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Reeve Grant Makes Waves with Adaptive Swimming Program in Miami Springs

By: Nate Herpich

Miami Springs Swimming Pool
Miami Springs Swimming Pool

Just over a month ago, in the small suburban community of Miami Springs, Florida, a nine-year-old boy living with disabilities was playing near the bank of a canal. It was a steep bank, and as he played, the young boy lost his balance, and tumbled into the water.

The canal was deep, well over his head, but thankfully, the boy knew enough to doggy paddle and stay afloat until his mother leapt in to save him.

At first glance, it sounds like a fairly typical story -- certainly scary for the parent, but kids play around water and fall in, and usually they can pull themselves out. This story is unique, however: If this particular boy had fallen into this canal just a year before, says a local school administrator, "he would have sunk like a rock."

The good news is, thanks in part to a grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, the boy had access to the tools to learn to stay above water during summer adaptive swimming and water safety lessons; it was training that likely saved his life.

Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Miami Springs
Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Miami Springs

Enhancing Quality of Life
Part of the Reeve Foundation's Paralysis Resource Center's (PRC) mission is to provide Quality of Life grants for community-based services and programs across the U.S. designed to increase health, wellness, and quality of life.

In this case, Reeve awarded a grant to the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Miami Springs to purchase "learn-to-swim sports equipment" for their adaptive swimming program. "Our program is the only nearby opportunity for children and adults with disabilities to learn water safety, and no fees are charged," explains Carol Foster, Grants/Public Information Specialist with the City of Miami Springs.

Unfortunately, when Foster reached out to the Foundation, the program's success was in danger. Over the past few years, due to various reasons such as an aging infrastructure in need of repair, enormous hurricane recovery expenses, and declining tax revenues, the city was forced to reduce its Parks and Recreation budget by more than $80,000. All of this was taking place at the same time that the adaptive swimming program had a desperate need for new equipment.

So Foster looked to Reeve for help, applying for a Quality of Life grant. "When we received word that we had been given this award, we were SO thrilled, as this equipment was really needed," she explains. "It has been put to great use and has already saved a life!"

Miami Springs Swimming Pool

100 Percent Improvement
At the beginning of the grant period, the City of Miami Springs' stated goal was to get all of their non-swimming students with disabilities on the road to learning to swim. And they're all well on their way: "100 percent of the adaptive swim class students developed and improved their swimming ability, and had fun doing it!" says the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

The equipment provided by the grant from the Foundation enabled specific aquatic activities and instruction for three groups serving people with disabilities in particular: ACTIV Learning, ISMILE (Institute for Special Minds Interacting in a Learning Environment) and South Florida Child Development. Each of these three groups averaged about 15 people for weekday classes from June through September of 2013.

"In my 18 years working here, this is the first time we've ever had a grant like this to help people with disabilities learn to swim," says Carolina Villaverde, the city's Aquatics Supervisor. "We're incredibly thankful to the Foundation."

The aquatic center's new equipment includes a special ladder to help people with disabilities get in and out of the pool, various water games, swim belts and buoys to help with flotation, a side rail to grab onto when acclimating to the water, and a floating platform, among other tools.

Miami Springs Swimming Pool

Building for the Future
The Reeve Foundation always hopes that Quality of Life grants can help an organization to plant a seed that will grow, and build a sustainable presence for the future. According to Foster, this is already happening for the City of Miami Springs, just months after the grant period came to an end.

"Receiving this grant was a real boost toward convincing our City Council to take out loans to build a new aquatic center, as our present one is over 50 years old," she explains. "This building will happen in about two years." She says that the adaptive swimming program is very much looking forward to continuing to make waves in their new state-of-the-art center in 2015.

Foster also says that winning the grant has encouraged her to continue to reach out to find new support for programs for those living with disabilities in her community.

"My next project is to try to locate some assistance for purchase and installation of accessible equipment for a 'senior fitness zone' in one of our parks so that our elderly residents, including those in wheelchairs, can stay in shape and enjoy the out-of-doors year-round."

Learn More
The Reeve Foundation Quality of Life program awards grants to non-profit organizations that provide services to individuals with paralysis. Find out more about Reeve's Quality of Life Grants Program, and the application process and requirements.

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Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders