Today we’d like to introduce you to Sean Swentek.
Sean, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
A Walk On Water was created by a dedicated group of watermen who recognized the powerful impact of our natural ocean for people in need, what we call “Surf Therapy.”
AWOW was founded on the principle that we all benefit from being in and around the water, what Wallace J. Nichols calls living a “blue mind life”, and that the most profound therapeutic effects often take place when introducing Surf Therapy to those with the greatest need.
AWOW’s mission is to provide Surf Therapy to children with special needs or disability, but we are completely non-exclusive and have taken individuals of all walks out into the ocean to surf with us. We have served people of all ages and abilities, those fighting socioeconomic hardships, mental health issues, and every type of disability or special need.
Since launching in 2012, AWOW has welcomed over 1,000 families and provided Surf Therapy to over 2,000 children and adults in need, with a stated goal of reaching thousands more each year. Our team is led by an unmatched group of over 1,000 dedicated volunteers across the U.S. and beyond, including a 6-person board of directors featuring industry-leading expertise and over 100 years of combined philanthropic guidance.
AWOW Surf Therapy events are held across the continental United States, from coast to coast, and we continue to look for new areas with the greatest need to hold new events. Recent first-time event locations include Austin, TX (at a wave park!); Santa Cruz, CA; Spring Lake, NJ; Cardiff, CA; and Virginia Beach, VA.
We are blessed to have a strong group of supporters and partners that have helped us grow from two events our first year to 11 events in 2018. With strong supporting communities and partnerships, we hope to continue to grow and reach many more people in need.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Any [honest] seasoned nonprofit leader will tell you that it is never easy to run an organization where your “employees” are not paid, you often rely on strangers to give you funding, and you provide a service that was initially viewed as unnecessary.
I doubt that our experiences have been unique, but we’ve struggled with things like leadership structure and volunteer satisfaction, understanding when and how to scale, growing fast enough to meet the needs of the individuals you serve, deciding when to hire paid staff, and much more–all while avoiding losing the magic that allowed us to make that real, lasting impact.
I believe the key to surviving and thriving is establishing an unbreakable culture practiced by humble individuals who believe in passion, persistence, and the pursuit of a shared mission.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about A Walk On Water – what should we know?
A Walk On Water provides Surf Therapy to children with special needs or disability. The ocean’s transformative properties empower our participants, who enjoy a much-deserved day of laughter, love, and acceptance alongside their family. For one perfect, a restorative day at the beach, there are no labels. Everyone is an ATHLETE.
Surf therapy is the act of guided surf instruction — provided by expertly trained Surf Therapists — in concert with a carefully constructed support structure of volunteers and supporters; it truly takes a village. AWOW Athletes gain confidence through the magical thrill of ‘a walk on water,’ experiencing the true “stoke” of surfing and a sense of pride and accomplishment — all while being cheered on by family and friends. Siblings (and even parents!) surf alongside the Athlete, allowing the family to bond over a powerful shared experience. At the end of the day, each Athlete is presented with the trophy they earned in front of all their cheering fans.
AWOW works closely with our local communities, businesses, volunteers and watermen — brought together in service of a shared mission — to help those most in need experience the calming and therapeutic effects of the electrifying, living ocean; and, in the process, showcase the best of surf culture. AWOW Surf Therapy is more than just surfing: the entire family unit is treated to a well-deserved day of respite, complete with lifestyle guidance, healthy food and drink, live music, art, yoga, therapy, and more.
I think the thing we are most proud of is our unwavering commitment to the families and Athletes we serve. Every member of AWOW has some incredibly emotional story they can share about how AWOW has changed their life, a child’s life, or provided an unexpected benefit that completely justified the mountainous amount of work they have put in to make it all possible.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Speaking to my individual success first: I hang my hat on a few tenets that I refuse to budge from. I will always put your (the customer/participant/volunteer/etc.) happiness ahead of my own. I will not take shortcuts, give poor effort, or work unscrupulously; and I will not tolerate it from my business partners.
Everything in life comes down to people and relationships. If you put the people first, live humbly, listen more than you talk, and genuinely care about the health and happiness of those around you; success will always find you.
In terms of AWOW’s success, I’d like to think it boils down to:
-Identifying and recruiting the right people and the right time for the right jobs, and enabling them to give their best to the organization.
-A near maniacal, unwavering focus on adhering to your mission and vision: doing what you set out to do in the most professional way possible, with laser-like attention to every detail of the business.
-Believing what you do is necessary, valuable, and that all the hard work is worth it when you bear witness to lives forever changed.
- AWOW Surf Therapy events have always been and will always be 100% free to attend for all, thanks to our generous partners and supporters.
- 90 cents of every dollar donated goes directly towards the cause and our programming.
- Address: 526 Victoria Ave Venice, CA 90291
- Website: www.awalkonwater.org
- Phone: 424.334.1773
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org