ENCINITAS — In a season that celebrates giving, family and miracles, one local story involving a nonprofit and a family exemplifies all of those values. The Surfing Madonna Oceans Project has a history of giving back to the community, and the Moreno family has lived in Encinitas for generations. When the Morenos found out about a fundraiser that would help them to honor a beloved family member, they knew instantly that it was a perfect fit.
What began as a mosaic art installation under the bridge at Encinitas Boulevard and Highway 101 in 2011 is today an organization that in just three years has donated more than $250,000 to the community. Realizing how much community support existed for projects related to our coastline, Bob Nichols formed the nonprofit Surfing Madonna Oceans Project. While the bulk of the funds are raised through the Surfing Madonna Beach Run and Encinitas Half Marathon, this month Nichols is excited to promote an engraved brick and concrete paver fundraiser that offers local families and businesses a chance to be a part of the local landscape for years and years to come.
“We are giving people a chance to put their message in front of the Surfing Madonna’s permanent home, with all of the proceeds going to various ocean-, beach- and park-related projects that protect our ocean,” Nichols said. “Normally these bricks are sold for $150 each, but we are doing a holiday special this month where you can buy two for the price of one. Our hope is that it makes this a more affordable option for a larger part of the community. The bricks are 4 by 8 inches, and can be engraved with three lines, up to 20 characters per line.”
The process to purchase a brick is simple. “Fill out a form online, and it usually takes about two weeks from the time you submit it to the time I install the brick. It makes a perfect holiday gift, and right now it’s an especially great opportunity because not only is each brick just $75, but our whole next line is directly in the center in front of the Surfing Madonna.”
A concrete paver option is more expensive at $500, but at 16 inches by 16 inches, it enables the buyer to add images or logos.
Sisters Marta and Tina Moreno opted for the concrete paver option to honor her brother Joseph “Sammy” Moreno. The Moreno family grew up on Athena Street, not too far from where the Surfing Madonna lives. “We are a very close family,” Marta Moreno said. “My father’s people came from a small town in southern New Mexico and moved here with his family of 11 kids back in the 1930s. Their church back home was called Our Lady of Guadalupe and each year they would travel back to their hometown to honor the Virgin De Guadalupe with a pilgrimage, native dancing, prayers and feasting. So you see, this mosaic is so much more than just a symbol in my family. It is a sign of family, faith, honor, dignity and hope.”
Sammy Moreno was a true native to Encinitas, attending Pacific View Elementary, Oak Crest Junior High and San Dieguito High School. “My brother was really loved by many and was an exceptional human who passed away of brain cancer a year after we lost our mother,” Marta Moreno said.
“He went into the construction field and built a beautiful two-story house up on San Dieguito Drive right up from where the mosaic is. He was also a surfer. On his crossing anniversary we had a family ceremony down at Stone Steps and paddled out for him.”
The paver turned out to be a perfect way for the family to honor Sammy. “To have a place in Encinitas, to have the Virgin there, to know the love and concern for our earth and lives — everything connects. My sister Tina and I were so excited to see this happen and to surprise his two daughters with the unveiling.”
When Marta Moreno and her sister took their nieces Renee Moreno and Jessica Moreno-Freeman to lunch at El Callejon, which was located in the same shopping center as the Surfing Madonna, Sammy’s daughters had no idea of the surprise they had in store for them.
The two women and their brother’s daughters shared a touching moment as the special way they decided to honor Sammy was revealed. As they took a picture to capture the moment something special happened.
“At the unveiling we took pictures that shined a direct light that was more than coincidence,” Marta said. “It was an amazing sight of Our Lady’s love.” The image was taken with a cell phone, and a clear bright beam of light shines directly down on Sammy’s memorial brick. For Marta and her family, the whole experience tied together beautifully.
Nichols said that every brick and paver tells a story. And while many of the bricks are memorials such as that of the Moreno family, others include inspirational messages. “It’s just one more way to expand the community of ocean advocates,” he said.
To learn more about the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, or to order your engraved brick or concrete paver, visit surfingmadonna.org.
This article is sponsored content.