An Encinitas couple’s good Samaritan program offering skateboarding and life lessons to at-risk kids shot from relative obscurity to 1.4 million online views within a day and a half of its debut last week.
And the attention came as a huge surprise to John and Alison Barry. They had agreed to be interviewed for a routine documentary when, in the vein of “Undercover Boss,” they later learned the folks shooting it were a professional crew from the weekly series “Returning the Favor” on Facebook Watch.
Show host Mike Rowe, who has 1.9 million Facebook followers, crisscrosses the country with his production team in search of folks “who are slightly better than us doing nice things for their communities in a completely selfless way.”
Last week’s webcast, released Aug. 13, highlighted the Barrys and their Rollin’ From The Heart program. It began after the couple’s 22-year-old son, Ian “Poods” Barry, tragically died in 2012 in an accidental fall from a cliff above Leucadia State Beach.
Beloved by many, the free-spirited Ian had attracted a huge circle of friends, more than 600 of whom flocked to his memorial, where one after another attested to his kindness, compassion and acceptance of everyone without judgment.
Ian, who was not into tattoos, nevertheless, did have a small outline of a heart. His boss at Brixton apparel related that his brother once asked Ian, “Why a heart?” to which Ian replied, “Because I love everybody.”
With a deluge of memorial donations, the Barrys decided to start a foundation to help struggling kids in gang-infested neighborhoods by offering instruction in skateboarding, one of Ian’s favorite pastimes, as well as camping adventures and scholarships.
After videotaping a skateboarding session at Monarch School for homeless and disadvantaged kids, the “Returning the Favor” film crew went to the Encinitas Skate Plaza, nicknamed “Poods Park” by locals, where a bench honors Ian’s memory.
Then it was off to the neighborhood YMCA where Ian had taught skateboarding. Four of his buddies, including Riley Hawk, a pro skateboarder like his dad, Tony Hawk, surprised the Barrys, traveling from as far as Brooklyn, N.Y. and Montana.
Rowe also surprised the Barrys with a $30,000 check and gifts of skateboards, sunglasses, safety equipment, hats and apparel for kids involved in Rollin’ From The Heart. “My knees are shaking,” said Alison. “I’m in shock.”
“I miss him everyday,” said John. Ian was simple and quiet but there was something about his spirit and his soul that was magical, he added. “We couldn’t let that die.” The couple implores others to keep alive his message of kindness, compassion, acceptance and tolerance.
As for the $30,000? He said the money will be used to buy a used box truck to store skateboards, helmets, ramps and safety gear so they can take the program mobile. “We’ll be able to reach children at three to four times as many schools,” he said.
Rollin’ From the Heart is always accepting donations to continue serving San Diego youth, John said. For more information, visit www.rollinfromtheheart.org.
-- Diane Bell is a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune.