Though I’ve never met Donny Ottofaro in my life, his story is one that fills the room with a sense of compassion; even if he’s just a voice on the other end of a phone conversation. Ottofaro is the Vice President of Florida nonprofit, Future 6, an organization in Florida that is dedicated to providing alternative sports and arts programs to at-risk and special needs children.
Today, the organization hosts activity programs in surfing, skateboarding, the arts, and urban renewal that touch the lives of thousands of kids. In South Florida, Future 6 is more than just a household name, it’s a pillar of the community.
Ottofaro and I chatted one afternoon about what motivates his drive as a volunteer and nonprofit. The story of he and his company is a humbling one and is exactly what attracted Jeremy Lux of Illumine Collect apparel to his cause.
Today, Illumine Collect and Future 6 share a charitable partnership; for every sale made by Illumine Collect, the company donates 20% to Future 6 and its mission.
“My buddy from Virginia actually brought up Future 6 to me when we started raising awareness for Illumine,” says Lux,“I did a little research and seemed like they would be a perfect fit…Future 6 takes a different approach with these kids, and it's amazing the impact they're having.”
As we speak, I can sense the pride and excitement Ottofaro has for his growing organization. But like most good things, Future 6 had its share of hurdles.
“Future 6 was a concept from 2012 with my buddy, Steven Todd,” Ottofaro shares, “The original idea was to concentrate on kids in six different alternative sports: surfing, skateboarding, wakeboarding, wake skating, MMA, and motocross.”
Ottofaro’s initial concept was to build an athletic clothing brand that would sponsor kids in Florida who couldn’t get recognized by sporting companies. The idea was well-intentioned but the business model had its ups and downs Ottofaro admits, “People got greedy with the money and some of our sponsored athletes were not following through with their social media dedication.”
The dream almost came crashing down in 2013 at the 49th Annual Easter Surf Festival at Cocoa Beach when Ottofaro and his program lost money due to funding expenditures and costly skate ramps.
Many wanted to throw in the towel but out of the ashes of the failed event, Ottofaro came back strong with a new revitalized outlook.
To make the greatest impact in the community, Ottofaro realized that he must tap into the lives of inner-city and special needs children. The object was simple; he was going to get these kids to the beach.
Future 6’s first program, For The Love of Surfing, began in April of 2014 to provide special needs children with the opportunity of water sports. By 2015 well over 60 kids were attending each event. Remembering back to those early days, Ottofaro sounds proud yet humbled.
“The kids just kept coming,” he says.
Ottofaro shares the story of a deaf boy named Brandon; a memory which he calls “the most amazing personal day in my life.”
For deaf persons, the advent of swimming in the ocean for the first time can result in sensory overload. Ottofaro could see that Brandon was excited yet frightened by the waves.
“The whole time I’m thinking, ‘How am I gonna get this kid surfing?’ But I would have never in my whole life had guessed how well this kid took to the water”, says Ottofaro, “This kid was hearing everything we were seeing. But he was so spunky, he’d never even seen the ocean his whole life and here he was, surfing like a champ.”
Ottofaro helped paddle Brandon into the surf. Before long he “got up on his knees, spread his arms like a bird” and began to surf.
“That has to be one of the most amazing moments in my life,” says Ottofaro, “That’s what makes everything worth it. I can proudly say that I love what I do.”
Ottofaro’s story paints a vivid image in my head; Brandon’s outstretched arms, head bobbing to the waves, with the most gigantic smile on his face. Back on the beach, Brandon’s parents cried tears of joy alongside Ottofaro’s; they’d never seen Brandon happier.
It’s the stuff that puts lumps in throats and Ottofaro has the opportunity to make it happen every time he takes a kid out to the waves. It’s as if the water has the power to wash away all of our disabilities.
But Future 6’s reach isn’t just limited to the Florida coastline; the organization has partnered with the Boys and Girls Club to bring youths to skateparks through its Roll Models Skateboarding Program. The organization is also slated to launch its anticipated Reel Kids fishing and Visionaries Art and Music programs in 2018.
Even with all the fun and excitement put aside, Future 6 has one main goal—to build confidence in these kids. Ottofaro strives to give the children in Florida communities the opportunities he didn’t have growing up:
“We’re building up these kids and making them into surfers and skaters…we take them out of their urban neighborhoods, out of the house, and give them something to do instead of roaming the streets and its changing the community.”
Ottofaro goes even deeper, “These are good kids. We help eliminate this stigma behind surfers and skateboarders and proving that you don’t need football, basketball, or baseball to build character. Future 6 does that each and every time we take a kid out to the skatepark or the beach.”
Ottofaro closes out the interview with some food for thought.
“One thing that I’ve always said about Future 6 is that it is an organization that wants to provide ideals, not just ideas. The difference between the two is that an idea is a conception that is never realized, while an ideal is a conception that becomes reality.”
Donny Ottofaro and his team at Future 6 are not here to simply give kids dreams, they’re here to make those dreams into realities. One surf trip at a time.
Written by Eric Gasa