Oct 312005
Authors: Lee Newville

Every Sunday, junior Tyler Kent hops into the pool at Edora Pool Ice Center (EPIC) and plays with a young girl who suffers from Down syndrome.

"She is a blast to be with. She is always smiling and laughing and having a great time. She brings a smile to my face every time I see her," Kent said. "It's so much fun."

The program is called Special Needs Swim, and serves roughly 30 disabled individuals, both adults and children. Participants meet at EPIC in Fort Collins every weekend for two hours. The program consists of one hour of "reflection," where guest speakers are invited to talk about disability-related topics. The second hour is devoted to exercise and games in the pool.

The swimmers form an eclectic group of individuals with varying degrees of abilities and age. While many are children, there are also adults in the program, some of whom live in caretaking facilities.

"For lots of these folks," said Jen Johnson, assistant director of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement (SLCE) Volunteer Programs, "this may be one of the very few opportunities they have to leave their homes."

Kent commended the program for offering an opportunity for disabled individuals to leave their homes and try something new.

He said the most rewarding part of the program is "seeing the smiles on every person's face as they leave after swim, knowing they had a wonderful time and knowing they had a chance to go to get out of their homes or caretaker situation."

The application process for Special Needs Swim begins the fall semester before the year volunteers would work. Once selected, volunteers must commit to a full academic year with their assigned swimmer. Although this can be a daunting commitment for college students, Johnson said the program is a rewarding experience for volunteers as well as participants.

"I think they're deeply affected," Johnson said. "They learn an awful lot about ability and disability and how that can impact a person's life. I think they learn how to be advocates for people who do have disabilities. They make a lot of new friends both with other CSU volunteers and with the people who swim with us."

Trish Becker, junior psychology major and Special Needs Swim project coordinator, agreed the program offers more than functional uses.

"It's not just about swimming in a pool," she said. "It's about forming a relationship and creating that bond."

Special Needs Swim is celebrating the program's 30th year reunion. It is the oldest program organized by the SLCE office.

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