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TAMU-CC Office of Community Outreach Leaves Lasting Impact at 14th Annual Audrey’s Day at the Beach

June 14, 2017

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ROCKPORT, Texas – What started as a day of celebration and fun for one special girl named Audrey, has turned into an annual event creating smiles children with Down Syndrome and their families across the Coastal Bend. Volunteers from the Office of Community Outreach at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi upheld their mission of building bridges between the Island University and the community when they spent Saturday, June 10, kayaking at Rockport Beach Park during the 14th Annual Audrey’s Day at the Beach.

“Our Broader Impacts initiative is an example of how we try to empower the faculty, staff and students at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi to leave a legacy in the community. It’s what we do,” explained Joe Miller, Director of Community Outreach at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “But I also find that sometimes it’s the smaller things that make the biggest impact. Audrey’s Day at the Beach is one example of an opportunity where we get to touch one life in a little way that might make a big impact.”

Since 2003, Audrey’s Day at the Beach has offered local families and children with Down Syndrome a day dedicated to making memories of laughter, waves and fun in the sand while honoring the memory of Audrey Shockley, who was born with Down Syndrome and passed away in at an early age. What started off as a small barbecue, hosted by Audrey’s grandparents, eventually grew into an annual event as families traveled from San Antonio and Houston to participate.

Twelve years ago, Rockport resident and Director of the Aquatic Education Program at the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Center for Coastal Studies, Captain Jay Tarkington heard about the need for volunteers and connected The Office of Community Outreach at A&M-Corpus Christi with the Shockleys. Since then, Outreach has made an impact on this community by providing the equipment, a group of volunteers and the expertise needed to make sure the children who attend the event get to experience the sport in a safe manner. Tarkington and the Center for Coastal Studies have also been consistent participants in the event, offering boat rides and short nature tours to the families.

“Kayaking is a unique and effective way to encourage children with special needs to get out on the water, teach them a skill and expose them to something they could not ordinarily experience,” said Miller. “Kayaking can give the kids a sense of mastery and adventure, but it’s also really great to see the positive effect it has on their families.”

For three hours, Miller and two volunteers helped attendees explore Rockport Beach Park’s Little Bay. Parents of children like Curtis and Noah, who have attended the event for multiple years, say that kayaking with Miller every year has helped their kids to come out of their shell. Many families have watched their children go from being petrified of the kayak to jumping in and paddling the boat on their own.

“When we first came, Curtis and I would sit down in the kayak and pretend we were paddling on the land,” shared Gracie Maronge, mother of Curtis. Laughing, she described how each year the kayak would inch closer towards the water. “Finally, finally, seven years into it, we got into the water. And now, at 19, he’s like ‘Bye mom, see you later!’”

Bill Shockley, Audrey’s grandfather, says the event has been so successful over the years thanks to all the volunteers who have helped along the way.

“This event is the highlight of the kids’ summer,” said Shockley. “We want to thank A&M-Corpus Christi and all of the nice people for all of their support over the years!”

The Office of Community Outreach at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi seeks to make a positive and sustainable impact on the educational attainment, economic development and quality of life in our diverse community. Outreach delivers programs in career & professional education, youth programs, teacher training and certification, air quality programs, events and conferences and much more. For more information, visit outreach.tamucc.edu.