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Meet Craig Jenkins of Urban Surf 4 Kids in El Cajon

Today we’d like to introduce you to Craig Jenkins.

Craig, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Growing up I had a mentor in my life who made a huge difference on the person I am today. I realized at a young age how impactful the right people in your life can be and how sometimes the smallest gestures can have life-changing effects on youth. Throughout my life, I have always felt the need to give back and support “at risk” youth. I worked with the Big Brother Big Sister Program in Texas, and when I moved back to San Diego I wanted to build on that experience and assist youth in San Diego on a larger scale. I have always loved surfing and wanted to use the healing properties of the ocean to help and inspire youth in need in San Diego.

I met the founder of Urban Surf 4 Kids (US4K) in 2013 and I was inspired by the work that Wesley Stewart was doing with local foster youth. The program was still very junior and green at that point and I worked with Wes to create a solid foundation for the growth and expansion of US4K. We went from serving a small group of youth each year to being able to impact over 700 youth annually. This work that Wes and I did through the years allowed Wes to follow a calling to Florida and start a new US4K chapter in Daytona beach. I now have the honor of leading US4K in San Diego as the Chapter President. We are now able to reach youth on both east and west coast. It’s been an amazing and fulfilling journey.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Whenever you see such a huge expansion in reach within your charity you experience some issues along the way. In 2009 we really didn’t have a lot of funding in place, we had a lot of heart and always made things work in order to support the youth. We realized, as our program grew in popularity amongst the youth, that we needed to create a proper funding model to support the expansion and to afford all the youth who wanted this experience a chance to do just that.

Fundraising has been our number one challenge thus far, but in 2016 we teamed up with some amazing sponsors to include Reef, Board, and Brew, Natures Bakery. We also began reaching out to community partners for grants and donations and we have received some amazing support from Las Patronas, The Charlie Rae Fund, and individual giving from our amazing network of support in San Diego. We are currently an all-volunteer organization and we hope to one day be in the position to support a full-time employee to help us reach even more youth in San Diego.

Urban Surf 4 Kids – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Urban Surf 4 Kids (US4K) is a unique outreach organization that works with foster youth to change the statistics of these kids becoming at-risk in their community. Using water sports as a catalyst, US4K teaches kids how to first have fun and then give back to their communities and neighborhoods through local service projects. The result has been and continues to be kids who are at risk for always being branded as “underprivileged” instead become empowered. We offer three primary programs: our surf mentoring camps, Hanai program, and our Dreaming of Aloha Achievement Program. At our surf mentoring camps we matched our foster youth with trained volunteers for a day of surf therapy where our youth, who legally don’t have normal access to the ocean, with our one on one volunteers to assist them in the water. At our camps, we conduct focus pieces that have included suicide prevention and awareness, environmental stewardship, law enforcement outreach, and foster care reform. With our tremendous network, we have had some incredible speakers and support from the county, state and local officials.

In our Hanai program trained and vetted volunteers are able to work with small groups and individual youth in a more personal environment. These volunteers are able to create their own camps and outings and really become an integral part of changing the lives of the youth we serve. The Dreaming of Aloha Achievement Program is the highlight of our program. Each year our youth can apply for this program if they meet the requirement of GPA, good standing in their homes, and complete the application and essay. Once they are accepted into the program they complete two major volunteer projects, our Core Values Class, and our emotional growth passport class. The highlight of the program is where we go to Oahu for one week for a surf and serve trip where we experience the culture of Hawaii as an Ohana while also giving back to local charities while we are out there.

I am most proud of the family “Ohana” that we have built. Most of these youth move from home to home throughout their lives and never get the consistency and support from a family unit. We have become that Ohana for these kids. I think what sets us apart from other organizations is that we are small and really family oriented. We really focus on creating this family unit for these kids that don’t have one. When you come to one of our events your not just volunteering your extending your family.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Defining success can be measured in many different ways. Many people look towards numbers and statistics to show success. At US4K we know statistical data is important, but I personally measure success through our individual stories. Success has been defined by me by watching some of our youth who were severely abused and facing tremendous hardships rise up, with the support of the Ohana, and become that rock and support for other youth within our program. Success in our program is having our youth surpass the statistics of what a child in foster care should become.

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