Shortly after Jimmy passed away in August 2004, I was taking a beach walk at dusk, and literally ran into Carly Rogers running the other way. It was the first time I had seen her since Jimmy’s service and paddle out on 4th Street. I did not know her very well, only that she was a L.A. County Lifeguard who had trained with Jimmy on the beach and he had helped her learn to surf, while supervising her lifeguard training. Jeff knew her through school, water-polo and lifeguards as well. Carly explained that Jimmy had been her mentor. By helping her learn to surf, he had changed her life . We don’t often get the chance to know how our adult children have made a difference in the world, and we sure don’t know all their friends and associates. What a gift Carly gave me that night, in sharing her memories about their friendship.
After about 5 minutes of hugging and weeping and holding each other, we began to chat and Carly told me about her Masters Thesis in Occupational Therapy from USC. She shared her concept of “Ocean Therapy,” developed to increase the self-efficacy and confidence of the autistic children she taught, in a controlled and supported surf lesson. Her results from this program were nothing short of amazing. The kids would come to the beach non-communicative and fearful, and after an hour of riding waves with Carly supporting their every move, the children returned to the shore and their waiting parents with enthusiasm and huge smiles. In reporting the results of these “Ocean Therapy Sessions,” Carly was able to prove her thesis about the value of this unique way of learning. Surfing and talk therapy rolled into a one-on-one learning experience using all the senses.
As the sun was setting, we continued to talk and Carly asked if we had decided how we were going to honor Jimmy’s life. By this time, we had created the non-profit, Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation and had chosen a board of friends and relatives to help us plan how best to honor Jimmy by helping others. I immediately said, “This sounds amazing, just what Jimmy would want. He loved teaching surfing more than anything, and it would combine that love with reaching out to kids in need.” A random woman to woman connection on the beach, quickly became the core of our JMMF programs.
Carly called Jeff with her concept and then we shared it with our JMMF Board. One of our board members knew of a children’s facility that might be open to a new concept in helping their at risk children. A few weeks later, Carly, Jeff, Chris and Steve were sitting in the office of Mary Brougher, Executive Director of Hollygrove, a live-in facility for at-risk youth in Hollywood. We thought it might be a difficult sell, to explain the mental and physical benefits of an assisted surfing program that included group therapy on the beach. Once again, fate stepped in. Mary Brougher was a surfer who grew up surfing on 4th Street in Manhattan Beach. She immediately loved the concept, the academic portion of the early evidence based science (which was to become Surf Therapy) and the sheer joy of exposing the at-risk kids to a new, healthy and life-changing sport.
A few months passed in feverish preparation for our first Ocean Therapy session on the beach in El Porto, right where Jimmy had located his highly successful Camp Surf. Permits, volunteers, training, food donations, transportation, and hours of preparation went in to our first summer session with six children from Hollygrove. We knew that each child would need three people to help them navigate the waves, stand up on the board and receive the board at the end of the wave. We hoped that we would have a beach full of friends who would cheer every ride and be ready with a towel and some water when it was time to rest. Little did we know that we would have more than 60 beach volunteers show up that first morning. We knew we would serve snacks and then have a lunch delivered to eat on the beach, as Carly led enthusiastic discussions on what our participants had experienced in the water and on the beach. The hardest part of the day was always getting in and out of the wetsuits. We even had special volunteers to help with that chore. And then there was clean-up. Mark, Tommy, Chris, Jeff, and countless others. It truly did take a village, but some people went over and beyond in those early days: Jerry O and her team, Charlotte L, Mel, Susie and many many more.
In the following years, other incredible women added their unique skills to our small family foundation. Vikki M brought her camera and family to our early Pendleton sessions, Katie S learned about Ocean Therapy from her son and became a regular. Danielle, Lindsay, Tecia, Lisa and the gang created our amazing early JIMMY Family Surf Fiesta after-parties. Erin shared her special skills on the beach for a year. Carly and Kris shared JMMF with an international group, who would go on to become the International Surf Therapy Organization, created from the concepts of our original Ocean Therapy Program, developed in 2005. We also have a new generation of volunteers, who include Riley, Brynn, Gracie, Ryann and all the up and coming JMMF daughters. The mother and daughter teams from NCL and the Sandpipers who have helped on the beach and at events. Their women power and loyalty have never wavered. Today, we have Jodi, Debbie, Katie, Pam and Chloe, who help us navigate everything from everyday planning, to marketing, fund-raising and data collection for our growing evidence-based studies on the science of Surf Therapy. I could go on forever, with love and gratitude for all the women, men, girls and boys who have contributed to the growth and success of JMMF.
Since it is International Women’s Day, I wish there was room and time to personally thank every single woman (and man, but that’s for another day) who has helped me along this journey. You know who you are. I wish my mom, the ever delightful Boopster, was here to see how our foundation has helped our family and thousands of others heal. My sister Deb, Alissa, Riley and Linda have been my rocks and number one supporters. And at 99 years old, Aunt Berenice has kept our Tuesday Ocean Therapy schedule at Pendleton on her calendar, so she can ask me how it went each week. Covid threw us a loop, but we return to Pendleton on Tuesday, March 30. I’ll look forward to her call.
And from the “Grandmother of Ocean Therapy” to our incredible “Mother of Ocean Therapy,” Carly Rogers, my thanks are as deep as the sea for bringing your dream to the JIMMY MILLER MEMORIAL FOUNDATION and making it all come true.
With love on this day and always,