AmpSurf Fundraiser Set for June 28

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“I was so proud. It was a big accomplishment for him. When he takes in a wave, you can hear everyone cheering and he hears it and he smiles,” John Welsh said of watching his son, John, try surfing.

While watching any child take in their first wave may be a moment of pride, for John, it’s nothing short of amazing. Welsh’s son has Phelan-McDermid syndrome, a genetic disorder that can present a range of symptoms including developmental delay/intellectual disability, motor skills deficits, delayed or absent speech, autism spectrum disorder and minor dysmorphic features. However little John has shown that it won’t let it stop him. Each Monday, he actively participates in Rockaway’s Special Olympics program at St. Camillus, and over the past two years, he’s taken up a new hobby—surfing, all thanks to an amazing organization that is giving kids like John, the opportunity to ride the waves—AmpSurf.

As a way to pay back AmpSurf for providing his son and all of the participants in St. Camillus’ Special Olympics program with such an opportunity, Welsh and Ray Otton, both Special Olympics volunteers, have teamed up to host a fundraiser that is sure to get many amped up to donate to this great cause.

On Friday, June 28, head to the Knights of Columbus for a night of fun for a great purpose. The fundraising event, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., will feature plenty of chances to win some amazing raffle prizes, lite fare, an open bar and 50/50s, while DJs@Work spins some music and Bobby Butler of Indaculture and Friends, play some live tunes for all to dance to. As a fundraiser, the main component of this event will revolve around a Chinese auction, with some big prizes such as a getaway to San Juan, PR, a jersey signed by former Yankees player Alex Rodriguez, Subway Series tickets, custom surf boards, plus plenty of gift certificates and gift baskets donated by local businesses and organizations.

Besides raising funds, another reason for the event is to raise awareness for this great program taking place right on our beach. AmpSurf was started by Dana Cummings, who served in the Marines for six years, and later lost his leg in a car accident. Just four months after having his leg amputated, Cummings learned to surf, and in 2003, he wanted to share that gift with others, so he started AmpSurf in California to help rehabilitate disabled veterans. The mission of the nonprofit soon expanded to include those with any disability, and today, it has three chapters on the east and west coasts.

With adaptive surfing becoming bigger and bigger in Rockaway, especially with the wounded veterans that come to town each summer to participate in such programs, local, John Roberts, decided it was time Rockaway had its own chapter. Roberts spearheaded one for Rockaway and Breezy Point in 2017, bringing the AmpSurf program to Hope for the Warriors when they came to Breezy Point, and also launching clinics for those of the Special Olympics program and any others who face a disability.

During each clinic, participants learn the basics while on land, before heading into the water with a group of volunteers, which help set up each participant for the perfect wave, while giving them encouragement and easing their nerves. Then, depending on the participant’s ability, a volunteer will either push their board to catch a wave, or join along for the ride to help stabilize the rider, before another group of volunteers meets them at the shoreline to help them find their bearings after hanging ten.

The program has proven to be a success. In 2017, there was one clinic in addition to the one for wounded warriors. Last summer, there were two held on Beach 67th, plus the one for the warriors. This year, there will be three on Beach 67th Street—June 29, August 17 and September 14.

Jeffrey Resnick says he’ll be at all three. Jeffrey has Down syndrome. But he’s also an athlete that plays competitive sports, a bowler, an employee, and he’s another participant in the St. Camillus Special Olympics program who has been able to call himself a surfer since 2017. “Surfing makes me feel cool…and muscular,” he said about the sport that can be physically demanding for anyone.

Otton hopes the fundraiser will serve as a way to raise money and awareness to keep this rewarding program going. “It costs $4,700 for each clinic and this year AmpSurf is doing three. We’d like to raise enough money to at least cover one of the sessions, if not all, so that AmpSurf doesn’t have to dig into their bank to help Rockaway. Also, I don’t think enough people know what AmpSurf is, so we really hope to get the word out there by doing this,” Otton said.

For Welsh, the fundraiser is a way to give back for all the program has done for his son and others. “My son doesn’t have much interest in sports like baseball or basketball, but he loves the water, and he loves this whole program. Being that we found something that he enjoys, and being in a position to help that program, is very rewarding,” he said.

All are encouraged to come to the Knights of Columbus (333 Beach 90th Street) next Friday, June 28, to help support this program that helps those like John, Jeffrey, and dozens of other special athletes, learn how to ride the waves. Admission is $40. To reserve a spot or a table, or to ask about ways to help, reach out to Ray Otton at 718-309-7549 or John Welsh at 718-490-4088. For more information about AmpSurf and how to participate in the program, head to www.AmpSurf.org.

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