• Valpo Surf Project

Intern Spotlight: Dean Thompson and Emily Leighton

This July marks the finale of two of our interns time here at VSP, Dean Thompson and Emily Leighton. We are sad to say goodbye, but are excited to see where their lives will lead them in the future.


Dean arrived in February, bright eyed and excited to be in Chile, escaping the cold New Jersey winter. He was our fundraising and event coordinator and spent much of his office time spearheading the 2015 Boston Fundraiser. In the office Dean was on and off the phone, communicating with sponsors, donors and organizing event committees. The hard work was realized in our our most successful Boston event to date with over $9,000 raised and over 120 attendees.

Tío Dean was an amazing mentor for the kids, combining his love for surfing and previous experience working in summer camps. Before his return to the east coast, we sat down with Dean and asked him a few questions about his time with VSP.

VSP: What was your favorite part about being a VSP intern?

DT: Working with our students was my favorite aspect about being a VSP intern. Having the opportunity to be a mentor, form powerful connections, and help our students expand their horizons for the future was truly rewarding


VSP: What is the greatest challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?

DT: My greatest challenge as an intern was working through the language and confidence barriers of our students. Many of the kids come from low income families, rough living situations, and broken homes. Therefore, as a foreigner, a "gringo", learning the language, it took me a few weeks to adjust to the slang spanish and earn the trust of our students.

VSP: What was the most important lesson you learned while interning with VSP?

DT: Patience, persistence, optimism, and encouragement. I consider those 4 traits to be crucial to every class, lesson, and interaction with the kids.


VSP: Do you have a favorite memory of your time with the Valpo Surf Project?

DT: Every time I pushed a kid into a wave and saw the magic of standing up on their first wave light up in their eyes.

VSP: What are your future plans?

DT: Starting Physical Therapy Graduate Program August, 2015

VSP: Any words of wisdom for future interns?

DT: Spend as much time as possible with the kids. Take the opportunities when they present themselves to interact with the students, ask questions, and share goals/dreams/stories. That is the time when you will form the connections that have the potential to change their lives, and yours.




Emily arrived in September 2014 from Maine and since has played a crucial role in the development of the VSP. As an intern, she helped the program grow from servicing four neighborhoods to five neighborhoods; she kick-started the VSP's social media coordination, and helped raise well over $15,000 across two fundraisers.

But the facts could never encompass the optimistic flair, team spirit, and contagious vibe that Emily brought to the VSP everyday. In order to understand those intangibles and fully encapsulate Emily's presence as a Valpo Surf Project mentor, you would have to be in the office to hear Emily brew and offer up morning cups o' joe, be in the classroom to see her boogie down and give life to a game of musical chairs, and be in the ocean mid-winter on Saturday mornings to witness her transform a student’s willingness to surf and self-confidence in their ability.

Whether training incoming interns, planning class lessons, or spending quality individual time with students, Emily has an unprecedented natural desire to go the extra mile for the people around her. Her patience, understanding, upbeat energy, and fun-loving nature enabled her to make powerful connections with all of our students. Emily was not only an ideal role-model for VSP students, but she was also an example for all VSP interns. We also asked Emily some questions to reflect on her time with the VSP.


VSP: What was your favorite part about being a VSP intern?

EL: Mostly, being part of such a close-knit staff. VSP is a great support system to have, especially being so far from home. Also, forming really strong relationships with the kids we work with.

VSP: What is the greatest challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?

EL: Being able to understand and speak Chilean spanish. That just took time, patient friends and kids that don't cut you any slack. Being able to actually express myself and understand people is a nice thing

VSP: What was the most important lesson you learned while interning with VSP?

EL: You'll never regret getting in the water. The feeling you have when you are done a session and putting your clothes back is something inexplicable. The hardest part for me can be convincing myself that I actually like surfing, when the weather is cold and you have to put on a wet wetsuit. But 100% of the time I am so happy I did. You feel renewed and can see more clearly, which I feel is one of the many reasons we use surfing as a mentorship tool.

VSP: Do you have a favorite memory of your time with the Valpo Surf Project?

EL: When Simone, 8 years old and about the size of a peanut, got slammed in the face by a wave and as I was expecting tears, instead exclaimed "QUE BACÁN SURFEAR!!", which means, "SURFING IS AWESOME!!".

VSP: What are your future plans?

EL: Mexico? I hear there is sunshine and good fish tacos there.

VSP: Any words of wisdom for future interns?

EL: Really make the effort to make connections with people. Your neighbors, the ladies that work at the bakery down the street, and of course, the kids that we work with. For me, that's what this experience is really all about.




We want to thank Dean and Emily for all of their hard work and the impact that it has left on the VSP. We will surely miss all that you have offered to the team, but we wish you nothing but the best as you continue to positively influence the lives of others!




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232 Main Street

Thomaston, ME 04861

United States

Garibaldi 105

Cerro La Cruz

Valparaíso, Chile

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