2011-01-20 / Family

Pool fun builds endurance, self-confidence for ‘group of four’

By Angela Randazzo
Special to the Acorn

Joe Stewart had a grin on his face as he watched his friends swimming laps.

The 42-year-old man with autism goes to ARC Skyway, an adult day care facility in Camarillo.

And every Friday, an ARC staff member drives Joe and three other individuals with mental challenges to the Miller Family YMCA in Newbury Park to swim for an hour at the Y’s indoor pool.

“It’s more than just having fun,” said Joe’s mother, Roslyn Stewart. “They are learning coordination and building endurance swimming laps.”

Joe lives with his mother in Newbury Park and attends the ARC facility for social and recreational activities. Roslyn, a retired attorney, routinely meets with the counselors to go over learning goals for her son.

“As a child Joe was slow developing, and learning is a challenge for him,” she said. “However, he has a happy, positive disposition that many children with autism don’t have.”


PLAY AND LEARN—Above, Joe Stewart of Newbury Park plays with beach balls at the YMCA pool in Newbury Park. Stewart is participating in swim classes for mentally challenged people and their families. At left, leader Robert Garcia keeps an eye on Julie Diaz as she floats in the YMCA pool. The special needs swimming program debuted about a year ago and provides participants with an opportunity to learn coordination and build endurance. 
Photos by BILL SPARKES/Acorn Newspapers PLAY AND LEARN—Above, Joe Stewart of Newbury Park plays with beach balls at the YMCA pool in Newbury Park. Stewart is participating in swim classes for mentally challenged people and their families. At left, leader Robert Garcia keeps an eye on Julie Diaz as she floats in the YMCA pool. The special needs swimming program debuted about a year ago and provides participants with an opportunity to learn coordination and build endurance. Photos by BILL SPARKES/Acorn Newspapers Roslyn wanted to make sure that physical fitness was part of her son’s ARC program and suggested he be driven to the YMCA, where Joe has a membership.

His counselor agreed to transport him with a group that included a staff member, but a problem arose when the individuals who wanted to join the group couldn’t afford the membership fee.

When Roslyn told the officials at the YMCA about this dilemma, they gladly waived the fee for the special needs group.

“We look for ways we can help our community,” said Tarrik Daou, the Y’s aquatics and healthy lifestyles director.

The YMCA makes similar arrangements with organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, he said.

“The group comes here every Friday. They are a joy,” Daou said of the ARC group. “They have fun in the pool and get a good workout.”

Roslyn volunteers as a swimming coach and aerobics teacher for the “group of four,” as she calls them.

Although the other three participants vary, Joe is a regular. He’s friendly to everyone and likes playing beach volleyball with the swimmers and lifeguards.

“I like being there with my friends,” he said.

Roslyn said she’s seen those who come from ARC to the YMCA gain selfconfidence since the swimming program started a year ago.

At the beginning, Julia, an adult with Down syndrome, would only sit on the pool steps.

“She is as sweet as can be and always has a smile for you,” Roslyn said.

After many weeks of encouragement, Julia finally waded into the water. Now she does stretching exercises and kicks with the group.

Ashley, a 30-year-old woman with little speech, likes to swim. Roslyn would wait at the end of the pool and say, “Way to go!” when Ashley swam the laps. Ashley started responding with the same words.

“Here’s a nonverbal person participating, and all of a sudden we got a little talk from her,” Roslyn said.

Tom, a 50-year-old man with special needs, can now swim 10 strokes without hanging onto the edge of the pool. He’s currently working on a 20-stroke goal.

The participants encourage each other to swim and exercise.

“They cheer for each other and clap when someone succeeds,” Roslyn said. “It’s been a positive experience for them and for me.”

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