Encinitas couple turn tragedy into skateboarding nonprofit

John and Alison Barry sit on a bench at the Encinitas Skate Plaza dedicated to their son Ian ‘Poods’ Barry, who passed away in 2012. Ian was known for his big heart, leading his parents to start a skateboarding nonprofit that aids underserved youth.
John and Alison Barry sit on a bench at the Encinitas Skate Plaza dedicated to their son Ian ‘Poods’ Barry, who passed away in 2012. Ian was known for his big heart, leading his parents to start a skateboarding nonprofit that aids underserved youth.
/ Jared Whitlock

In 2012, Encinitas couple John and Alison Barry lost their 22-year-old son.

The community grieved with them: Hundreds came to the memorial for Ian “Poods” Barry. More than 80 people have a tattoo honoring him. And locals refer to the new Encinitas Skate Plaza as “Poods Park.”

To help keep alive a spirit that touched so many lives, the couple launched the Rollin’ From the Heart Foundation. The nonprofit’s goal is to bring skateboarding to underserved youth.

“We had no idea of the breadth of the people he touched until his celebration of life,” John said. “Even people we had never met came up to us and said things like, ‘I loved your son intensely, even though I only knew him a short time. I never met anyone like him.’”

He added: “We wanted to continue that magic he started.”

Rollin’ From the Heart organizes skateboarding events at youth shelters, group homes and more. Here’s how it works: Foundation volunteers assemble a portable skatepark, teach participants to set up skateboards and give one-on-one lessons.

Once events are finished, skateboards, safety equipment and often the skatepark are donated, giving the kids an opportunity to stay active and out of trouble. Not to mention, those without a mode of transportation have a skateboard to get to school and work.

“For kids in transitional living situations, they’re facing constant anxiety,” Alison said. “This empowers them by giving them an outlet they otherwise wouldn’t have.”

Ian, the couple said, knew firsthand just how cathartic skateboarding can be.

He struggled with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which meant irrational fears constantly played on a loop in his mind.

“When you’re skating and have to be so in the moment, you can’t be thinking about anything else,” Alison said. “Your mind can’t be anywhere else.”

As an instructor at the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA, Ian loved introducing more people to skateboarding. John said it’s fitting the foundation is sharing the power of skateboarding with more youngsters.

Beyond skateboarding, the nonprofit organizes surfing and camping events, reflecting Ian’s other passions. And on Jan. 17, the nonprofit held a barbecue at the Encinitas Skate Plaza to gather clothing for the Monarch School, which aids homeless children in San Diego.

Ian “Poods” Barry
Ian "Poods" Barry
/ Courtesy photo

Ian passed away September 2012 after accidentally falling off a cliff that overlooks Stone Steps Beach.

Friends and family at the BBQ recalled his disarming charm and quirks. He disdained condiments, had a fear of driving cars and often slept outside with just an old blanket.

And he didn’t concern himself with following the crowd or the latest fashion trend, they said. Indeed, his outfit often included a suede vest and grubby boots.

Going against the crowd seemingly invites ridicule, but friends and family said his independent outlook made everyone respect him even more.

Ian knew his mental health issues made him different, the Barrys said. But they were quick to add that these struggles made him more understanding and compassionate. He was always willing to help people in need, no matter their background.

“He hung out with a diverse group of people,” John said. “He saw the good in all of them. He didn’t judge anyone, even for a second.”

Typically, after forming a nonprofit, the next step is to find funding. But Rollin’ From the Heart took a reverse path.

After Ian’s death, the Barrys received a number of donations to cover funeral expenses. They ended up with a surplus of funds and decided to do something to honor him.

On the one-year anniversary of his passing, they held the nonprofit’s first event at San Marcos’ Casa de Amparo, a facility that provides support for children affected by or at risk of abuse and neglect.

“The love was absolutely palpable there,” John said. “We knew we wanted to do more.”

To date, they’ve donated more than 140 skateboards, along with helmets, pads and shoes.

Alison said they’re extremely grateful to Ian’s friends, who have contributed countless hours to providing lessons at the events. And they also raised money for a bench in Ian’s memory at the Encinitas Skate Plaza, which Ian supported.

“You look at these kids, they’re not mainstream with their tattoos, but they have the biggest hearts,” Alison said with tears in her eyes. “I’ve never met such a giving group of people.”

She added their giving nature is “changing perceptions of skateboarding.”

Friend Sean Conover said Ian would go to any extent to help friends and family, and so volunteering is a great way to keep his memory alive.

“Ian wouldn’t want it any other way,” Conover said. “He would do the same thing.”

And, Conover said, it’s important that troubled youth see that others care about them.

“They’ve been through some tough situations that I can only imagine,” Conover said. “It’s nice to show them there are good people in the world who want to help.”

Matthew Weiss said Ian was best known for skateboarding, but he also built motorcycles, played guitar and enjoyed other hobbies.

“Whatever the niche, people loved him,” Weiss said. Austin Bauer and Cody Melton echoed their sentiments.

The Barrys said the nonprofit has helped them deal with their loss.

“If we’re completely honest, especially for me, we didn’t know what to do with the grief,” John said. “We’re still dealing with it. It doesn’t go away. It’s a lifetime of learning how to keep it in check so it doesn’t disable you.”

When Ian passed, John continued, “and I saw this incredible outpouring of love and goodness, that was something for me to pour my grieving into. And then it’s manifested itself into this.”

To learn more about Rollin’ From the Heart or to donate, visit rollinfromtheheart.org.