Taylor is piloting a pair of eight-week programs called METALS (Mentoring, Educating, Transforming, and Leading through Skating), in partnership with the Pierce County Juvenile Court, which he hopes will help transform the lives of young parolees. Four more eight-week programs are planned for this year. Alchemy also takes skateboarding to homeless kids living at the Tacoma Rescue Mission, and has set up a pop-up skate park at the shelter.
Sometimes Taylor sees kids who lack basic necessities such as food, housing, and shoes. When he senses their need, he starts by asking if they want to go skate. “It’s a way to get something out. It cultivates letting go so you can focus on moving forward, which happens to be the case with life. We support each other here,” says Taylor, who gives donated food or shoes to young people in need.
Taylor grew up in suburban Los Angeles, where his father told him to do what he loved and to find good people to do it with. Back then, that meant learning new skate tricks from his best friend. “He was way better at skating, art, and music than I was,” says Taylor of his friend, who had attended a school where he didn’t fit, had slipped into drugs, and had been sent away. Taylor never saw him again. “He wasn’t a bad kid. We always said we wanted to create a place where people could belong.”
It occurs to him now that he’s making good on their shared dream. Alchemy shares space with Grit City Grindhouse, a skateboarding retailer Taylor co-founded in 2013. Visit the mustard-colored 3,000-square-foot corner building on South Seventh Street downtown and you’ll find young people hanging out on a couch watching skating videos, building boards, or practicing tricks.
Taylor and Alchemy co-founder Robert Boyle originally secured the space by pitching a business model for Grit City Grindhouse to Spaceworks Tacoma, a program designed to fill empty storefronts and vacant spaces with art and creative enterprise. He got approved to use the space rent-free for the first six months. It’s where Alchemy operates the city’s only indoor community skate park, offering skate lessons, camps, and group skates. Taylor built about 60 percent of its interchangeable ramps, also used at Go Skate Tacoma, a free event at Tollefson Plaza that attracted nearly 2,000 people last year.
“I was lucky enough to help with Go Skate,” says Claire Canfield ’18, who interned with Alchemy as part of Puget Sound’s Summer Immersion Internship Program.
At Alchemy, Claire fulfilled her desire to connect to the broader Tacoma community. She organized donations for Go Skate and helped create a Resource Board for youth looking for assistance with housing, food, homework, and other support.
“Taylor encouraged me to say yes to new things,” says Claire, whose experience as a roller derby skater made her a good fit. Then again, anybody who walks through the door of Alchemy/Grindhouse is a good fit. It’s a community of belonging that knows the importance of getting up when you fall down, in skating and in life.
Published Oct. 25, 2017
Photos courtesy of Taylor Woodruff