Life is a wave and Brother Eli Etzioni (Claremont Colleges, 2018) is just trying to ride it. Brother Etzioni spends his day working in the best office on the West Coast, the Pacific Ocean. He works for Urban Surf 4 Kids, a surf therapy organization that works with orphan youth and foster kids. Its mission is to teach kids how to have fun and give back to their communities through local service projects. Since joining the team in October, he has been mesmerized by the dedication of staff and the impact they get to make on the community.
“There’s no better activity to inspire connection than surfing. Being on the ocean with someone breaks down barriers and gives us a unique opportunity and environment to connect with a kid. There are a lot of people that make this happen who don’t get paid, they’re just in it for the passion. I don’t know how they do this work pro bono with full-time jobs of their own, but it’s incredible.”
Surfing has always been more than a hobby for Brother Etzioni; it’s a lifestyle. He has been riding the waves since high school, but found it to be his life calling while studying abroad in Sydney, Australia. “While I was there for school, I wanted to become a part of the culture and connect with others. I met a lot of local folks through surfing who were excited to introduce me to their families and hometowns where they grew up surfing.” His experience abroad confirmed that he wanted to find a way to do something impactful for others using his knowledge and affection for surfing. “I saw first-hand how surfing could become the base for a deeper relationship among people in and out of the water. Since this was such a unique way to connect people, I knew I wanted to make it a bigger part of my life.”
After searching the web for fellowship opportunities that used surfing to help others, he came across Urban Surf 4 Kids. The organization has helped impact the lives of more than 6,480 foster youth and given 3,000 their first ocean experience. He applied for a fellowship in his senior year and was contacted after graduation about a job opportunity. The organization was looking for a development manager and felt he was the right fit for the job. “I think a lot of people in my generation want to do something that has a high social impact on others’ lives. I was trying to combine that desire with surfing and found that Urban Surf 4 Kids was best suited for my interests.”
As development manager, he forms relationships with companies and organizations that could be potential corporate sponsors. These sponsors support surf camps and programs. Urban Surf 4 Kids has good relationships with people in the San Diego community. There are plenty of companies related to surfing and people who are passionate about getting in the water. “Our message is to bring joy and the healing power of the ocean to kids who wouldn’t be allowed or able to get into the water otherwise. A lot of people in San Diego resonate with this.”
Brother Etzioni feels some of his AEPi experiences helped better prepare him for this job. He served as philanthropy chair and community service chair of the Chi Chi chapter, which have responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with what he’s doing at Urban Surf 4 Kids. “In my capacity as community service and philanthropy chair, I established a relationship with a local organization and had a chance to give back to the community. This is very applicable to what I’m doing now because I manage volunteers and work with local businesses. It was almost like a mini practice run.” As a Brother of the Alpha class, he was close with many of the founding fathers who started Chi Chi chapter. “I grew up with a close group of Jewish people in a strong Jewish community in Seattle. AEPi gave me a way to continue these relationships in college.”
After surfing for nine years, he has experienced quite a few exhilarating surf scenes. He has gone surfing in Israel a few times and has even surfed the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest where he is from. “This is a cool way to experience home. I also have a lot of family in Israel so surfing there is an exciting new way to see Israel.” One of his best waves was on a spring break strike mission to a small village in mainland Mexico with some college friends.
He enjoys being able to attend the events with foster kids. He recently led a group and went kayaking and then paddled out for a surf with one of the foster kids. “I like that I get to be hands on while also working behind the scenes. I’ve always enjoyed hanging out with kids and now I can directly share my stoke for surfing and the ocean with them.”
“I feel like I’m in the right spot for myself in life in terms of passion and desire to make a difference. It feels great being able to work for Urban Surf 4 Kids. I hope I can continue to help them find possibilities to get the support they need so we can influence others in a positive way.”