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By Eric Heinz 

One camp in San Clemente is making a splash with special-needs children.

Jodi Powell, owner of Little Fishies Swim School, coordinated the Special Fishies program with the city of San Clemente, to run classes at the San Clemente Aquatic Center.

This week was the camp’s first edition, but Special Fishies has been growing since Little Fishies introduced it about two years ago.

“There was an amazing need for what we do,” Powell said. “The closest great special-needs swim program is in Irvine, and that’s a long way for someone to drive who has special-needs children.”

The program gives children with special needs the opportunity to enjoy the water at their own pace and swimming ability under the supervision of the instructors and volunteers.

“There’s a freedom in the water that children, adolescents and adults with special needs feels that someone who is typical may not realize that it’s a freedom because they’re used to it,” Powell said.

Logan Powell swims under water during a day at the Special Fishies swim camp for children with special needs. This was the program’s first week, and there will be more camps later in the summer. Photo: Eric Heinz
Logan Powell swims under water during a day at the Special Fishies swim camp for children with special needs. This was the program’s first week, and there will be more camps later in the summer. Photo: Eric Heinz

The nonprofit organization, Special Fishies Aquatic Freedom and Education, began in September in order to facilitate the program.

Powell’s eldest son suffers from some sensory processing deficiencies as well as fine motor skills and speech delay. Her father also had multiple sclerosis all throughout the time Powell said she knew him.

“Not only does (swimming) increase cognitive functioning, but we get kids … who didn’t have a lot of muscle tone in their legs, they’re not up and walking,” Powell said. “One kid who has cerebral palsy has become significantly stronger.”

Volunteers work with children in groups with multiple students or one-on-one training, depending on their skill level.

“You can see him walking and moving a lot better because he has a pool in his backyard,” Ali Cali, who works with Special Fishies, added. The water creates an environment where children with physical disabilities can strengthen themselves without putting extra pressure on their joints.

They also do yoga training with the children as well as other activities.

Camps are noon-2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday from July 17-20 and Aug. 14-17 at Courtney’s SandCastle and San Clemente Aquatics Center. Camp is $120 per child for the entire week. For more information about the program, visit www.littlefishiesswimschool.com/special-fishies or visit the city’s website, www.san-clemente.org under Beaches, Parks and Recreation.

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