As a veteran police officer, Jacques Gilbert takes a great deal of pride in helping people solve their problems.
So, when a teenager stumped Gilbert with a quick, innocent question about skateboarding, he didn’t take it lightly.
Responding to a complaint last March that skateboarders were making too much noise in an Apex neighborhood, Gilbert spotted the familiar face of 17-year-old Tracy Stallworth.
He had talked to the teen once before concerning skateboarding and it appeared the two were about to repeat the one-sided conversation.
Only this time, instead of quietly walking away, Stallworth was looking for answers.
“The neighbors were annoyed with him because of the noise,” said Gilbert. “So as I was talking to him he asked me, ‘So, where can we go to skate?’ I realized I didn’t have an answer for him and it bothered me. In my line of work, you want to be a problem solver and answer people’s questions. These kids weren’t causing trouble. They just wanted a place to skate and they didn’t have anywhere to go.”
Having founded The Vine919, a Christian organization that aims to improve the lives of children and families, Gilbert came up with the idea of incorporating skateboarders into his group.
It was a move he never would have considered a few years earlier.
“Before my spiritual eyes were opened, I looked at skateboarding as a complete waste of time,” said Gilbert with a laugh. “But once you get to know these kids and see their amazing talent you realize they are not troublemakers.
“There are some bad stereotypes about skateboarders and they are wrong. Most of these kids just love skating and want to get better, the same way other kids feel about basketball or football.”
The stereotypes are nothing to new to most skateboarders.
“People get mad when we are skating,” said Kenneth Feliciano, 16. “They think we are messing up their property when, really, we aren’t. They think drugs are involved and that’s not true. We just like to skate.”
More than 100 young skateboarders showed up Saturday for The Vine919’s “I Love Sk8” event held in the parking lot of Galaxy Foods on W. Williams Street.
The event is one of many ways Gilbert and The Vine919’s 23-member skate team are looking to reach the youth of Apex.
With the help of teen leaders like Stallworth, Feliciano, Dylan Bowser and Tyeler Cromwell, The Vine919 is attempting to steer young kids down a path free of crime and drugs.
“We are trying to show people that you can have fun without all the bad stuff,” said Cromwell, 16. “It’s all about skating and helping the younger kids.”
Gilbert also likes to get his skaters involved in various volunteer projects, including events at the senior living community at Cambridge Village.
“You would be amazed at what these kids can accomplish,” said Gilbert. “They want to give and they want to be accepted as well.”
“We’re just looking to be part of the community,” said Bowser, 18.
The Vine919 is hoping to raise enough money to build a skate park in town. Although fundraising is still in the planning stages, Gilbert believes there is enough community support for such a project.
He said the park would be invaluable to Apex because it would provide so many teens and children with a safe skating environment.
“Business owners don’t want kids skating on their property and I absolutely understand why,” said Gilbert. “Residents don’t like the noise caused by the skates. A skate park would give all these kids a place where they could skate. I think it’s something the town needs and we are going to get started with fundraising very soon.”
It is the type of place teenagers like Stallworth have been waiting for ever since they first stood on a skateboard.
“You hear a lot of bad things about skating and they aren’t true,” said Stallworth. “We just want someplace where we go.”
Gilbert believes he might finally have the answer.