by GREG SIERING
When Courtney Payne-Taylor stepped onto a skateboard at Upper Cascades Skate Park in 2004, she was hooked. Skateboarding gave her the strength and confidence she needed to overcome the depression that had plagued her teen years. That’s why, after graduating from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business in 2006, Payne-Taylor decided to pass that strength along by teaching girls how to skate.
“Skateboarding made me happy,” she says, “but teaching others to skateboard gave me a purpose.”
For more than five years, Payne-Taylor lived out of her van and moved from town to town, partnering with local female skaters to teach girls how to skateboard. “I was like Johnny Appleseed, but with skateboarding,” Payne-Taylor, 37, says. She also started her nonprofit organization, GRO—Girls Riders Organization.
From the start, GRO has been about more than skateboarding. Every lesson is connected to life skills—confidence, resiliency, and strength of character. One early lesson is about how to fall safely—and then get back up. It’s an important safety skill in skateboarding, but an even more important lesson in life, Payne-Taylor says: “We need to teach them how to get hurt and come back from that.”
Eventually, Payne-Taylor realized GRO needed to expand beyond her and her van, so she settled in New York City and began forming GRO crews across the country. The organization has grown to 20 crews in 11 states.
Payne-Taylor moved back to Bloomington in 2017 to help existing children’s organizations establish GRO programs. GRO provides a curriculum that pairs skateboarding skills with life lessons, offers training for leaders, and gives groups specialized equipment that lets them run programs at their own locations. She first partnered with Girls Inc. of Monroe County and is now working with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bloomington. The goal is to expand to other clubs in the Midwest next year.
Next up, Payne-Taylor and GRO are partnering with local organizations to develop a city-wide event next fall focused on the importance of play. Still in the planning stages, Play Today Indiana will include more than 40 sports and play activities, helping participants find new ways to play that match their interests.
“Different keys unlock different people’s confidence in life,” Payne-Taylor says, pointing out that while skateboarding is her passion, she wants everyone to find a way to play that gives them joy, happiness, and the confidence they need to succeed.
For more information about GRO and Find Your Way to Play, visit girlsriders.org.