Community funds swimming lessons for children with special needs

by Jonathan Paradis

On Thursday, November 28, a crowd of 111 community members gathered for Soup Ottawa’s micro-granting event and awarded Making Waves Ottawa funds to expand its swimming program for children with special needs.

In his opening address, Soup Ottawa founder Dan Monafu described the quarterly event as a platform to support community projects.

Attendees pay a $10 admission fee, which earns them a warm bowl of soup and, most importantly, the right to vote for one of the six projects introduced by presenters seeking a grant. The project with the most votes is awarded the monies generated through the cover charge.

All six presentations were centred on the theme for the evening: “Better than you found it.” The projects presented included plans to increase greenspace in the city by removing concrete at different sites, and installing free book exchange stations across the Ottawa region.

Esmeralda Smith Romero pitched the only for-profit venture: Second Grace Vintage. The start-up business recovers used clothes, alters them and sells them at viewing events over which the history of the pieces on offer is shared.

Ultimately, the crowd provided Making Waves Ottawa with a $1,110 micro-grant.

Presenting on behalf of Making Waves Ottawa, Rachel McPherdan introduced the core service her organization provides: “one-on-one 45-minute swim lessons to children with developmental and physical disabilities on Saturday evenings.” Lessons are given at the Lowertown Pool and the Jack Purcell Pool in Centretown.

Mindful of the financial stress associated with raising children with disabilities, Making Waves Ottawa charges families only $20 for a set of nine private lessons.

The organization waives the fees for patrons who can’t afford them, explained Keara Lundrigan who was a co-presenter for the Making Waves initiative.

Despite offering three sets of lessons each semester, Making Waves Ottawa has several children on a waiting list, hoping to get in the water with an instructor. “If we are able to fundraise more money, we hope to expand in the coming year to [dispense] four sets of lessons to accommodate these children,” said McPherdan. “Unfortunately the City of Ottawa does not provide us with any grants or any discounts towards the pool,” she added. A major part of the group’s budget must therefore be fundraised every year.

In the audience, many could relate to the Making Waves presentation on a personal level. During the intermission, HUB Ottawa community catalyst Jesse Cressman-Dickinson, and Carleton University student Troy Hermanstyne, mentioned that they each have a relative who has special needs, and can therefore appreciate just how scarce resources are for families.

In an interview at the end of the event, Robert Miller, who was a councillor before the amalgamation, shared his thoughts on the evening: “The gathering of all these people together, who are interested in the communities and ideas to improve [them], is wonderful.“

Miller explained that applying for formal city grants can be very time-consuming, and added that “a lot of the proposals they get here [at Soup Ottawa] are the kind that may fall into the cracks.”

Although only Making Waves Ottawa left with monies that evening, other presenters did not feel shortchanged. “[Soup Ottawa] is also about the connections that you make, the people that you meet, the forum to get your project out there and get some recognition,” said Megan Johnson, who presented for Sesquisharp Production, an organization that provides young local artists with a platform for creative and unconventional musical expression.

Soup Ottawa organizers also intend to give project leaders and the audience an opportunity to make connections, discuss ideas and exchange non-pecuniary support. For instance, presenter Brigitte McCauley indicated she would like to obtain help with designing a website for Adapted Alternatives. Her project entails adapting clothes so that they become accessible to people who face a mobility loss, or who are unable to use ready-to-wear clothing because of other limitations.

The community can expect Soup Ottawa to hold its fourth micro-granting dinner event in February 2014, and Making Waves to offer an additional set of swimming lessons come September 2014.