Financially challenged neighborhoods of Orange County is the focus of Great Opportunities (G.O.) which offers Orange County youth a learn to swim program that focus on stroke work instruction. Swim classes range from beginning to intermediate to advanced levels. In addition to swim classes, G.O. offers a 4 week program which not only includes swim instruction but a Beach Awareness Program, which promotes ocean safety and environmental awareness. G.O. was founded in 2002 and works with children, ages 7 to 18 years old, from San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point, and San Clemente in Southern California. G.O.’s swim lessons and Beach Awareness Program are both offered at no cost to the participants.
The three components of the current Beach Awareness Program are Aquatic Safety, Education, and Recreation. The children spend many hours at the beach riding ocean waves on surf and body boards, and playing in the sand. In addition, the youth are given instruction with regards to boating safety. They are given an introduction to Ocean Kayaking and Stand Up Surf Boarding. At the beach, the kids are taught how the waves are produced, and the dangerous effects that can be caused when there are waves in shallow waters. We also discuss the potential danger of rip currents and how to swim out of one.
G.O.’s participants are given a tour of South Orange County Water Authority Plant in
Dana Point. The kids meet a chemist who explains the test and standard the Plant must meet before the waste water is pumped out to sea. Another field trip the children of G.O. enjoy, is a trip aboard the Sea Explorer. The Sea Explorer of the Ocean Institute, located in Dana Point Harbor, is a floating lab. The kids have the awesome opportunity to study the ocean waters, as well as, the ocean floor!
G.O. participants also go deep sea fishing on a commercial fishing boat out of Dana Point
and spend the afternoon learning how humans effect the ocean, catch and release, and proper fishing and boating etiquette. On another day of fun, the children visit the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, and enjoy a close-up look at many marine creatures of the Pacific.
Throughout the year participants of G.O. Summer Program build a Stand Up Paddle Board they create from used plastic drinking bottles (the Plastiki) and show their creation to the public and explain how it was made. Not only does this promote conservation, it is fun!
At the conclusion of the summer program, we have a barbeque for the participants and their families at Doheny State Beach to celebrate the kids and what they have accomplished. We also recognize the volunteers and Junior Aides that worked with the children.
G.O. also offers additional days during the year to all participants and their families to join in caring and celebrating our marine environment. First, G.O. takes part in “Mongoose Cup” offered in the Spring and in the Fall “The Battle of the Paddle” to compete with the Plastiki.
“Earth Day” the kids and families are given the task of cleaning up their neighborhood by picking up trash. It is arranged with a local waste disposal company to collect and dispose of the trash. After everyone is finished, we admire our beautiful environment, and celebrate with prizes, food, and drink for a job well done!
The G.O. kids also participate in the City of San Juan Capistrano “Creek Clean Up”, an event that also celebrates “Coastal Clean Up”. The kids and their families help retrieve debris from Trabuco Creek that is bound for the ocean. After picking up trash all morning, lunch is provided by the local Rotary Club to say thank you for their effort. The kids also listen to a presentation titled “The Ocean Begins at Our Front Door” and asked various questions regarding pollution reduction and its effect on the local marine environment.
G.O. offers a Bike Rodeo event to residents of San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, and Dana Point in which Great Opportunities gives out bicycle helmets to all participants. Specialists in the field of bicycle safety are invited to give safe riding instructions. It is G.O.’s goal to reduce the carbon foot print and introduce the enjoyment of human transportation. It is also our hope that by introducing and teaching bicycle safety, the time spent riding bikes will increase, and the need for public transportation will decrease. There are bike trails available for the older children (younger children should be accompanied by someone at least 14 years old) to ride all the way to the beach. G.O. hopes that this will benefit families who do not posses the financial means to pay the cost of transportation for their children go to the beach. The weekend following the Bike Rodeo G.O. invites kids and parents for a Mass Bike Ride to Doheny State Beach via a bike trail.
For interested, young adults, G.O. requires a 52 hour Lifeguarding Course at Saddleback Community College. G.O. employs those who successfully pass the Lifeguarding Course to work as pool lifeguards, assist in swim instruction, and act as Junior Aides for the G.O. Beach Awareness Program. G.O. also offers an “Explorer Program” whereas participants assist in swim instruction and assist Lifeguards in the G.O. Beach Program. The Explorer is a paid position. All Lifeguards and Explorers are certified in First Aide & CPR and take a course in Anti-Bullying offered by Bully Busters, USA.
Since its inception G.O.’s goal has been to provide under advantaged kids the opportunity to see their potential and understand that they can achieve anything if they believe in themselves. Capitalizing on over 30 years of ocean aquatic experience we have designed programs focused on teaching kids first how to swim, and second on educating them on the coastal environment. G.O. is about opening the doors for children and exposing them to the possibilities The decision is theirs, and our job is to give them the tools they will need to succeed.