TARPON SPRINGS — For some youngsters, going to the beach is a weekly activity.
For others, a day at the shore is a rare treat to be savored and enjoyed.
The 60-odd children running, swimming and paddling at Sunset Beach certainly enjoyed the 2019 edition of the Rotary Club of Tarpon Springs’ Boating Family’s Explore the Beach excursion, held July 13.
Founded and run by Rotarian Mike Johnson, the nonprofit Boating Family stages three outings—a beach day, an island day, and a fishing trip — every year. Next up is this year’s fishing outing, scheduled for Aug. 10, according to Johnson.
During these events, youngsters from local organizations such as Cops and Kids, Citizens Alliance for Progress and the Boys and Girls Club enjoy a variety of water-based events and activities.
“We typically get about 60 kids, and we add groups when we find them,” Johnson said, noting he invited a group of children from Korea he met while walking around town the other day. “I’m looking for kids who don’t get to do this very often.”
The desire to organize these events stemmed from Johnson’s inability to access the water “growing up poor in Oregon.”
“After I moved here, I got a boat, and in 2016, I decided to invite some groups of kids to Caladesi Island,” he explained. “I wanted them to experience something I never had the chance to growing up.”
Over the past three years the events have grown into true community affairs, with local individuals, business owners and organizations donating everything from food, fishing rods and water toys to time and money.
“We don’t have a lot of money, so it’s all about donations from the community,” Johnson said, adding they always give the group leaders photo discs of the excursions after the event. “We really couldn’t do it without a lot of people helping, and we can always use more.”
Indeed, a glance around the shelter showed dozens people helping out, from former mayor and city commissioner David Archie manning the grill to City Commissioner Rea Sieber and Tuscan Sun Bistro and Tarpon Tavern owner Dan Jenkin serving hamburgers and hot dogs to the kids, as well as the 40+ chaperones and volunteers.
As the group ate, Cops and Kids program director Josh Casey spoke about the importance of the Boating Family outings.
“I think it’s a great opportunity because they get to explore things they don’t ordinarily get to do,” he said. “In fact, they do stuff I didn’t even get to do when I was a kid.”
But Casey said the excursions are not just all about having fun.
“We’re trying to find the next marine biologist or botanist,” he said, noting some trips incorporate lessons about nature. “These kids really look forward to these events. They’re still talking about them from years ago. It’s just great the relationship Rotary has with these groups and organizations in the community.”
For Johnson, the hard work that goes into organizing the activities is well worth it.
“If you ever see the joy in their eyes, it’s well worth it,” he said. “It just makes you feel good.”