaning and I don’t think you could go wrong with putting a little effort into creating your own event like this.
Or even just a small-scale event, a coffee shop games event for example. Or a fun night at your house to spread awareness and share about the organization. It’s worth it.
This article is part of a series featuring the amazing individuals who offer their time and talents to fundraise for us.
Inspired? Get started with your fundraiser at IJM.ca/fundraise.