In 2008, on a sandy beach in Deerfield, a handful of surfers congregated with one goal in mind, to raise awareness for autism and give kids with autism a fun experience. Starting with 40 surfers and raising $10,000 for autism charities in their inaugural year, it has grown into a highly anticipated annual festival of concerts, surfing, food trucks and paddle boarding. The 9th Annual South Florida Surfers For Autism Beach Festival will be held April 1 – 3 at Deerfield Beach.
Chanel Stagner, whose daughter Taylor works for Island Water Sports that contributes surfboards and staff for the festival, has volunteered with Surfers For Autism (SFA) for a few years. She works with the kids and assists the parents in any way possible. “Watching these very special children have breakthrough moments is priceless,” said Stagner. “I have seen children utter their first word ever on the water’s edge, and their parents cry tears of joy after having a nonverbal child finally speak!”
Friday night will kick off this three-day event with a concert that will capture your heart and make you want to come back for more on Saturday. As the event’s “welcome to the festival” concert, it encourages kids and families to dance and party while raising money for this cause.
On Saturday kids with autism hit the beach for a full day of surfing and an oceanside party. The kids who are brought out into the water are given safety straps and are guided by three or four trained surfing professionals. Each participant is taken care of by the surfers who are there for no reason other than helping out the kids with autism.
According to Stagner, it’s an eye opener for anyone thinking of volunteering. “There are many happy tears for these special families who get to feel normal for a day. They are all treated like royalty for the day. It’s a beautiful thing to experience!”
On the final day, Sunday, they gather for “SUP day” and have the opportunity to participate in contests and interactive activities. This final day is a huge part as it allows kids with developmental delays to work and play with people who care for them.
The mission statement for SFA is all about trying to bring light to a relatively dark situation. Parents want what is best for their kids, and if a parent has an autistic child, it can be hard. SFA understands that and wants to give the parents and friends of the children a place to have fun and raise money to further research on autism.
“The SFA Mission is to unlock the potential of people with developmental delays, support advocacy for autism and scientific research. Our focus is to eliminate stigma through public awareness and education and to unite communities through volunteerism.”
Two Verses for the Cause
The Bible clearly expresses God’s love for everyone; however, it indirectly talks about disabilities and that we are, indeed, fearfully and wonderfully made.
In 1 Corinthians 12:18, it states: “But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it” (NLT). This verse suggests God has made everything the way he wants it, and these kids are to be loved as the creation of God. SFA realizes this call to love these kids and makes it their priority to show them this love.
Likewise, in Mathew, Jesus talks to a crowd on the humbleness and the love of children. Jesus tells the crowd that they must become like the little child, humble and loving. However, He then tells this crowd an astounding message. “And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me” (Mathew 18:5, NLT).
This years’ Surfers For Autism Beach Festival, will be from April 1 – 3, and begins at 6 p.m. on April 1st at Deerfield Beach. To find out how you can participate in this free event with someone who has autism or as a volunteer, visit surfersforautism.org.
Geoffrey Still is an intern with Good News, student editor of Calvary Christian Academy’s SOAR.ccaeagles.org and founder of the “Crusader Corner” at Coral Springs Christian Academy.