Eddie Donnellan’s life is centered around helping others. Although Donnellan’s childhood wasn’t exempt from challenges, he recognizes that there are many kids that have so much less than he had. On a mission to help kids in difficult situations, Donnellan dedicated his career to working in children’s mental health and spent twenty-two years at a residential treatment center, helping foster kids and kids with difficult family situations.
A long time surfer, Donnellan desperately wanted to take the kids he worked with out surfing, as he knew firsthand how healing and transformative the ocean could be. Between liability rules and regulations, he found it difficult to make his dream come to fruition, so he decided to found his own nonprofit. In 2015, MeWater was born.
MeWater is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to educate, inspire, and empower youth and families through the magic of Mother Nature. Run by surfers and mental health professionals in San Francisco, California, they provide day and overnight camps to youth, families, and groups and work to address trauma and stress in young people from backgrounds of poverty and violence.
“There’s a lot of science and data that the ocean has a healing quality to it that some people are trying to define,” says Donnellan. “But for me, it’s simple: it takes you away. It’s not going to wash away your problems but it might take them away for a little bit and help you find joy.”
In tandem with his longtime friend Tim Gras, Donnellan worked to leverage his connections and relationships throughout his local San Francisco community to raise funds to get the equipment he needed to take kids out in the water. At first things began slowly but as word got out, donations started pouring in and Donnellan’s dream began to give way to reality.
“We’re all about breaking down barriers, both cultural and racial, and provide access for kids,” says Donnellan. “We want to provide them with the opportunity to go to the beach and have a great time.”
Run almost entirely by volunteers, MeWater is proud to offer their programs 100% free to participants. Most of their events are day events, through which they take twenty or so kids out in the water to try body boarding, surfing, or simply just splash around. Three years ago, they added an annual camping trip to their program, allowing kids to have the full mountain and water experience.
Donnellan acknowledges that nobody goes through life without experiencing trauma, but the kids and families they serve have lives that are stricken with trauma. At MeWater, they aim to provide participants with skills and coping mechanisms to help them deal with the challenges in their lives. A big part of their program is connecting their young participants with positive members of the community and adults they can rely on.
“Surfing is great,” says Donnellan. “But it’s really about building those relationships and access to the beach—the ocean is a conjugate to all of that.”
When COVID hit, MeWater was unable to offer their usual surf programs, so they set out to raise money to provide families in need with food. Over a few short months, they raised nearly $75,000 dollars and quickly decided to make food drives a regular part of their program. Additionally, they partnered with Patagonia to provide backpacks filled with school supplies for local kids.
Always on the lookout for resources to improve his programs, Donnellan caught wind of TANDM Surf and knew he needed to get his hands on a few tandem bodyboards for MeWater. The boards were an instant hit: they were ideal for bigger kids and allowed friends and family members to ride together on the same board, taking the fun level up a notch.
“They just fit so perfectly into our program because we’re all about having fun,” says Donnellan. “We’re not trying to create surfers, we’re just trying to have a fun day at the beach—TANDM Surf’s boards fall smack dab in the heart of having fun.”
Last year, Donnellan left his job so that he could put all of his efforts and energy into MeWater. For him, the goal is to continue to expand and spread the love to as many communities as possible. There is a lot of pain and suffering out there, but there is also a lot of joy and through MeWater, Donnellan hopes to do his small part in making the world a better place.
To donate to MeWater or get involved click here