Oceans of Hope Foundation and Yaupon Brothers - a match made in Heaven (aka the beach). By guest blogger, Bob Lovelace
The Yaupon Brothers American Tea Company and the Oceans of Hope Foundation have recently formed an alliance to advance the Foundation’s mission of providing access to adaptive water sports for individuals with disabilities of all kinds. The alliance is evidence that the two organizations share the understanding that healthy lifestyles, outdoor activities, connections with the natural world, and meaningful relationships are powerful healing forces in our lives.
The Oceans of Hope Foundation is a New Smyrna Beach, Florida-based non-profit founded in 2014. Co-founders Chris Sharpe and Danny Paltjon had a common vision of providing individuals with disabilities opportunities to experience surfing. Danny, having personally experienced a spinal cord injury, understood the powerful need for hope that life after a debilitating injury or other medical event can include sports, outdoor activities and greater independence.
The Foundation’s first adaptive surfing event was held in New Smyrna Beach in August of 2014 with just five guest surfers and sixteen volunteers from the local surfing community. Six years later, individual Foundation surfing events host 40-50 guest surfers and 120+ volunteers. Guests and volunteers at the events come from communities all over Florida, out-of-state and even internationally.
The adaptive surfing events include the use of modified surfboards, specialized mats that allow wheelchairs and other mobility devices to cross soft sands, assistance from volunteers trained in adaptive sports concepts, and an array of supporting infrastructure that make for fun, sunny, music and food-filled events that bring together all sorts of individuals that share a common love of the ocean.
While the events’ goals are focused on the enjoyment of the guest surfers, it has become clear that the events touch hearts and change lives in ways that Chris and Danny hadn’t contemplated. Not only do the guest surfers spend a relaxing day on the beach and experience the thrills of surfing, but the impacts on the lives of the guest surfers’ loved ones, caregivers and the event volunteers have ben profound. Loved ones and caregivers often provide testimonials that share how joyous it was for them to see the guest surfers smile ear-to-ear when they feel the “stoke” of riding waves. Event volunteers frequently state that their participation in the outings are among the most enriching activities they have experienced. The program absolutely touches hearts and changes lives.
In 2018/2019, the Foundation’s leadership began laying the groundwork for a new adaptive kayaking program. One purpose of the kayaking program was to be able to offer adaptive sports events during the fall and winter seasons when ocean temperatures were too cold to hold surfing events. The new program’s goals and procedures were developed, kayaks were acquired, specialized adaptive equipment was secured, and volunteers were trained in specialty topics related to kayaking with individuals with disabilities. Adaptive equipment used to modify the kayaks includes outriggers, specialized seating systems, hand and wrist adaptations and a variety of foams to protect and support paddlers. Also, in 2019 a strategic alliance was formed with Battle Island Adventure Club that allows the paddling events to be held on Battle Island in New Smyrna Beach. Battle Island is situated in the heart of the Mosquito Lagoon Aquatic Preserve which is the northernmost portion of the Indian River Lagoon system. The venue offers guest paddlers with immediate access to a beautiful estuary world-renowned for its fishing, bird and other wildlife watching opportunities, and protected inland coastal waters with an endless maze of fascinating waterways coursing through an amazing mangrove forest.
The adaptive kayaking program was not designed just to provide one day outings to guests. The program is led by trained kayak trip leaders and Florida Master Naturalists whose goals are to provide safe, guided outings and to share fun, fascinating facts about the plants and animals so abundant in the estuary. Further, the program is structured to provide formal training in adaptive kayaking for those guests that want to pursue kayaking as an ongoing recreational activity. The program offers the opportunities, challenges and training for individuals to advance their paddling skills and to develop a lifelong recreation. The program’s inaugural event was held in the fall of 2019 with several paddling events scheduled for the following spring.
As we all know, the world was turned upside down in early 2020. The Foundation suspended its surfing and kayaking events. The year thus far has been spent developing post-COVID-19 protocols to protect the health of guests and volunteers. Unfortunately, as of the writing of this blog post, health concerns remain and event schedules continue to be uncertain. Nevertheless, the Foundation’s leadership and volunteers are anxiously awaiting the “all clear” signal to resume outings. During this “down time” the Foundation is exploring adaptive opportunities in water skiing and fishing. Stay tuned for more information.
As with any non-profit, the Foundation is dependent on the generosity of individuals and corporate donors to provide the funds necessary to acquire and maintain equipment, to host events and to develop new programs. The Oceans of Hope Foundation has no employees nor paid consultants and is operated entirely by volunteers. All donations go directly to funding programs and hosting events. The Foundation has been warmly embraced by the Central Florida community. Many generous individuals have given not just their time to volunteer but have donated to the Foundation’s finances. Current corporate and private sponsors include Jeep Beach, Halifax Health/Brooks Rehabilitation, Surfing’s Evolution & Preservation Foundation, Daytona Sportswear, Volusia County Beach Rentals & Refreshments, Rum Runners Jeep Club, Jonny Nomad Media, and now…Yaupon Brothers American Tea Company.
The new relationship with and support from the Yaupon Brothers American Tea Company started, where else, on the beach. Co-Founder and CEO Bryon White, in his prior life in the leadership of the Volusia County Beach Safety Division, would often visit the Foundation’s surfing events on the beach. Co-Founder & Chief Production Officer Mark Steele has been a long-time member of New Smyrna Beach’s surfing “tribe”. The leadership of the Oceans of Hope Foundation includes multiple watermen that Mark knows well from surfing. Those personal relationships are the foundation of the partnership between the two organizations.
The inclusion of the Oceans of Hope Foundation in the Yaupon Brothers American Tea Company’s new “Chari-Teas” support of local non-profits is an exciting new development. One of the Foundation’s return guest families (Elizabeth and son Colby) were the winners of the naming contest for the tea blend that benefits the Oceans of Hope Foundation.
The name “Abili-Tea” was perfect for the Foundation’s special blend. The tasty tropical tea with organic Florida-grown Yaupon, pineapple, orange slices, mango, safflowers, strawberries, hibiscus, marigolds, natural flavors, and a bit of cane sugar is like a beach day in a mug. It’s great hot or over ice.
And best of all, Yaupon Brothers is donating 50% from every canister sold to the Oceans of Hope Foundation. This is just the latest example of kind and creative people working together for the benefit of others. As the Foundation’s Executive Director Mike Recicar often points out, the key to meaningful lives is to “surround yourself with people who have a passion for something outside themselves".
To learn more about the Oceans of Hope Foundation and to get involved, please visit the Foundation’s website at www.OceansOfHopeFoundation.org