Nonprofit Teaches Youth Surfing and Financial Literacy

A shore thing - how one water therapy nonprofit teaches underserved youth surfing and financial literacy

For many kids, a day at the beach is all about fun and games. For youth recovering from trauma, entering the ocean for the first time could teach them about perseverance and strength. 

On one of California’s perennially good weather days, Roxanne Avant — the executive director of the nonprofit Urban Surf 4 Kids which provides surf therapy to foster youth  — is out on the beach overseeing a surf therapy camp. The program teaches youth how to surf and encourages positive relationships with adult volunteers. Over the course of a day, youth go from feelings of trepidation to joy and trust in ways they have rarely experienced before. 

“Our main objective is to create a positive memory on the beach for youth who might otherwise not have the ability to experience the healing powers of the ocean,” Roxanne says. She explains that the Urban Surf 4 Kids mission is to pair foster youth with volunteers on a one-to-one ratio so that they can learn to develop trusting relationships with adults and heal through surf therapy. 

One 2017 Journal of Community Medical Public Health Care study of adolescents found that surf therapy could be a “very promising possibility” that has some positive effects including: “exploration, effort and perseverance, problem solving, time management, social competencies, interpersonal relationships and emotional regulation.”  

Surf therapy has been transformative for youths like John Culpepper — a 15-year-old foster youth from Louisiana who has bounced between homeless shelters in different states. Urban Surf 4 Kids gave John the opportunity to fly from Arizona to San Diego, California to experience surf therapy through a private surf camp just for him. 

“I lived in Texas. I lived in Arizona. Colorado,” John says. “We lived on the streets for some bit of time and after that DCS [Department of Children Services] came and took us. I was ten years old when that happened.” 

At one surf therapy camp session, Urban Surf 4 Kids instructors taught John to steady himself on a surfboard, encouraging him every step of the way. Throughout the session, John learned how to lift himself on the board to catch waves, the proper position for balance and a safe way to land in the water. Finally, he caught wave after wave back to shore, breaking into laughter every time.

Because youth living in foster care — like John —  are wards of the state, they are legally unable to enjoy “high-risk” activities such as entering the ocean. As a result, Urban Surf 4 Kids has partnered with other nonprofit organizations, foster care agencies, and youth group homes, while assuming the liability and insurance policies needed to provide opportunities for those youth to enjoy the ocean. Aside from those partnerships, Capital One has partnered with the organization to provide two themed surf therapy camps: International Surfing Day and Surf with Law Enforcement. The youth participated in a beach clean-up prior to surfing at one camp and learned about plastic pollution in the ocean. At the latter camp, youth were able to interact with law enforcement officers who were not in uniform, to help the youth heal from trauma and establish a healthier relationship with law enforcement officers. Often, law enforcement officers remove youth from highly unsafe domestic situations. 

A Safe Space To Meet

For Roxanne’s organization, surf therapy is one part of a holistic approach to heal traumatized youth. Because her grassroots organization does not have a physical office, she regularly meets with volunteers and adolescents at the Capital One Café in San Diego. The Café has since become a safe space for them to meet on a regular basis. 

“I was invited to use the space openly if I ever needed a space to grow Urban Surf 4 Kids,” Roxanne recounts. “For several months I would work from the Capital One Café three to four days a week all day and use that space to write grants, host board meetings and grow Urban Surf 4 Kids.”

At the café, Capital One Café Ambassador Daniel Jimenez and Roxanne soon began working to put together workshop sessions for the youth. 

“There were times when I would run out and high-five and hug Daniel and the members of the Capital One Café team when I would get exciting news for Urban Surf 4 Kids or when I’d find out that we were awarded a grant I had worked hard on,” Roxanne continued. “It was like I had become part of the Cafe and they had become a part of Urban Surf 4 Kids. Honestly, I don’t know where I would be without Daniel. He was there every step of the way to show his support.” 

Daniel — a Board Member of Urban Surf 4 Kids — has since held twice-a-month, financial literacy classes at the cafe to educate youth aging out of the foster care system. Beginning with the basics, Daniel teaches the youth participants what pay stubs look like, what lease forms look like, and what could happen when adults miss payments on utilities and rent. 

Across the country, Capital One Cafés showcase what it means to be a "reimagined" bank that truly engages in this way. The Cafés hum with community events like Daniel’s classes. They are also frequented by local students looking for a place to study and neighborhood associations hosting networking and development events that give other members of the community the opportunity to connect, grow, and prosper. As part of the interconnected fabric of the communities Capital One serves, the Cafés are built with and for the communities in which customers live, leveraging the strengths of Capital One’s business and associates like Daniel who strive to help people pursue financial freedom and make great choices for themselves, their families, and their neighborhoods.

“As soon as these youths turn 18, they will be out of the [foster care] system and can use these skills to invest in their futures,” he says. He explains that Urban Surf 4 Kids has an enrichment program that teaches the “technologies of now and the technologies of tomorrow” including resume-building and coding. “We teach them what they need to know as adults.” 

“When the youth see Daniel, they light up, there’s hugs and high-fives, and they call him Uncle,” Roxanne adds. “The kids love Daniel, which is huge. They don’t openly love just anyone. Through the workshops, Daniel helps them sit down and visualize the financial breakdown of where they want to live when they grow up, the occupations they want, and how much it costs to live in those places. His workshops are eye-opening for the kids.”

Back on the water, John initiates a secret handshake with Roxanne, that he previously created to express his happiness during the surf camp: an intricate series of hand gestures followed by a grin.

“John’s story is unique but at the same time reminiscent of many other youth’s lives in foster care,” Daniel says. “Foster youth need a constant. With a world so weird these days, our strong community partnerships and cafe give me hope that we can provide a safe space to help celebrate these youth and their stories so that they can one day inspire other people.”