H.A.L.O.’s Sunday Swim & Sing Program Welcomes New Families

Music Therapist Lyle Shaw  jams with
a participant at  a Sunday Swim & Sing session.
H.A.L.O.’s popular Sunday Swim & Sing program was revamped over the summer and is now open to more participants.

The three-hour respite program offers professional music therapy and lifeguarded swimming with one-to-one support staff for up to eight young people with various neurological impairments.

A new family component welcomes five more individuals with disabilities to participate with family support.

Therapeutic recreation contributes to a person’s physical, social and all-around quality of life, according to extensive research. It also promotes parity for people with special needs, who are commonly defined and limited by what they cannot do.

Those benefits were a strong impetus for H.A.L.O. to address the problem of the Swim & Sing wait list – up to 60 families at times – and remove barriers to growth.

“We have long wanted to expand the program, but the weekend schedule and the complex nature of developing relationships with the participants made it challenging to recruit and retain staff for a three-hour weekly commitment for a year,” according to Wendy Wilsker, Senior Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Jewish Family & Children’s Service.

JF&CS is H.A.L.O.s partner in its Family Circle outreach program and has managed Sunday Swim & Sing since its 2005 inception.

This summer the drop-off model was put on hold to test whether family members could successfully extend resources to more individuals.

“Families who participated were grateful for the opportunity to join their child in an organized activity,” Wendy said. “We received very positive feedback, but there was still a clear need for parents to spend quality time with their other children or on their own.”

The solution came with a new opportunity to share staff between programs. Offering the aides more hours made the positions more attractive and alleviated hiring challenges, she explained.

This fall Sunday Swim & Sing was reinstated as a hybrid model to provide respite and to embrace families who wished to participate with their children.

Berklee-trained music therapist Lyle Shaw engages all participants in a one-hour joint session of participatory music, evoking smiles as individuals respond to sounds and rhythms. After appropriate snacks, everyone heads to the locker room and accessible pool.

“The experience extends benefits to everyone involved,” said Angela Waring, CRC, MS, Respite and Recreation Program Manager and Director of the Sunday Swim & Sing program.

“It can be challenging for parents to step outside the role of caregiver and interact with their child. Swim & Sing provides a structure, and is a positive way for siblings to relate to their brother or sister, too.”

Additionally, the sessions provide opportunities to develop friendships among peers, and integrate those with disabilities into the greater community.

Angela said members and staff at the Levanthal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton, MA, and the YMCA in Stoughton, MA have been inclusive and helpful.

Swim & Sing is offered 20 Sunday afternoons per year. For details, including sign-up and scholarship information, contact Angela at awaring@jfcsboston.org or call 781.697.7232 .