Plastic Pollution, Youth
October 30 2018

Student-Led Youth Engagement For the Win: Connecting With Junior Lifeguards

by Ryan Cruse

by Jake Graessle

Engaging students in the Surfrider mission is vital to ensuring that oceans, waves and beaches continue to be stewarded into the future. One of the ways we do this is through Surfrider's Student Club program, which facilitates student-led project-based engagements at schools across the country. Where a club has not formed, or as a compliment to local clubs, there are opportunities for individual engagement as well. Below is a story featuring the work of a student intern with the Surfrider Foundation Santa Cruz Chapter: Jake Graessle. This motivated student created an outreach program to connect local youth participating in Junior Lifeguards to the Surfrider mission. The Junior Guards are a natural audience, as the purpose of the program is for participants to be exposed to lessons on beach and ocean safety while learning an appreciation of the ocean environment. By reaching out to the Junior Guards, the chapter and the organization have the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in the minds of program participants about the importance of enjoying and protecting our coastal resources. And by structuring this outreach so that it's led by a senior student, the young participants can better connect to the message and be inspired to be youth leaders themselves.

Here is Jake's story: 

I will never forget when a 6 year old came up to me so excited and said “Jake, doesn’t the beach look so much better? We did that!” This summer I was lucky enough to get an internship as a Surfrider Youth Ambassador. The idea was to develop a program to empower the youth of today and educate them on the benefits of a clean ocean. I was a link between the Surfrider Foundation and Junior Guard programs across the country. I began by creating a “Surfrider Day” with the Capitola Junior Guards in Santa Cruz County, California, and talked to them about ocean awareness.

My goal was to model this new program first with Capitola, then roll it out from there. We set up a tent and table with stickers, Surfrider pamphlets, and posters about our mission. Then we presented the Surfrider ideals through an educational talk that encouraged Surfriders core values.

We did similar a presentation on the East Coast at the Junior Lifeguard National Lifesaving Competition in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I connected with the local chapter and set up a tent with Surfrider information and volunteer t-shirts that we handed out to those who joined us in the beach cleanup. Many attendees expressed interest in doing a similar program next summer. 

The beach cleanup was awesome with the guards because it made them realize how much trash there is going into the ocean and how big of an impact we can have. Over the course of the day, little guards continued to run up to the tent and give us trash that they had found while working out.

The instructors and parents were also excited to have us with them. They helped by holding the buckets and supervising the cleanup. Although it is not essential, non-plastic stickers or some sort of giveaway would be helpful as a reminder throughout the year.

Both parents and kids asked how they could be more involved throughout the day and appreciated our time with the Junior Guard program. At the end of the day we trained over 50 Junior Guard instructors and over 1000 Junior lifeguards on the importance of ocean awareness.

Overall, both events were a success as everyone realized the impact we can have on sharing the stoke and importance of keeping our beaches healthy and clean with the Junior Guards. If you would like to start a similar program on your beach, please let me know. (Contact Ryan at

I also want to give a big thanks to Jon Sisk, the President of Lighthouse Bank Santa Cruz, whose donation helped make the Capitola event possible. Also, all Surfrider volunteers who went out of their way to help, in particular: Nick Gallegos in Virginia Beach, as well as Alli Webster and Rachel Freeman in Santa Cruz.

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