Jefferson Award Winner Dives In To Help Special Needs Children Succeed In The WaterBy Sharon Chin

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) Dori Maxon looks forward to getting into the water with the kids.

“It’s really fun! How many places can you go in your daily life where you can laugh and play and splash and have toys?” Maxon asked with a big smile.

Maxon founded the Special Needs Aquatic Program, or SNAP, in 1991. It’s a fun and fitness class for children with physical and developmental challenges. It began when the physical therapist started giving one-on-one lessons, and the requests kept coming.

“Then I just kept asking friends, ‘What are you doing Fridays at 12? Can you swim?” Maxon continued.

Today, about 60 children ages 1 to 18 years old get one-on-one lessons tailored to each individual’s abilities. Some learn to swim; others simply enjoy the water. SNAP charges $200 for ten weeks of lessons to cover the costs of pool rental and administration. But families who can’t afford the full price, pay what they can. Maxon raises money to make up the difference. SNAP falls under the nonprofit United Cerebral Palsy of the Golden Gate.

Maxon trains the volunteers, mostly university students. The 45-minute classes use the warm water pools at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA and Palo Alto YMCA on Fridays and Saturdays.

SNAP’s Coordinator Nancy DeRoche says Maxon loves bringing others joy.

“It’s not her job, she’s never taken income for it,” DeRoche explained. “She just started this program because she thought kids should be in the water.”

For the kids who are wheelchair bound, it’s often the only time they get to have fun and move around in the water.

Five-year-old Zamora Morris’ father says she has problems with her lungs, among other disabilities.

“She lies down for, just about all day, so the movement helps her,” Anthony Morris said. “She enjoys it. I can tell.”

Maria Gordillo’s 8-year-old son Esteban has speech and developmental delays, but he’s changed after two years in Maxon’s program.

“It helps strengthen him, and he has confidence now,” Gordillo said.

“It’s just a very loving warm environment where kids can be themselves and have a good time,” Maxon added.

So for creating a swimming program for special needs children, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Dori Maxon.