Jimmy Miller, Friendship Foundations’ best day ever  

Aneissa Warren

Photos by Ken Pagliaro (KenPagliaro.com)

The sun was shining brightly on the beach at Rosecrans in El Porto, when 12 special needs students from The Friendship Foundation, their teachers, and their parents met up with the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation (JMMF) for a day of surfing, friendship and fun. The JMMF staff met each participant as they arrived, and helped them settle in for a day of learning about the ocean, doing yoga stretches, and taking a land lesson on a surfboard. Then everyone went into the ocean with their surf coaches, and surfed wave after wave all morning.  

The Friendship Foundation supports parents and families who have children and young adults with special needs by providing a safe, accepting and inclusive environment where they can enjoy sports, art, music and other social activities with their peers. It is their belief that every person is precious and capable of love, connection and friendship.  The Friendship Foundation serves to augment public educational programs, and professional therapists by creating a natural setting for individuals with special needs to practice their learned skills with their peers. 

The Friendship Foundation and the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation were a perfect pairing. JMMF was created in memory of  Jimmy Miller,  a beloved Los Angeles County Lifeguard, founder of Camp Surf, a Catalina Classic paddler, and a world traveler who taught surfing and the love of the ocean in the South Bay and around the world.  

  JMMF brings together surfers, educators, lifeguards and friends, to help people affected with mental and physical illness and injury, experience the healing power of the ocean and surfing.

Their mission is to carry on the legacy of Miller’s pure love of surfing by showing the ocean’s power to heal. The vision is simple: Help as many people as resources allow, to heal through their Ocean Therapy Programs.

The day started with a sharing circle, designed as an icebreaker to integrate the “athletes,” and the new friends, and instructors who would be helping them in and out of the water.  The topic of the day was, “What do you like about yourself?” The answers ranged from “I like that I am brave enough to go surfing today,” to “I like the way my mohawk looks.”  Everyone in the circle answered the question, which would be repeated at the end of the surf session as a wrap up.

After a safety talk about ocean conditions and a good stretch, the athletes donned their wetsuits, which may have been the hardest thing they had to do all day. 

The red-shirt surf instructors included Jimmy’s brother and JMMF President Jeff Miller, and JMMF CEO Andy Dellenbach, and Camp Surf instructors. 

Each Friendship Foundation student had a surf instructor stabilizing the back of their board as they started on their tummies and quickly moved to their knees and then stood up. High-fives abounded after each ride. Soon the students were riding alone, their arms raised in victory. 

“I knew this was going to be the most fun day ever.” said Friendship Foundation Program Development Director Daniel Stump, “When I looked at the ocean and saw all 12 “athletes” in the water together, riding wave after wave with their instructors and by themselves, with no-one sitting out on the sand and not participating……I knew this was going to be a successful day. It was a day all of  our athletes will always remember.”

JMMF CEO Andy Dellenbach added, “This may have been my most favorite day in the 17 years we have been doing Ocean Therapy. The smiles and stoke of accomplishment, and the athletes all cheering for each other is the reason we created our Ocean Therapy program. As Jimmy used to say, “It’s all about having fun.” ER


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