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Building a connection Volunteers find new ways to make a difference By Catherine E. Toth “Did you catch any waves?” The little boy, dripping wet and all smiles, nodded. “Was it fun?” Petar Chernaev / Istockphoto There was no need to wait for his answer. It was clear from the grin on the 4-year-old’s suntanned face that he’d had a blast riding the rolling waves at K¯uhi¯o Beach in Waikı¯kı¯ assisted by a surfing instructor. And for that moment, he wasn’t thinking about the chemo- therapy treatment he had scheduled later that month for the acute lymphoblastic leukemia and central nervous system disease he was diagnosed with in October 2011—when he was just 2. Or the spinal taps he has to have every three months, or the medica- tion he takes daily. He was just another kid enjoying a sunny Saturday at the beach with his family and friends. “During Surf 4 HUGS, all of the kids were just kids out in the ocean, learning how to catch waves, regardless of whatever medical condition they may have,” says the boy’s mother, toting a digital SLR and a waterproof camera. “It reinforces the idea that your family is not alone, and that good health and quality of life are not just about diagnosis, medical treatment and being ‘cured.’ ” Surf 4 HUGS is an annual event organized by the Thomas family to support HUGS (an acronym for Help, Understanding & Group Support), a Honolulu-based organization that provides assistance to Hawai‘i’s seriously ill children and their families. Ten years ago, Brett and Dee Thomas encouraged their then- teenage kids, Leila and Torrey, to give back to the community, and the teens came up with the idea of a beach day for the HUGS families where they could surf, ride in outrigger canoes, and forget about their everyday struggles with illness and disease. What started a decade ago with just a few families and volun- teers has grown into a daylong event with more than 100 kids and 48 AAM 12.13 Volunteerism.indd 48 December 2013 Alaska Airlines Magazine 11/15/13 5:38 PM