Special Surfers, a nonprofit that gives young people with special needs the opportunity to surf, got a $45,000 boost thanks to Above Board’s “A Starry, Starry Night” benefit Aug. 18 at Vinegar Hill Music Theatre in Arundel.

Above Board is a nonprofit started in 2018 by a group of community-minded Kennebunk-area residents who wanted to host an annual charitable event to fill a need in York County.

“Now that we’re in our fourth year, organizations are coming to us,” said board member Kristin Martin. “Special Surfers is putting hundreds of surfers in the water every year and needs equipment: surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, wetsuits, fins and stabilization chairs. It costs roughly $200 to purchase and maintain the equipment necessary to put each Special Surfer safely in the water.”

For 19 years, Special Surfers has hosted free events at Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunk the second Tuesday of each June, July and August.

Rick Taranto of Above Board said, “Special Surfers’ inclusive nature of helping individuals with special needs learn how to surf and spend an evening in the water picking up a new sport just like any other kid is exactly what we wanted to focus on.”

Audrey Zahares of Azalea Events delivered an indoor-outdoor starry night, with clusters of furniture in the garden under strings of lights and hundreds of stars hanging from the ceiling of the theater. As the opening act for The Carmine Band, dancers Melissa Hanley, Steve Riley and Gustavo Bernadelli performed a contemporary dance to “A Sky Full of Stars,” wearing battery-lit wings.

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“It’s amazing what a community can do when it unites,” said Martin, giving credit to business and personal sponsorships, in-kind supporters and volunteers.

Special Surfers board president Jed Donnelly talked about the growth of Special Surfers – from three surfers in 2003 to 195 this August (assisted by 296 volunteers). The program is free to families and open to surfers of all physical abilities – whether they ride a wave in a stabilization chair with the help of a whole team of volunteers, stand up on a surfboard independently or anything in between.

“It is heartwarming to see my daughter given such an opportunity,” said board member Stacie Verrill, whose daughter Cynthia has a seizure disorder and is nonverbal – but has learned to surf. “She loves it. She just smiles all the time.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]


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