Meet Eric and David Groos. They are the founding fathers of the San Juan Capistrano based, non-profit, Great Opportunities. Their mission: to teach “at-risk” youth to swim, enjoy the ocean responsibly and become more “eco-wise”. David, a graduate of Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo with a B.A. in Recreation Administration is the non-profit’s Executive Director. Eric, a Public Notary, is Great Opportunities, C.O.F – “Chairman of Fun”. Through their non-profit they believe they are opening the “doors of opportunity”, for these socioeconomically underprivileged kids.
Eric and David, each, have well over 40 years of ocean and aquatic experience. They spent many years on the beach as lifeguards for California State Parks. Actively involved in the department’s “Youth Awareness” program, they introduced economically disadvantaged children, and “at-risk” youth from Orangewood Children’s Home to the ocean’s aquatic recreational opportunities. Eric and David recognized the benefits of exposing these youth “at risk” to aquatic activities. They asked themselves how they best could expose under-privileged and “at risk” youth in San Juan Capistrano to the joy of aquatic activities.
The area’s Junior Lifeguard programs seemed to be the obvious answer. Participation in these program cost money. Unfortunately, funding was not the only problem restricting these “at-risk” youth to aquatic recreation. Transportation, and for most, the inability to swim was the major hurdle. The solution boiled down to a question, “What if we teach these kids how to swim?”
In the early 1990’s, Eric and David initially partnered with a small after-school tutoring program called “Synergy”. It operated out of a garage, right next to Eric’s home in San Juan Capistrano. As summer came around, they were spending three hours in the morning, three times a week, teaching the kids from Synergy how to swim. “On the weekends, we would take them to the beach. Sometimes it was Doheny. Other times it was San Clemente, and even Crystal Cove”, beamed Eric.
By the late 1990’s, Eric and David had a core group of 18 kids learning to swim, and going on outings to the beach. Eric and David would often enlist help from their fellow ocean lifeguards. In 2002, enrollment swelled to over 45 kids, and decided to create a non-profit, and called it Great Opportunities. They believed that these kids needed an opportunity to succeed. Three days a week, these kids learned how to swim in the morning and went on outings to a beach in the afternoon. California state Parks provided the bulk of their sponsorship, and grant monies for transportation and equipment.
Unfortunately, in 2008 the funding through State Parks had “dried up”. The brother’s passion to continue with the mission of Great Opportunities had not. This required that they expand their rolls. David found himself searching out and writing grants to fund their programs. Eric rallied sponsorship from community businesses.
Fast forward nearly 20 years. Over 2600 kids have learned to swim that would never of had the opportunity. Pools that had been drained for fear of children drowning are now filled to the brim, and actively used. Children and families are now swimming, and frolicking safely in the water. Their parks are clean and repopulated with children playing and riding bikes. A higher consciousness of conservation and eco-friendly practices are becoming the “norm”.
I asked Eric and David what drives their passion for Great Opportunities. “It’s the stoke that we had as kids growing up at T-Street. Swimming. Surfing. We want to share that with them.” , they said in unison. “We were blessed with parents that put us in a pool at a young age. They made sure we learned how to swim“, David explained. “From there, our recreational opportunities were endless.”
Becoming properly funded is one of Great Opportunities goals. Ideally, they would like to hire an administrator to coordinate the programs, and grants, as they realize, “We’re not getting any younger”, mused Eric. This, they admit, would require a permanent funding source. Absent permanent funding, the brothers are committed to teaching as many kids as they can how to swim. The fact that they get to “share” an active lifestyle and promote the values that have blessed and enriched their lives, fuels their “stoke”.
If you’d like to learn more about Great Opportunities, or would like to volunteer and/or DONATE, check out their webpage at www.greatopps.org