Our latest New Yorker of the Week is helping children with physical and mental disabilities get through it, every stroke of the way. NY1's John Schiumo introduces us.
Swimming can be like treading uncharted waters for many children living with special needs. With a boost from Reach Swim Academy in the Bronx, students dip their toes into a new world.
"He's actually putting his head in the water. That’s a big thing for us. He's dunking his head in, he's moving around. He seems fearless," says Yvonne Pagan-Rodriguez, a parent.
“Like, if I didn’t know how to swim, it would be hard for me to play with my friends without going under the water," says Logan Rodriguez, a student.
Making waves as the group's founder is Florencio Flores Palomo. He conquered a fear of the water decades after a near-drowning experience. Today, he’s determined to make sure all children are prepared in the water.
"There was a news program about a little boy, who drowned in North Carolina visiting his grandparents, who was autistic. And it just resonated with me saying something more needs to be done," says Flores Palomo.
So, Florencio dove right in and made it happen. Every Saturday at Hostos Community College, dozens of children up to 14 years old get one-on-one lessons tailored to their abilities.
No one is turned away.
"Some kids, they are denied because of their condition. We are not about that. We say, you come to us, we are here for you if nobody else is, and you will be a part of Reach Swim Academy no matter what," says Kenny Velazquez, a swim instructor at REACH Swim Academy.
"We are here to help everybody of every need of every ability, and we like to say we look at the able, not the label," says Flores Palomo.
With inclusion in mind, Reach Swim Academy maintains affordable prices. The money goes toward instructor salaries and pool time.
Florencio doesn't accept any compensation.
"This is my baby. This is my dream. I don’t necessarily consider it volunteering for Reach, because it's my passions, it's my calling," he says.
“He's one of the best guys I ever met in my whole life and he's just really dedicated to the Reach Swim Academy. It really makes me come here every day," says Nicholas Cordero, a swim instructor at REACH Swim Academy.
And so, for reaching youth of all abilities, Florencio Flores Palomo is our New Yorker of the Week.