Ask Cameron Krisko why people should volunteer with Manitoba SwimAbility, and you’ll get a prompt and passionate response.
“It really gives you a different perspective on life,” says Krisko, president and founder of Manitoba SwimAbility. “Being part of this organization has just opened up my eyes to some of the challenges these kids go through on a daily basis.”
In turn, volunteers can help these kids learn new, potentially life-saving skills.
“Just being able to positively affect these kids, and give parents an opportunity to see their child succeed,” Krisko says. “I challenge everyone to come out and get involved.”
Manitoba SwimAbility initially began in 2005 as Making Waves, a national non-profit organization geared toward teaching differently-abled kids to swim.
Krisko led the Making Waves expansion to Winnipeg in 2011.
And a year or so ago, when Making Waves changed its name to SwimAbility Canada, the Winnipeg non-profit followed suit, expanding and becoming Manitoba SwimAbility.
When the Manitoba program started, it had just 10 swimmers and 10 volunteers in Winnipeg. Now, it operates at four Winnipeg pools, plus locations in Steinbach, Selkirk, Brandon, Dauphin, Grandview, Carman, and Portage La Prairie. It accepts children between the ages of three and 18; interested families and caregivers can find out more about lessons here.
“And this fall, we’ll have 400 swimmers and close to 200 volunteers,” Krisko says.
A 10-week program starts in September, while a slightly shorter program takes place each spring. Each class is 30 minutes in length and costs $2.50 per lesson ($25 for the 10-week program.) “Our goal is to ensure all families of every socioeconomic status can enrol their kids,” says Krisko.
Students attend class once a week and are paired one-on-one with volunteer instructors.
“We tailor programming specifically to a child’s abilities and needs,” Krisko says. “If they’re brand new to the water, their programming will look a lot different than a child who can swim.”
As for special needs, they cater to everything, “from intellectual to physical, from mild to severe, moderate and everything in between,” he says.
“Our instructors are fully prepared to teach swimming skills as they are appropriate.”
In August, three weeks of summer camp programming also takes place. Each camp offers intensive swim classes, plus myriad other activities, including bowling, yoga, and crafts, and there is still space this year for interested students.
Down the road, Krisko hopes to add more towns to the Manitoba SwimAbility lineup. “Every time we start a new program in a city, the families are really appreciative,” he says. “It’s really nice to see.”
The regular fall programming, however, has a waiting list in many locations. In Winnipeg, the list has roughly 100 names on it.
Krisko would love to see that list shortened, but he needs more volunteer instructors to make it happen.
Krisko himself is a volunteer with Manitoba SwimAbility. His day job is working as a physician’s assistant at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, but in high school, he taught swimming lessons and volunteered with the Special Olympics. “When I saw the opportunity to combine the two things, it was really enticing,” he says. “I didn’t know it would become what it is today, but I knew it was something I really wanted to get involved with.”