Meet Cameron Krisko, one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20.
Krisko — a St. Paul’s High School graduate and University of Winnipeg student — received the honour in June from Youth in Motion, a Toronto-based charitable organization.
In 2011, Krisko founded Making Waves Winnipeg, a program that provides affordable one-on-one swimming lessons and water safety skills to special needs children. Lessons are held Saturday evenings in the fall and winter at Seven Oaks Pool.
Since starting with 10 swimmers and 10 volunteer instructors, the program has grown immensely. For its fall season, Krisko says Making Waves Winnipeg is up to 105 swimmers and over 50 instructors.
"There are a few things about our program that makes it unique," says Krisko, 20, a fourth year biochemistry major who is currently studying for the Medical College Admission Test.
"Obviously the one-on-one instruction is crucial, but the other thing is I want to make sure that I never shut anybody out of the program because they can’t afford it. We charge $20 for 10 lessons, so $2 a lesson."
To cover the costs of the program, Krisko organized the Making Waves Golf Tournament, which has raised over $20,000. The third annual tourney goes down Aug. 8 at Breezy Bend Country Club. Making Waves also receives sponsorship from a number of local businesses.
Krisko, a former lifeguard at the University of Manitoba, has worked with special needs children in the past, volunteering with the Special Olympics. He says he absolutely loves working with the kids and marvels at their progression in the pool.
"There’s one kid who has been with us since the start, and in the beginning he couldn’t walk on his own and could barely put sentences together," Krisko says. "By the end of the last session he was walking on his own two feet and he asked for a juice box. You could completely understand him. I know that sounds little, but it was huge. To see where he was, to where he is now, is pretty spectacular."
Leigh Sawicki can attest to the effectiveness of Making Waves. The 41 year old firefighter says his eight-year-old son Layne, who has Down syndrome, has benefitted greatly from the program.
"We put Layne and my other two kids in regular swimming lessons, and while the other two did really well, Layne had a hard time with the water at first," Sawicki says. "When we put him in Making Waves it was with a one-on-one instructor and they bonded really well. Layne excelled much farther than he had in the previous two years of regular swimming lessons. Now, three seasons in, he’s actually almost swimming on his own."
Sawicki says he’s grateful for the program and helpful, patient people like Krisko.
"The instructors take the time to individualize with each swimmer," Sawicki says. "It’s not just Layne. I’ve seen the other kids that have more severe disabilities than Layne does. The care and focus the instructors take with each kid, even just trying to get them used to the water, is amazing."
For more information on Making Waves Winnipeg, the Aug. 8 golf tourney and how to become a sponsor, go to www.makingwaveswinnipeg.org