Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Dude With a Dream

My son AJ is a skateboard fanatic.

I'm intrigued by this whole skateboarding craze because I don't remember even seeing a skateboard when I was a kid. Back then, I used to think skateboards were just a dumb '50s thing for poor kids who couldn't afford cool bikes. I had no idea you could develop complex skills and perform acrobatic tricks on them.

It stands to reason why I was not exposed to this sport as a youngster. Besides the fact that I lived on a gravel road, Duluth at that time had no skateboard shops, no skateboard parks and no skateboard advocates. It's much different now.

The Twin Cities have several indoor/outdoor skate parks and dozens of specialty shops. In fact, for AJ's 14th birthday, we bought him a full week of skateboard camp to the 3rd Lair where he skated hard for 5 hours a day and came home with a whole new set of skills.

AJ at the 3rd Lair

However, in St. Cloud we only have one skate park, which is a small indoor-only business that the kids have to pay for. This, of course, is better than nothing but not good enough for my son. Ever since he's been to other towns with public (city owned) skate parks, he has been on a mission... to get a public skate park here in St. Cloud.

To that end, my son will stop at nothing to see his dream come true. In fact, just the other day at our city's 150th birthday/4th of July celebration, AJ spotted the mayor dressed in his ceremonial garb just getting ready to step up on the stage and give his speech. Before I could figure out what he was up to, he had already dashed over to him and began stating his case.

"See, it'll be like this..."

Surprisingly, the mayor was very respectful of AJ's concern, and even handed him a business card and asked him to make an appointment to discuss it further.

That was all he needed.

This entire past week, AJ has spent every waking minute in front of the computer compiling statistics on skatepark square footage, designs, costs, and grant foundations. Never before have I seen a 14 year old so focused on a mission. Every detail had been considered. Every reference had been noted. Every picture had been printed - and as of last night at midnight the final proposal was in hand.

Then today at 1:30, AJ headed down the hallway of our own City Hall, all by himself, to meet with the mayor.

At 2:30 AJ called me on the phone - so excited I could barely understand him.

"Dad! You're never gonna believe this! The mayor LOVED my proposal!"

It was true. Not only did the mayor love his ideas, but by the time he was finished, the mayor had actually asked him to become of member of the St. Cloud Park and Rec Board and begin immediately by attending the next board meeting tomorrow night. He then summoned in the city photographer for this publicity shot.

A few hours later this email arrived in his mailbox (actual names edited for privacy):

----- Original Message -----
From: "Joe Nxxxxx"
To: "Axxxxx Lee"
Sent: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 2:41 PM
Subject: Mayor pictures

Axxxxx, Here ya go! Congratulations on your appointment to the Park & Rec Board!

Joe Nxxxxx

Media Services Supervisor

City of St. Cloud
320 6xx-xxxx

Now, I'm not saying that this whole thing is a slam dunk. There's a lot of hard work yet to be done, a lot of doors to knock on and a ton of obstacles to overcome. But I can't help but have faith in a kid with a dream.

And trust me on this one - nobody dreams bigger than AJ.

Update: Since Austin was featured as Person of the Week on ABC World News Tonight, many people have found their way to this post through internet searches. Please click here to learn more about the St. Cloud Skatepark Project or to make a donation. Thank you!


Anonymous said...

Congradulations Austin: We are so proud of you!!! Check your mailbox in a couple of days--we're sending you a check to help get you started. Good luck!!!!!

Mooselet said...

Wow! Very impressive, Son of Harmonica Man. Most kids just complain or go off and skate where they're not supposed to, but your son actually did something about it. It says a lot about your son, and about his parents. You should be very proud, Dad!

Of course, now you've shown the rest of us up and we must secretly hate you for a day or so, but it'll pass... :-)

Gale said...

You are such a lucky dad to have such an awesome kid. Isn't it nice to know that you are doing things right? Way to go AJ!!!
It takes some parents years to realize their dream that their kids are going to be okay human beings.

yoo hoo said... does a heart good to hear the good news stories of hard working goal oriented kids. You and mrs harmonica have done a nice job. whoa...I wish I had a grandma handing out cash!

Mocha said...

You must be extremely PROUD of your son! He is an amazing kid.

Best of luck with the skate park. I love the whole idea and enjoy watching the kids at our park. So much so, that I went and took pictures of them (which I flickred) and then printed off and left for them at the park. They loved it. Cool kids.

Much like your AJ.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Thank you all for the good wishes and nice words. We are very proud of him indeed. It's very exciting to see him so jazzed up about something. Kids rarely get an opportunity like this.

And yes, he IS a good kid. But he is also our "adventurous" one and is always the one we're trying to track down when it's time to go somewhere or eat dinner.

Once he gets a little older and has a little more freedom I have a feeling my wife and I are gonna be in for quite the ride!

Damn those paybacks! Right Mom?

Anonymous said...

That is awesome! I will be sending a check also. Having just been through a capital campaign with my non-profit, I know how hard it is to raise money.

My 'adventurous' daughter just bought a motorcycle. Yeah, plan on a good roller coaster ride in a few years. I recommend booze.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Linda - Wow! That's very generous and considerate of you. Thank you! In his meeting tonight he'll be getting some type of pledge form, so hold off on sending any actual money for now. I'll send you a form instead.

With the square footage of the park that he would like to see built, the estimate comes out to nearly a million dollars, of which the city of St. Cloud has none. So he's got a lot of work to do! But the mayor said if they can raise the money they WILL build it.

So thanks again. Obviously every penny is going to help.

Waya said...

I'm beaming with pride for you and your wife for a job well done in raising such an incredible son! I'm a sucker for a great story so almost got teary eyed on this one.

Good luck to you AJ! I'm positive you'll have a bright future ahead of you! Love the tie btw! ;-)

Anonymous said...

That is the most awesome story on the web today. Your son is one of a kind. I'm sure mom and dad are extrememly proud.

Keep us posted on the progress of his dream.

Karl said...

Wow, most impressive. I don't have that much drive and I'm...not 14.

Anonymous said...

Wow Jeff. Congrats to AJ!

Future in politics???

Dave2 said...


And can I just say that your son is a snappy dresser? His shirt and tie look exactly like something I would wear, though I must say he looks better in it than I would!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see a Paypal button or something for this, Jeff. Who doesn't love a kid with a dream?

Jess Riley said...

That is so cool! I'm very impressed. (For a split second I thought that photo of AJ & the mayor was a joke! :-)

juanitagf said...

That is sooo cool. I love seeing that kind of initiative!

but Momma said...

Wow! I'm totally impressed! What a great kid you've got! What did you do? I need details, a How-to book with a workbook, and maybe a DVD on the subject.

Anonymous said...

I noticed that all the previous comments were really positive so everyone will probably take this as a very negative comment but i feel that it needs to be said.
Hi im Brian Buller and I am a skateboarder from Redwood Falls, I have been skateboarding for probably four or five years maybe more, and for those past four or five years the closest skatepark was 45 miles or more out of town (until last year when Bird Island built a skatepark, which is about thirty miles away) and these skateparks arent exactly the best, they are relatively small, they all hold their unique qualities that make them fun and not so fun.
So my cousin (Jordan Coulson) and I had made it our goal multiple years ago to get a skatepark in the town of Redwood Falls. Right away the city didnt have too much interest in our idea which is understandable because the people of Redwood Falls wanted a new pool so why give two kids a valuable location and a chunk of their funds on something they thought we would shortly lose interest in.
Two or Three years later we have what seems to be around one hundred kids interested in skateboarding or inline as well and most seem fairly devoted to working towards a skatepark, we also have an adult leading us now(Mary Johnson), the city is much more open to listen to our ideas so they end up giving us a great location to put our skatepark. We then we used the funds we had been saving up and buy what we can which is a funbox (basic table-top with a euro gap on one half of one side) a box (about one foot high and ten feet long) and a rail (about the same dimensions of the box). Sure it may not seem so great for how long it took, but its like a dream come true for me.
My main point here is you are very lucky to live in a town that has a skatepark (especially an indoor park!) so i suggest you spend most of your time enjoying the skatepark even if its not that great to you, and if its really your dream to make this skatepark a reality stick to it (but i would suggest not stressing about it too much),it sounds like the city has your back. I saw you on the news and i was impressed but Im confused to why your shooting for a million dollar skatepark, ours was seven thousand dollars, granted ours isnt exactly spectacular or anything but I think a $100,000 skatepark would be amazing to have.

I apologize for any bad spelling,grammar or sentence structure and if i offended anyone im sorry.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Hey Brian - Thanks for the input! First of all - congratulations on your efforts. I think it is fantastic that you have taken the initiative to provide a great place for your town to skate. You must be very proud and happy.

A couple of things regarding Austin's idea...

The indoor park we have in St. Cloud charges $3/hr to skate and the young kids don't have that kind of money. Austin is looking to provide a free public skate plaza for all to use.

The "million dollar" estimate is based on a 40,000 sq/ft plaza with no donated materials or labor. The "actual" cost would most likely be between $500k and $700k.

The reason he is aiming for a large cement-based "street" plaza is because that is the model the kids are skating these days, and it doesn't require wooden equipment that will be damaged by the weather over time. He has done much research that shows different cities have built the wrong kinds of skate parks without the skater's input and nobody is using them.

Austin is the kind of kid that likes to think big. We very well may end up with a smaller park in the end, but one thing's for sure - that's not where he's going to start!

Anonymous said...

Oh a free plaza park... Well thats interesting, I have really wanted to skate one of those, now im really excited about this. I didnt know that the park you guys have costs $3 an hour, thats crazy, I believe 3rd lair is cheaper than that and much bigger and better. Oh and you may already know this but Farmington just got a plaza style park I think so that would probably be a good source of ideas and to learn what worked and didnt work for them. Well I definitely wish you the best of luck now and you can expect to see me there when this place is up and running.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Brian - thanks for your support! If you send me your email address we'll put you on the mailing list and invite you to the big public information meeting at Lake George in Oct. You can find it in my profile here or you can email Austin and find his address at

The other thing to keep in mind is that the city of St. Cloud is completely behind him, but not able to provide any money for this project. That's why Austin is working so hard to raise it - and that's why this news broadcast was so helpful.

BTW, Austin LOVES 3rd Lair and skates there all the time. And we'll definitely stop down to Farmington and check it out!

Anonymous said...

Public information meeting? Could you explain? Haha...

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Brian - Exactly! That's why we want to make sure the public is involved with this project. We've found that other city's projects have struggled due to lack of community involvement so this meeting is going to have the city leaders present (city council/mayor and park and rec), business leaders as well as area skaters and their parents. Austin is looking for support and input from the entire community.

Hope you can make it!

Anonymous said...

Oh i see... Alright ill try to stop by.

Anonymous said...

Oh and just a small opinion you may want to think of in the design process (not that im any expert or anything but im all about saving money and such)the DC plaza skatepark that you have shown on the your other website ("") appears to be completly symetrical so they could have basically cut their price in half if they would have cut their park in half, sure it wouldnt be as impressive looking or anything but they could have saved alot of money or they could have had the other side contain a much different setup (yes i realize that the sides are kind of different because you can come at the hubba backisde on one side and frontside on the other side, but that problem could be fixed by having hubbas on both sides of the stair case)

Johnny said...

That is one SPECIAL kid you have there. Looks like he has his mind set in the right direction...