A year ago, Higher Ground received a grant from the Wood River Women's Foundation to fund a Family wellness project. The purpose of the project is to provide families of the Wood River Valley whom have a family member with a disability an opportunity to recreate together. Kayla Pedrolini, HG Youth Recreation Manager who spear headed this program, and other HG program staff chose to focus on water activities; swimming and paddling (kayaking & stand up paddle boarding). Why water activities? Statistics show that drowning is a leading cause of death for children 14 and under. Children with autism have a higher risk of drowning than their typical peers.
Kayla began the program encouraging all members of families in the Wood River Valley with a child with a disability to join the family learn to swim program. HG staff provided swim lessons to the entire family, including parents throughout the fall. Recreating with other families opened the door for discussion and building bonds.
Fast forward 6 months to summer, families participated in a overnight trip with HG. Four families participated in our overnight camping trip, which we hosted at Galena near Senate Meadows. HG staff split parents and children after dinner, allowing parents to chat and participate in a recreation therapy group while their children went on a hike. Parents cracked jokes and became a bit worried at how long their children had been gone "should we go look for them", "my kid doesn't hike with me", "send out the search party". As the group came within ear shot, parents exclaimed how proud and impressed they were of their children for going on such a long journey.
The next day we ate breakfast and packed up to go paddling at Pettit Lake. It was a beautiful day enjoyed by all. The paddling continued at Indian Creek Pond, for our Saturday Paddle Program spread out throughout August and September. One of the participants, on his first day, learned to paddle all by himself!
Jack arrived at the pond and quickly decided that he was going to try paddling solo! We zipped up our life jackets and jumped in. Jack and Kayla started off with how we get into the boat or "car", making sure not to tip. They then began to learn how to hold and move our paddles. Jack practiced balancing his body in the boat and using his paddle to move his boat where he wanted to go. Jack counted his strokes to get into a good paddling rhythm. Jack's mom asked "has he ever done this before?" The answer, "Not by himself." Jack was doing fantastic and was having so much fun but always likes to check in on other people asking, "Are you having fun?"
Jack and Kayla also made a tandem voyage to the other side of the lake to find some ducks and fish....and help their friend locate the paddle that drowned to the bottom of the Indian Creek Pond. After playing a great game of I Spy, which Jack thoroughly enjoyed, they moved onto the game, "Who's going to use their newly learned swimming skills to retrieve the paddle in the (very cold, September temperature) pond?" The crickets have never chirped so loud. The friend who dropped the paddle got in, only to immediately climb right back on to his boat. Jack didn't think the swimming game was quite as fun and neither did the two staff members who went diving to retrieve the paddle. Let's just say if you're ever in Indian Creek Pond in Hailey, ID and happen to go for a dip, you'll find a paddle with an HG sticker on it.
We couldn't be more proud of Jack for trying something new, and gaining the skills to independently do it on his own! This year of programming has allowed families to come together, work through trying something new, and given them the tools and skills to go swimming, paddling, or an entirely new activity together.