This summer, the the Anaheim Community Foundation funded a wonderful program through AbilityFirst and the Anaheim Family YMCA to offer swim lessons to children with special needs. Offered Monday through Friday at Pearson Park, the program gives children a fun and safe place to get active, gain confidence in and out of the water, socialize with peers and role models, and most importantly realize their full potential.

Kids from AbilityFirst kids receive one-on-one instruction with YMCA swim instructors, allowing each child to learn at his or her own pace and choose an activity that interests them. While the kids are splashing and laughing in the water, parents reflect and show their appreciation for the program because in that short time, their kids “come to life.”

For 14-year old Ryan Gomez, this swim program gives his mother hope. “Ryan can’t walk. He has a muscular disease called muscular duchenne where it eventually affects his heart and lungs and the life expectancy is 20 years old,” said Linda Rang. “This program is so important to us because it is the only way he can exercise which is good for his muscles and heart.”

Linda continued to add that she appreciates the instructors for their love and patience. Because of them, Ryan feels happy and accepted, which is also the case for the other kids and their families.

Marco Gavarini has his 11-year old daughter Alessandra in the program as well. “Alessandra is non-verbal. But when she knows we are going to swim lessons, she shows me signs which communicate her excitement,” said Marco. “She is getting more out of this program than just swimming. Now we can go to the beach or go swimming at a relative’s house and she will have enough confidence to apply what she learned here. It is an awesome feeling for our entire family.”