Swim program for disabled resurfaces

By Erin O’Hara

Volunteers at the Metro Central YMCA have resurrected an aquatics program for adults with mental and physical disabilities. But, there’s still a list of people waiting for an opportunity to take the plunge.

The Adapted Aquatics program has been running for 15 years but stopped two years ago because there weren’t enough volunteers.

In the spring of 2004, the program was revived but participants came on a bi-weekly basis because there were only five volunteers.

Now the program runs on a weekly basis with 12 volunteers and 10 participants. “This is the biggest it’s ever been,” says program co-ordinator Lisa Crack.

The nature of the program requires a one-to-one volunteer/participant ratio to ensure that safety standards are maintained at the centre.

“It’s all about a good, safe time,” says Crack.

The participants spend one hour every Thursday swimming freely in the pool with the help of volunteers and under the supervision of lifeguards.

Crack says the goal of the program is to make a difference in the participants’ lives by spicing up their weekly routine. Most importantly, it’s about inclusion, says Crack.

There are a lot of people out there with big hearts but not all of them are cut out for this type of volunteering, she says. “It’s very difficult to get volunteers for the program.”

Crack says it takes people who are outgoing, patient and aware of the participants’ sensitivities.

Dino Robinho has been volunteering with the program for two years. Robinho works at Ahearn Residence, a home for people with developmental disabilities.

Three of the program participants come from Ahearn Residence.

“It’s a privilege and an honour to be of some assistance,” Robinho says.

He says people with disabilities don’t have the same opportunities to go out. “This is like their Oscar night.”

Jerry Belleau, a participant in the program and an Ahearn resident is a 49-year-old paraplegic. He’s been with the program for 15 years.

“I like the program, I like to socialize,” he says.

Robinho says learning in the program is a two-way street. “The volunteers learn just as much from the participants,” he says.

Charline Cormier, volunteer co-ordinator at the YMCA, also volunteers with the Adapted Aquatics program.

“It’s fun, it doesn’t even feel like volunteering.”

Cormier says she’d like to see the number of volunteers rise so the program can expand beyond its once a week schedule.

“For every person who participates there are more who don’t,” she says.

Cormier says people are often surprised that the program exists.

It’s important to get the word out to both participants and volunteers, she says.

The Metro Central YMCA trains volunteers through monthly orientation sessions.

Volunteers for the Adapted Aquatics program take a training session where they learn lifting techniques and proper etiquette.

Crack says the program is designed so volunteers get a chance to really know the participants.

Each participant has a profile listing their favourite song, food, movie and other details.

Participants and volunteers often get together before and after their swim to socialize, Crack says.

The program is funded by a yearly grant from the United Way. The grant, along with a $20 participation fee, helps pay for special event parties and transportation to the YMCA for participants.

For information on volunteering or participating in the program, contact the Metro Central YMCA at 788-5000.