U of O’s chapter of national nonprofit helps disabled children learn how to swim

“Just keep swimming” isn’t this club’s motto, but it should be.

SwimAbility Ottawa is the local chapter of a national nonprofit that aims to help children with special needs learn how to swim.

Instructors volunteer their time once a week throughout the winter and spring seasons to give one-on-one training sessions to kids with disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy to autism.

“We’re really passionate about kids with special needs, and allowing them a program that’s accessible and affordable,” said Meagan Stewart, a U of O alumna who has been with Swimability for five years.

In order to keep the organization afloat, fundraisers are held every year for the following school year.

On Friday, Nov. 25, a coffee house and raffle event was held at Happy Goat Coffee Company in order to raise money and awareness for the club. An entrance fee of $7 was charged at the door and guests were entertained with free snacks, board games, and live music performances from local musician Kyle Ivanich.

“We’re constantly trying to get out into the community,” said Stewart, describing the event as family oriented, but also something for the instructors. “It’s (got) a mingle aspect, but (it’s) also a fundraiser to actually raise money for our pools because we have to spend about $7,000 a year to actually pay our pools so that we can get our time to actually run our program.”

The trendy coffee house was packed with locals all vying for awesome raffle prizes donated by businesses in the area including Starbucks, the Loft, Stella Luna, Midway Family Fun Park, Elevate Yoga, and House of TARG.

Brooklynne Eeuwes, a recent U of O political science graduate who joined SwimAbility this year, shared that some of her techniques as an instructor include singing and playing games with the kids.  

“It comes down to building a relationship,” said Eeuwes. “It’s the best thing that I’ve done this year. It’s been the most rewarding and inspiring experience. I’ve been teaching a little girl, she’s four and has cerebral palsy, and she’s non verbal and … she is fully conversive with me now.”

“I think it’s such an amazing program that a lot of people don’t know about, but the turnout for this event is amazing.”

Over the past seven years, the program has grown from catering to 12 children to over 100, and group members hope that this growth will continue. Recently the club expanded on their training by having instructors attend sign language seminars with the Centre for Students with Disabilities on the U of O campus.

“It’s really great to see that something we do once a week is such a big part of their world,” said Stewart.

To find out more about SwimAbility Ottawa and how you can join, you can follow them on Facebook.