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Thirty years in the pool

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A north Winnipeg program providing positive bonding experiences for local seniors and young kids alike is celebrating a big milestone this year.

The North Centennial Seniors Association’s Grandma and Grandpa Day Care Water Orientation Program turns 30 this year.

The program is built around the idea of making young children more comfortable around water and swimming-pool environments, and is not about providing formal swimming lessons.
Each week, the seniors in the association invite kids from four neighbourhood day cares to enjoy a splash in the pool at the North Centennial Recreation and Leisure Facility, all under the careful supervision of the volunteers.

It all began in 1983, when then-lifeguard and current association president Bernice Feledechuk was watching over the water at the North Centennial Pool. She noticed a distinct difference between young children visiting there from a local day care with their supervisors, compared to those accompanied by grandma and grandpa.

"The children were not happy... They were frightened, they were not enjoying their experience," Feledechuk recalls about the day care children.

"A little further in the water, a couple of our senior members had brought their grandchildren... and they were having a ball."

Thus, an idea was born. Feledechuk started out with a successful trial project, trying the idea of pairing kids with seniors at the pool, in co-operation with a single day care. Since then, it’s ballooned, and now welcomes kids from Action Centre Day Nursery, Gretta Brown Centre, Machray Day Care Centre and Champlain Community Child Care.

Program co-ordinator Barbara Morris said approximately 45 kids take part in the program. She said she has a core of about 30 "phenomenal" volunteers who take part.

The program runs Tuesdays and Thursdays during the spring, fall and winter seasons, and in more recent years the seniors association has taken the step of obtaining funding to provide bus transportation for the kids, to spare them a long commute to the centre.

The program also puts on a spring carnival and Christmas party for the kids, inviting them out and sending them home with their own individual gifts.

Over the last 30 years, the program has been showered with awards, including the Mayor’s Volunteer Service Award and the Premier’s Volunteer Service Award.

Each of the volunteers (dubbed the kids’ grandmas and grandpas) who spend time in the pool with the kids are subject to criminal background checks before they’re allowed to participate (the city covers the cost of the checks). Those who do participate find it greatly rewarding.

Among them is Edith Landy, 92, who also serves as the program’s fundraiser.

"We love it, we just love it," she said.

Landy said many seniors who participate have grandchildren who have moved from the city, who they don’t see very much anymore. The water orientation program gives them a brand-new chance to bond with the younger generation.

"This gives us an opportunity to interact with these little ones," Landy said.

"At one Christmas party one of my girls brought her mother in to meet her ‘grandma,’ which was so rewarding."

Morris said that closeness becomes evident soon after the kids start participating.

"The kids start coming in looking for their grandma or grandpa," Morris said.

"It’s really important to them... the kids, that’s the highlight of their week is the program."

The winter session of the program begins later this month. For more information, contact the seniors association at (204) 582-0066.

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