Taking to the waves to make a difference in kids' lives

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Special needs children take to the waves in Galveston.

In the shadow of Galveston's Pleasure Pier Friday, the laughter of children was in the air. They weren't looking at the roller coaster, but at the surfboards they were about to ride.

The children have special needs, but for a few hours, those were put aside as they caught some waves, with surfer volunteers riding with them.

It's a program called Waves of Impact, co-founded by Keith Lobgern, whose neighbors in New Jersey had special needs children. "The first time I went out there(on the water with the kids), I got addicted to how much fun it is and how easy it is to make a big difference in someone's life," he said.

From there, the program has expanded to all three coasts -- Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf Coast. Surf Camps are held in May and October for two days. In Galveston, the spots for about 50 kids each day are filled within a few minutes of online registration opening up. There is no charge to the families, and lunch is provided. "We would never ask the families to pay, and we never will," said Lobgern. "We know how stretched their budgets are." Waves of Impact instead solicits outside donations.

The idea is that special needs children are often unable to participate in organized sports. Here, they ride a surfboard, with a volunteer holding them on the board. Then, parents say, the magic happens. "I see my son smiling and happy," said Lana Hornak. "This is his happy place where he can be whatever he wants to be."

One parent is also a volunteer. Monica McDivitt's daughter, Samantha, has several conditions, which confine her to a wheelchair. "She saw the board just now and she climbed on it independently. That's just amazing," she said. She was right.

Volunteers are unpaid and often take vacation time to travel to Waves of Impact surf camps. Brittany O'Brien, who once worked for Galveston Beach Patrol, is one of them. She says she gets at least as much out of the events as the kids.

"They don't complain," she said. "They want to be out there. They don't care how hot it is or how rough the water may be. They want to be here, and they bring me back every year."

The camp will continue Saturday off Seawall at 27th St. Registration is waiting list only. For information on upcoming events, go to Wavesofimpact.com. The organization also has camps for veterans.

SEE ALSO: Polar Plunge in Galveston benefits Special Olympics
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Related Topics:
societysurfingspecial needs childrenGalveston
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