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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Special-needs swimming lessons lend confidence

Nearly 50 volunteers make difference with youth

Posted: 06/22/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Dianne Rabichuk can't say enough nice things about Cameron Krisko.

"I idolize him," says Rabichuk. "He's fantastic and the work he's doing makes such a difference. I adore him like there's no tomorrow."

Krisko, 20, met Rabichuk and her daughter, Leah, when he was still a Grade 11 student at St. Paul's High School. Students are required to put in 30 hours of volunteer time before they graduate. Krisko decided to sign on with Special Olympics, where he met Leah.

"He never really left," says Rabichuk. "He stayed on and coached the track team. He still does."

Two years ago, Krisko introduced the Making Waves swim program to Winnipeg. He'd already worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor. The program offers affordable swimming lessons to special-needs children. Leah Rabichuk signed up.

"She's definitely learned a lot," says her mother. "Her confidence has increased incredibly."

There were 10 kids in the first program. That number has jumped to 71, with as many kids on the waiting list.

Krisko matches volunteer swimming coaches to students for one-on-one instruction. The students stay with the same "buddy" throughout the program. He's now got close to 50 volunteers. Lessons are held at the Seven Oaks Pool on Saturday evenings. They cost $20 a session, which involves eight or nine half-hour classes.

They don't offer classes during the summer because many of their volunteer instructors are university students who are away over the break.

The swimmers may have Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, epilepsy, attention-deficit disorder or be blind or deaf.

"It's amazing that these young people give up their Saturday nights for this program," says Rabichuk.

Krisko is dedicated to Making Waves.

"It allows children a chance they might not otherwise have," he says. "It gives them confidence and makes it safer for them to be around the water."

Krisko is meeting with Winnipeg school superintendents in an effort to have the program implemented city-wide and offered during the school day.

Parent Lindy Yeoh signed up her daughter, Jamie, now 16, the first year Making Waves was offered.

"We've always been around the water. It was always a safety concern for us," Yeoh says "It's really hard to put her in regular swimming lessons because she needs extra help. It was very difficult to find a program that takes special-needs kids."

Jamie has Down syndrome. She has learned to swim well.

Jamie's sister, Kelly, is a volunteer swim instructor with the program.

Krisko was recently rewarded for his volunteer efforts, named one of Canada's Top 20 Under 20, by Youth In Motion, an Ontario-based non-profit. He was flown to Toronto for the awards ceremony. He is a fourth-year biochemistry major at the University of Manitoba and hopes to get into medical school. Krisko coaches the St. Paul's hockey team. He works in the pro shop at Breezy Bend, home of the third annual Making Waves golf tournament. He's hoping to raise $25,000 at this year's August event. A portion of the registration fee goes directly to the program.

"There are a lot of costs," says Krisko. "Renting the pool is $200 an hour. That's going to double next year."

He keeps the cost of the lessons low so any family can take part.

He says the best part of the program is watching kids become more confident.

"There was a kid named Sean. When he first came to the program, he wouldn't get in the water. He wasn't interested. The program really built up his confidence."

If you're interested in golfing in the Aug. 8 tournament or becoming a sponsor, you can contact Krisko at admin@makingwaveswinnipeg.org

lindor.reynolds@ freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 A10

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