Growing up, Lee Terrell spent the school year living on Virginia’s Northern Neck with his father, and summers in Virginia Beach with his mom and stepdad, Jean and Brian Brackins.
The summer after Lee’s 13th birthday, he had his first experience surfing at a local camp. He fell in love with the sport immediately. The next summer, Lee decided he wanted to live with Jean and Brian year-round.
“I would love to say it was because he missed us, but I knew it was because he wanted to be near the waves,” Jean said.
Nevertheless, Jean was thrilled to have Lee home. As he grew, his passion for surfing continued to grow as well.
“Lee had such an energetic personality and a passion for surfing,” Jean said. “He was always the first one in the water and the last one out.”
On August 25, 2011, Lee had texted his Mom.
“Going surfing,” he said.
“Ok. Love you. Have fun and be safe,” Jean responded.
“I will. Love you too,” he said.
But before he could make it out to surf, the 22-year-old had an accident in the water that caused him to go into cardiac arrest.
After his tragic death, Lee’s family and friends wanted to honor his legacy. That’s when the idea for Lee’s Lil Shore Breakers was born.
Lee’s Lil Shore Breakers is a non-profit surf camp for at-risk children ages 8-14. The goal is to introduce the kids to the sport Lee loved, so that others can experience the happiness he felt when he was in the water.
“Surfing is a sport of passion,” Jean said. “It’s special how something so simple can bring so much joy.”
But surfing isn’t just a fun activity for the kids—it teaches important life lessons such as confidence, determination, patience and respect.
“The kids who attend this camp have gone through all sorts of trauma, from children with parents who have committed suicide, to children who suffered abuse,” Jean said. “We try to reach the kids when they are still young so that they can still have a bright future.”
Before starting the camp, Jean had no prior experience running a charity, or teaching surf lessons for that matter. However, she was determined to honor her son by teaching his passion to kids who could use a little extra guidance and passion in their lives.
“The campers are standing up by the end of the first day. By the end of camp, they barely even need help from the instructors,” Jean said. “The joy on their faces—that’s what gets me through and makes everything worthwhile.”
The camp debuted in 2012. Now, six successful camp seasons later, some previous campers have come back to help out as junior counselors.
“The campers have continued to stay in our lives and in each other’s lives,” Jean said.
Since its inaugural year in 2012, the camp has expanded to a second location in the Outer Banks and is run by another member of the Towne family, thanks to the leadership and support of Jamie Lavier, Loan Officer for TowneBank Mortgage in Kitty Hawk.
The Outer Banks camp partners with the Dare County Friends of Youth, a mentoring program that serves at-risk youths between the ages of 6-17.
“These are kids that don’t have the best advantages in life,” Jamie said. “They don’t always have a solid mentor in their life, maybe their parents are in prison or are working four jobs just to keep afloat.”
Jamie says learning to surf gives the campers a great sense of confidence and teaches them to respect each other and respect the environment.
Moving forward, Jamie hopes that he can continue to raise enough money to put all at-risk kids through the camp, and gift them a board once camp is over. While Jamie’s goal is to make sure that is busy ensuring that all needs are met in the Outer Banks, Jean is eyeing the possibility of an expansion.
“I would love to expand to another location on the East Coast—possibly in Wilmington,” Jean said.
With hopes to expand on the horizon, Jean says she doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
This year the camp is being held July 30- August 3 in Virginia Beach.
“It’s something that I look forward to every year,” Jean said. “My husband I and still get in the water and help teach the kids.”
Each year Lee’s friends continue to volunteer as surf instructors for the camp, always staying in close communication with Jean and her husband.
“It’s been amazing to watch Lee’s friends grow up into such wonderful adults,” Jean said.
“When the day comes that I’m too old to run the camp, I know I’ll be leaving it in good hands.”
Check out Lee’s Lil Shorebreakers on Facebook
Want to donate? Send check payable to Lee’s Lil Shore Breakers to:
7718 Leafwood Drive
Norfolk, Virginia 23518