As surfers, we rely on peaks and troughs to do what we love. For some of us, the bigger the peaks (and corresponding troughs), the better. But when it comes to our emotions, these peaks and troughs can be harder to embrace. 2023 brought us some of the highest highs and lowest lows.
Our year started out full of excitement and anticipation as we released our full Ocean Therapy calendar on January 31st. We were looking at 70+ Ocean Therapy sessions, nearly a third more than we offered in 2022. While a 30% increase can be a good thing, in our case that means that the need for our unique therapy protocol is growing and the mental health crisis is deepening. Not a good thing.
To meet this increased demand, we trained more Ocean Therapists, Safety Coordinators, Surf Instructors and Beach Managers, and we rallied more volunteers than ever before. We expanded our reach to serve new populations in San Diego, Orange County (Bolsa Chica State Beach), Ventura and we took Ocean Therapy on the road to Santa Cruz, Eureka/Humboldt and Newport, Oregon. JMMF led two Ocean Therapy Summits where we shared our expertise, resources, operations manual and collective knowledge to serve more people suffering from mental health challenges. We were firing on all cylinders. And then, just as we were gaining momentum for our busiest summer ever, the bottom fell out…
In May, despite recent clean scans, we lost our beloved Kevin Sousa to cancer…quickly and unexpectedly. Kevin was our Clinical Director but more than that, he was a healer, a servant, an extremely talented musician, a community leader and one of the most selfless and giving people you’ll ever meet. Once in a lifetime gem of a human. Stunned and in disbelief, we got ragdolled in the impact zone wondering if and when our next breath was coming. The hold down was brutal. As a family, we cried, we hugged, we bonded around Kevin’s favorite words of encouragement and pressed on using the resources that he taught us and all of his clients. He reminded us to “just breathe”, “focus on just the next thing you need to do” and “live in the here and now.”
The BeneFiesta – our annual gala that is one part beneﬁt, one part ﬁesta and 100% fun – in July at the beautiful home of Jennifer and Jeff Wallin, provided both the distraction and the focus that we needed. We celebrated Kevin’s legacy and commitment to helping as many people as our resources allow, we raised more money than ever before, and we achieved our goal and Kevin’s wish of buying our own Ocean Therapy van to be able to extend our range and the populations we serve. In his life and in his passing, Kevin was the catalyst.
Summer gave way to fall and despite many of our volunteers going back to school, our session cadence didn’t let up. We hosted 25 sessions in September-October and ﬁnished the year offering 74 Ocean Therapy sessions to underprivileged/”at-promise” youth, active-duty military and veterans, addiction/recovery community, healthcare workers and our special needs friends. We partnered with multiple new agencies including the Resilient Agency – domestic/gang violence, The Haven at College – college students dealing with mental health issues and substance abuse, Michael’s Learning Place – special needs, and Project Hope Alliance – homeless / under-housed kids. What a blessing it was to share with them the mental health beneﬁts of Ocean Therapy!
In my annual recap last year, I ended my report claiming that despite being the world leader in Ocean/Surf Therapy, we were “just getting started.” I still feel the same today. 2024 looks to be an equally busy year for JMMF with 75+ sessions already planned, increasing demand for our unique therapy protocol along the West Coast and the exciting launch of our First Responders Ocean Therapy Program to serve our police, ﬁre, paramedics/EMTs and dispatchers that face unimaginable trauma everyday in the line of duty.
In August 2024, we’ll acknowledge the 20-year milestone of losing Jimmy to suicide, but we’ll celebrate the thousands of people we’ve positively impacted, lives we’ve saved and the mental health merits of being in and around the Ocean. After 18 years with JMMF, I learned a new word, “thalassotherapy” which means ocean. It’s what we do! Come join us for what’s shaping up to be another powerful, emotional, impactful year.
Thanks for sharing the waves with us, being along for the ride and for your endless support…we are nothing without each other. It may sound trite, but it’s true – we simply could not do what we do without YOU! Here’s to another year of healing others and ourselves one wave at a time!
Oceans of Gratitude,
CEO, Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation