Laurentian University volunteers offer swimming lessons to children with disabilities

With over 300 lakes in the Greater Sudbury area, Swimming With a Mission or SWAM wants to make sure all children have the opportunity to learn how to swim.

SWAM Sudbury has grown to 45 children since 2016

Laurentian University students volunteer to teach children with special needs how to swim (Ashley Pilling)

With over 300 lakes in the Greater Sudbury area, Swimming With a Mission or SWAM wants to make sure all children have the opportunity to learn how to swim. 

The not-for-profit student initiative at Laurentian University began in 2016 and provides affordable swimming lessons to children with special needs, so they too can swim in the many lakes in the area.

"It's really affordable, the families $20 to $25 per session just to cover the life guarding fee and the kids get one on one swimming lessons with a volunteer instructor," said Lindsay Boland, a student a Laurentian University and the part of Community Outreach for SWAM.

There are three sessions per year, in the fall, winter and spring, and each session runs for eight to ten weeks. Every Sunday the children head to the Laurentian pool for their half hour lesson with a volunteer instructor.

SWAM Sudbury provides the opportunity for children with special needs to learn how to swim at an affordable price. (Ashley Pilling)

Volunteer instructors are mainly students from Laurentian University, said Boland, however, they are often looking for more volunteers especially for the spring/summer session, which is when many students return home.

SWAM works with community partners to ensure volunteers are properly trained, educated and prepared to teach swimming to special needs children.

"My first child that I had in my first session, I've been with him for three years and it's been incredible to just watch him kind of just grow as a person, grow as a little boy, he's growing up, but also just his swimming abilities have started to really kind of skyrocket and just see him get more comfortable in the water," said Boland.

She says it's been an amazing experience to just see the all the children grow and learn how to swim.

It's just incredible to watch the children grow and learn, says Boland (Ashley Pilling)

But it's not only the children who grow, the organization began with only 15 children and now there are about 45 children who take swimming lessons every Sunday.

People from Sudbury are proud of saying that there are more than 300 lakes here, she said, so teaching kids how to swim in an area with such an abundant amount of lakes is really important.

"If you're a child with a disability or special needs it's hard to do group lessons... and then private lessons can be so expensive for these families and, you know, that's not always accessible to everyone," Boland said.

The typical group style swimming lessons are not always suited to best meet children with disability's needs. According to SWAM Sudbury, many children in the program often have shorter attention spans, require more personalized supervision and need individual teaching methods to ensure their success. 

"So it's really important for these kids to not only get those swimming abilities but also just socially giving them the confidence to go experience a set time every week that your with someone else that's not your parents, your physio, people that you see everyday, so kind of broadening comfort zones," said Boland.