San Diego

Your Corner: Parents Turn Grief of Losing Son Into Joy for San Diego Kids

John Barry and Alison Brown lost their son, Ian, in an accident five years ago and have found a way to turn their pain into joy for others in need in San Diego

Sometimes, the darkest moments produce the brightest ideas.

San Diego’s Monarch School is where one of those ideas is rolling along. One day a week, skateboards, scooters, and ramps fill the playground of this school where every kid has one thing in common: they're all affected by homelessness.

"They’re living in emergency shelters, cars, campsites, and motels," explained Katie Bradel, the school’s director of development. "Every single student is overcoming some level of trauma."

For 300 students between kindergarten and 12th grade, Monarch is the closest thing they have to a consistent home. Some of them arrive on campus at 6 a.m. and stay until 6 p.m.

Bradel said for many of the students, it’s the only place where they'll have a meal all day. And for most, it’s the only place they can do the things other kids take for granted, like ride a skateboard.

“Skateboarding day is one of the best days on campus,” said Bradel.

Skateboarding day comes once a week, and it’s delivered by two parents who know about hard times.

In 2012, John Barry and Alison Brown lost their son, Ian Barry, in an accident on a cliff in Encinitas. They said their 22-year-old didn’t talk much, but also never stopped moving.

“When he was on his skateboard or a wave or on his Harley, he was happy,” said Barry.

And it’s the reaction to their son’s death is what’s kept them moving every day since.

"When he passed, we had 500 to 600 people show up at his memorial that were touched by his life. You know, we wanted to give back as well," said Brown.

So, the couple created a nonprofit organization they call Rollin’ From the Heart. They bring mobile skate ramps and dozens of skateboards, scooters, and helmets to kids that otherwise would not have access.

"We thought, 'What better thing to do with our grief than to create some more joy in kids' lives, and let’s do it with the things that Ian loved to do,'" said Barry. "And then let’s serve a community where kids don’t have those opportunities."

The group also takes kids to the beach to learn how to surf. They’ve started scholarships to send kids to summer camp, sending four the first summer, seven the next, and 13 kids this past summer.

At Monarch, watching a kid overcome their fear of dropping onto a skate ramp makes you realize, there’s more than skateboarding happening on that playground.

"That translates to every area of their life. When they get back to the classroom, and they’re having trouble with their multiplication table, they remember that moment when they learned to do something difficult and overcame it," said Bradel.

For Ian Barry's parents, it's most of all about showing kids their potential, no matter what other people may see.

It’s a lesson they learned from their son.

"He was very quiet, humble," said Brown. "You might have thought he was just a grungy skateboard kid, but he was so much more, and he had so much depth."

For information on how you can help Rollin' From the Heart's mission moving, click here.

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