Mount Holyoke’s Project Splash Helping Special Needs Children Swim

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By Kelley Baylis, Swimming World College Intern

Cathleen Pruden, junior at Mount Holyoke, does amazing things in, and out of the pool. Pruden is the project coordinator for Project Splash.

“Project SPLASH! was founded by Cassidy Bommer ’13, a Mount Holyoke student who recognized the need for adapted, individualized aquatic lessons in the Pioneer Valley.  Project SPLASH! was founded in January of 2013 with the mission of providing one-on-one lessons free of charge for children with disabilities by trained Mount Holyoke student swim instructors. Since then, the program has grown rapidly in both numbers of participating families and interested volunteers,” Pruden explained.

In her freshman year, Pruden received an email that was sent to her entire swim team which described Project Splash.

“The program was just getting started and the project coordinator, Cassidy Bommer ’13, targeted swimmers because she knew we were likely to be interested volunteers. I was a little hesitant to do it just because I was so new to college and between swimming and classes I felt like I had enough on my plate. I filled out the application and had an interview, and by then I realized it was the perfect activity for me. We give lessons on Sunday afternoons, so it doesn’t conflict with swimming and it is a great study break. In the summers at home, I am the co-head swim coach of my neighborhood’s summer league team and I give private swim lessons. I have always loved working with kids, and this was a great opportunity for me to do that year round,” Pruden said.

Pruden then continued to describe her responsibilities as a project coordinator. She is an instructor for the swim lessons that run Sunday afternoons 4-5 p.m.

“Most of my work comes before the semester starts when we plan our dates, recruit new instructors, match instructors with swimmers, coordinate to make sure we have lifeguards, and get every instructor’s and participant’s liability forms accounted for. At the end of the semester, I get to make certificates that our instructors fill out and present to their swimmers,” Pruden explained.

Recruiting instructors is the biggest task for Pruden.

“We are an organization under the CAUSE (Creating Awareness and Unity for Social Equality) organization. They hold a fair, and interested people come by at that time. We had members of the swim team who were interested. I also targeted student-athletes. Our lessons don’t conflict with most athletic commitments, while many other potential on-campus extracurricular activities do. Additionally, other athletes are more likely to have some swimming background even if they aren’t swimming for MHC,” Pruden said.

For Pruden, this experience with Project Splash is more than just a fun activity to do once a week. As a psychology and education major, Pruden is also pursing an elementary education teacher license. She strongly believes that these lessons are life changing for the children; everyone needs to learn how to swim.

“Yes, swimming is what I love more than anything else in the world, but I also know it is a life skill. Water safety is essential and it is our long term goal to make all of these children, even the ones who are terrified of the water, water safe. I would love to think that some of these kids might someday fall in love with the sport like I have, but at the very least, we want them to be able to fall off a boat, or let go of a float, and be able to get to the side of the pool, or float and tread water while they signal for help,” Pruden said.

After graduation, Pruden hopes to teach second graders.

“I believe that any experience I get with children, with or without autism, communication disorders, or other disabilities is valuable. I’m continually reminded that no two people are the same. These kids push me to think on my feet for new ways to keep swimming fun. They’ve created some of their own games and their own techniques for basic swimming skills, and that is a blast. I’ve been teaching swimming lessons for five years, but I can still learn from other instructors and their swimmers,” explained Pruden.

Pruden firmly believes that every aspect of this organization is truly rewarding.

“There are some Sundays when I’m in the zone doing my homework but I realize it’s time to go over to the pool. Once these kids start walking in the door, there is nowhere I’d rather be. They look all around and get so excited. Some of them run right up and want to touch the water. They’re so excited they cannot even wait for their instructor. You just look around and the kids are smiling, their instructors are being splashed but still smiling, and their parents are taking pictures and getting a chance to chat. When a swimmer draws their instructor a picture and brings it to swim lessons, it melts my heart. While we only spend a half hour a week with each of these children, I realize how much it means to them,” Pruden said.

According to Pruden, the program has grown so much that there is currently a wait list. Other members of the MHC swim team who also Project Splash instructors include:

Rachel Boynton ‘15
Annie Keunning ‘17
Katie Tyler ‘17

Project Splash/Cathleen Pruden Photo Gallery