“Look Mommy, I can swim!” Oliver shouts from the pool as he and twin brother Sebastian paddle around the pool with confidence.
Seven year-old twin brothers Oliver and Sebastian are inseparable, sharing not only a birthday, but a love of learning and eagerness to try new things. Oliver, the oldest of the two boys, has autism while Sebastian has a mild learning deficit, making learning in larger group settings a challenge for the twins.
“The boys were afraid of water because of their experiences in public group swimming lessons,” says mom Vanessa, “they were often being pushed out of their comfort zones and just didn’t enjoy themselves.”
Four years ago, Vanessa found and enrolled the boys in Swimming with a Mission (SWAM)- an organization that provides one-on-one swimming lessons for children with disabilities across 13 chapters in Canada.
“One-to-one interaction between children and our instructors is a very important piece of our program,” says Ainsley Nantes, Director of Partnerships and Funding at SWAM, “We ensure these students are able to form a relationship, feel comfortable and safe in the environment they are swimming in.”
The goal for children in the SWAM program is to work with the same instructor each lesson, helping build trust, form a bond and work towards goals together.
“They really get to know your child,” says Vanessa, “When Sebastian’s instructor of four years left SWAM, she gave him a photo book with their memories and accomplishments- it made me emotional to see how far he’d come.”
Every swimmer in the SWAM program sets their own goals (no matter how big or small) and works with an instructor at their own pace to accomplish them.
“A big thing for us is building swimmer confidence,” says Ainsley, “part of our organization’s mission is to reduce and eliminate drownings, particularly for children with disabilities who are at a higher risk.”
For children like Oliver and Sebastian, learning water safety could be a lifesaver in the future. Prior to starting in the SWAM program, both boys were afraid of the water, but working with their instructors one-to-one has reduced their fear and made them feel more secure.
“Oliver and Sebastian love the water now! They’re very confident and no longer afraid,” says Vanessa.
Along with this, SWAM also reduces barriers to access for families by offering programming that is much more affordable than private or city lessons.
“We try to keep the program accessible so that anyone with any financial need can participate in the program,” says Ainsley, “there is no shortage of families that need these important lessons and we want to make it as inexpensive as possible.”
GoodLife Kids Foundation grant funding has allowed SWAM to continue providing subsidized lessons – even allowing them to provide initial set-up funding to open another chapter and increase accessibility at another facility.
“GoodLife Kids Foundation’s mission is very aligned with ours – reducing barriers for children with disabilities,” says Ainsley, “and being able to provide and increase access [for these children through SWAM] is the most rewarding part.”
GoodLife Kids Foundation raises funds to remove barriers and provide physical activity opportunities for kids with special needs all across Canada, just like Oliver & Sebastian. To date, GoodLife Kids Foundation has impacted the lives of more than 250,000 Canadian kids!