We live in a world where families of kids with disabilities are still working toward understanding and acceptance, so it’s important to find the places where our kids feel safe to be who they are. For us, Surfers Healing is that safe haven. For one special day, our kids are free of any judgement and free to be themselves. On that perfect day, we can show our kids that there are things we can overcome despite the struggles.
Nancy Hussey has been an integral part of Surfers Healing in Folly Beach for 13 years. Over this time, she has watched it grow from a small event with a few volunteers and a handful of kids to a camp with 400 volunteers, hundreds of sponsors, and most importantly hundreds of families that bring their kids to experience the magic.
While the surfers are like celebrities to us and our kids, these events simply wouldn’t be possible without the amazing volunteers who take on random jobs from emptying trash cans to securing our kids in life jackets. Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing some of them, and I have come away with profound gratitude for what these people are willing to do to ensure that our families have one perfect day.
In the Hawaiian culture there’s a word Kokua, which is how Mrs. Hussey describes Surfers Healing volunteers. Kokua is the act of extending loving and sacrificial help to others without expecting anything in return. And, in my opinion, no word is more fitting.
Nancy Morris is an occupational therapist who has been a part of Surfers Healing since its inception at Folly Beach. She said that in her field she often sees families become disheartened watching their child go to therapy week after week only to see minimal progress. One of the most gratifying moments for her and the other volunteers is witnessing a mother, who has spent so much time in doctors offices and therapy appointments, see her child enjoy a carefree day on a surfboard and experience something many people never will.
“The ocean is one of the biggest sensory experiences that a kid can have,” Mrs. Morris said. “Some kids don’t like parts of it while others love it…. But no matter what, it’s OK because everyone there understands and gets it.” This is what Surfers Healing is all about — the acceptance that our families receive is unconditional and the community is powerful. It’s something that no clinic can give us.
Shelly Ackley is one of the first people you’ll see at Surfers Healing Folly Beach as she volunteers at the registration table. “Surfers Healing is such a special day for me personally,” she said. “It is a magical day where having a child with autism is celebrated, and the support from our community is heartfelt. As a speech language pathologist, it’s important to talk about the communicative benefits of Surfer’s Healing. After surfing, a child’s sensory system is more regulated, and this can result in improved overall communication skills. The kids are all so excited to share their unique experience of riding the waves with their families and loved ones.”
As a father of two daughters with autism, I can attest that the feeling of seeing your child return to shore full of excitement and joy is indescribable.
On behalf of all of the families that have participated in Surfers Healing, thank you to the volunteers. We deeply appreciate your selflessness and the time you give up to give our families so much. In a life filled with chaos, we will always cherish the memories we have made with you.
“The gratitude I have for being a part of Surfers Healing has had a tremendous and powerful impact on my life, and my heart and mind have been opened to appreciate the gifts and also the struggles of the many, many beautiful people I’ve met along the way. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, the ocean and her gifts bring our families together like no other place I’ve experienced.” — Nancy Hussey
If you would like to support Surfers Healing, you can use code SURFER when you order popcorn, and 50% of your purchase will go toward helping them continue to provide these incredible camps free to kids with autism.
Mark and Cassandra have been an unstoppable duo for 10 years. They have four beautiful kids Ashlynne, Aerabella, Mikel, and Alexis. Both Ashlynne and Aerabella have an autism diagnosis. Mark is currently in college where he is studying special education.