Published first in the Justice Report issue 32.2
Jay Mandarino is the President & Founder of The C.J. Skateboard Foundation and the CJs SKATEPARK Not-for-Profit. Over the past 26 years, Jay has raised more than $50 million dollars for hundreds of charities worldwide by performing as a professional auctioneer donating through JBM Auction Services.
This interview with the dynamic and multi-talented philanthropist and entrepreneur, Mr. Jay Mandarino, offers a message of hope for the increasing numbers of children and young people in the school system or work place who find themselves unable to succeed due to learning disabilities and other difficulties. Jay challenges society in regard to troubled children and youth by bringing such problems into the realm of normal. He offers himself up as a living example of how “a great school, great parents, support, hard work, skateboarding, a bit of luck, and the drive to never give up” saved him. As a philanthropist, Jay donates his time delivering “his own simple story” to raise awareness about the importance of giving back to society. Among other projects, Jay has established the fourth largest indoor Not-for-Profit skateboard park in the world in Toronto. CJ’s SKATEPARK is a non-profit aimed at helping youth who have, as he did, learning disabilities or other health problems (such as cancer), but do not have access to adequate supports at home or in the community.
HELPING OUR YOUTH SUCCEED AND OVERCOME BARRIERS
Mr. Mandarino, could you talk to us about yourself… your path?
Yes, I’ll start at the beginning. As a child, I was a victim of constant bullying. I was told that I was stupid and often laughed at in school because I had trouble reading and writing. This was extremely humiliating and I would go home in tears almost daily with little to no self-esteem. There were a few great teachers but lots of not great teachers. Most of the teachers were not helpful or did not understand my challenges. I attempted suicide at the young age of 8. I was institutionalized for several months and my parents were then told I was destined for low-level employment and to forget about me ever succeeding in high school or university. Fortunately, my parents did not listen and never gave up on me. Eventually, through an LDAO (Learning Disabilties Association of Ontario) referral, I was diagnosed (at age 14) with Dyslexia and ADHD by a psychologist. My parents sold their house and sent me to The Gow School, a private school in upper state New York specializing in these afflictions. I graduated top of my class with honours and during my time at school became a skilled skateboarder, gaining notoriety in 1976 for being the first person in the world to jump over a Ferrari. Returning to Canada, I then attended a pilot program at York University that allowed me to do my exams orally and get extra time and other accommodations.
I then had another challenge (ski accident) that ended up putting me in the hospital for almost 6 months, 110 hours of surgeries and then rehab from a wheel chair, crutches and then canes for over 10 years to learn to walk again! During this time I ventured out and started my own business… I made my first million by the time I was 30. I now have 30 companies, with over $35 million in sales and still growing. One of those companies, C.J. Graphics Inc., is one of the most quality-awarded printers in North America, having received over 6500 Awards to date!
I have also opened Etobicoke’s CJ Skateboard Park and School, the 4th largest indoor Not-For-Profit Skateboard Park in the world, to benefit all kids in our community, especially those who are sick, at-risk or have special needs. As part of my philanthropic work, I also frequently donate my time as an auctioneer for over 60 of the largest fund-raising events in Canada and across North America. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with many movie stars, singers, and rappers—the audiences love this part of my ‘show’! I have written and published a Joke book for charity, which is in its second printing, and also am just finishing a how-to learn to skateboard book for parents and kids. I sit on the board of LDAO (Learning Disabilities of Ontario) and The Michael Pinball Clemmons Foundation. I am blessed and happily married to an amazing woman!
I HAVE INCLUDED A FEW VIDEO LINKS, TO PROVIDE A LITTLE MORE INSIGHT INTO MYSELF!
This is a show called “Top of The Town” produced by Rogers at CJ’S with the segments on our free “Kids being Kids” program for kids and families affected by cancer.
Please share this link, pass it along to everyone – let’s get the word out to more kids and their families! “Kids being Kids” a program which is free for kids affected by cancer and their families.
How does your experience as a successful entrepreneur inform your work as a philanthropist?
As an entrepreneur who has started and built companies with nothing and now owning and running 30 companies with over 33 million in revenue, I feel we all have to do our part to give back philanthropically. I must tell you I love this part. Everyone may say you have to donate money, but l think that your time is equally if not more important. Giving back! And whenever you see the difference you are making in others… it’s a wonderful feeling!
What ultimately got you started? How and why did you decide to help the at-risk youth community?
We all have something to contribute, something that makes us feel good inside. I wanted everyone to have those opportunities that I did not have and now have been able to give back to make a difference for others. I decided to focus on at-risk youth because in some cases it is the last chance to steer them in the right life direction, to avoid the dark path.
Could you talk to us about the value to at-risk youth of the CJ Skateboard Park and School initiative?
Although the parents, kids & youth think it’s only about a cool sport with lots of fun, exercise, core strength, and many other such benefits, the idea behind the skateboard, scooter and in-line park is in fact about community engagement for youth—so they feel involved and part of something— instilling creativity, self-esteem and self-confidence. You might even say it gives them a sense of belonging and the realization that anyone can succeed and achieve all this through hard work and determination in a fun and safe environment.
We are having incredible success with kids before they become ‘youth’ and then with ‘youth’ by getting them to help each other, which is very rewarding for both myself and our team. Getting them to participate in a sport and help someone else, whether it be any young kid or a kid with a disability or suffering from cancer, is empowering for anyone. For youth, mobilizing their incredible energy towards a positive goal empowers them – for the first time in many cases, as they have never experienced this feeling before.
We have some funding available for youth whose parents do not have the money to send them to our skateboard Park. Here is an article on our Not-for- Profit skate park I think your readers might enjoy.
What are your thoughts on the current crime prevention efforts in public schools and among policy makers?
My personal current thoughts are that although we have some great people and ideas, the issue is larger than we think. We all need to get together and change the system for the better. We need early intervention and detection, before these kids grow into teenagers, before they come into contact with the criminal justice system. They need to be targeted in schools and in communities and helped at a young age. It is much harder to give guidance and motivate them onto a different path once they have reached the point where they have begun to join the ‘dark side’—which they do to feel accepted, to gain a feeling of belonging—as by then they often have very low if any self-esteem.
I believe policy makers should be trying to adapt our public education system to better identify these kids before they drop out, or before they get to high school. A primary school principal told me recently that they can tell in grade one which children are likely to not finish high school!
How would you evaluate the crime prevention aspect of a program such as yours?
By looking at outcomes! We have great success and my team and I are very excited about our results because they tell us that we are making a difference, and we witness it every day.
Finally, what do you foresee for the future?
What a tough question! On one hand I’m extremely worried, on the other hand there are moments of optimism! The world is a crazy place now with so many more challenges for young people then there was before! In a lot of cases we are setting them up for failure instead of preparing then to contribute to society!