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Road to Recovery: Sk8 Church keeps rolling through pandemic

After COVID-19 closed the doors of the Sk8 Church in Steamboat Springs, Executive Director Nathan Bartels and his staff redesigned the interior space of the 5,000-square-foot facility and expanded the space for skateboarding.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — COVID-19 has brought plenty of changes to the Sk8 Church in Steamboat Springs, but Executive Director Nathan Bartels said the facility’s closure from mid-March to June due to the pandemic only reinforced his belief in the church’s mission.

“We’re just going to continue offering the services that we offer even in the midst of coronavirus,” Bartels said. “We’re going to do it as responsibly as we possibly can, but we know there is a need in our communities for a safe and sober environment for youth and young adults. We’re going to continue to offer that and continue to do so within the parameters that our city and our county and our state requires.”

Bartels said people who walk through Sk8 Church’s front doors now must wear masks and practice social distancing rules. Initially, Bartels instituted a reservation system using Instagram, and for several months, only 10 individuals at a time were allowed in the 5,000-square-foot space.

As restrictions eased, the church was able to move away from reservations and host more skaters. Currently, the indoor skate park is limited to 25% of capacity or a maximum of 50 people.

The church also stopped organizing events, including the fundraisers that support Sk8 Church and its causes. Bartels’ hope is to organize something this fall with the cooperation of the city and county.

But through it all, Bartels and the Sk8 Church staff have worked hard to maintain a presence in young people’s lives and reinforce the message that the church offers a sober and safe environment where kids can escape to when things get tough.

“We strive to be that consistent presence for those who struggle with addiction, so that when some big life change or an unforeseen circumstance, like the coronavirus pandemic, comes along and sends them down a spiral that they can’t get out of, we’re here,” Bartels said. “It’s one of the greatest reasons that we continue to offer Sk8 Church to this community, because we know how bad those who struggle with addiction need that consistency.”

While the church was shut down, Bartels and his staff took the down time to reconfigure the inside of the facility, taking out a bowl and stage area to offer more square footage for skating.

In addition to the changes in Steamboat, Sk8 Church is expanding its reach by opening up a new location in Hayden called “The Block” at 105 W. Jefferson Ave. The new venue is expected to open this week.

The location, which used to be the home of Wolf Mountain Pizza, will include a retail section offering skateboard merchandise as well as a pool table where young people can hang out, and a separate area that’s about 1,000 square feet with a mini-ramp, room to skate and a video game area.

Bartels said COVID-19 wasn’t a factor in opening the satellite location in Hayden, but the closure caused by the virus did allow staff time to focus on opening the new location. He said the biggest challenge now will be getting the word out to area youth.

“When we first reached out about a youth center there, the owner was actually really excited to hear that somebody wanted to move in and had a positive purpose for the space,” Bartels said. “We worked with the city a little bit on zoning, and we’ll have to continue to run a retail shop or maybe a coffee shop out of here in the future.”

Sk8 Church operates on private donations, and Bartels said the organization has taken a bit of a hit during the pandemic.

“The greatest challenge for us is just being able to touch base with people,” Bartels said. “It hasn’t presented huge challenges in the five months of coronavirus, but I think in the long run it will. We are really hoping that we can start meeting with churches again and sharing the stories of lives changed.”

The Road to Recovery series is part of the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s ongoing efforts to report on how COVID-19 is impacting Steamboat Springs and Routt County. This series is supported in part by a grant from Google’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.


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