BY ANNA BALLOU '20
Mount Holyoke College prides itself on its commitment to community service and outreach and boasts numerous service-based student organizations. One such organization, Project Splash, often goes unnoticed among several older, longer-standing community service programs.
Project Splash, founded in 2013 by Mount Holyoke College alumna Cassidy Bommer ’13, meets every Sunday afternoon throughout the academic year in the MHC Natatorium. The program focuses on connecting local children with cognitive disabilities with MHC students through one-on-one swimming lessons. The Mount Holyoke students who take part in this program work with their paired child on a variety of skills depending on their own swimming knowledge and their child’s interest level. Students can teach anything from stroke techniques and basic swimming skills to how to be safe in and around the water.
Project Splash student teacher Annie Kuenning ’17 described the role of these student teachers as “to make sure the child feels comfortable in the water while also being pushed.” According to Kuenning’s expertise and experience, “this means being very vocal while giving the child instructions and also coordinating with the parents.” Delany Berry ’19, co-coordinator of Project Splash, commented, “over time, the instructor-child pair builds a great, trusting relationship, and we really get to understand different ways to communicate and problem solve on the spot as we learn the nuances of the child’s abilities, motivators and triggers.”
The program has left a profound positive impact on the student workers as well as the children and their families. Kuenning began her work with Project Splash during her first year at Mount Holyoke.
“I’ve been involved with this organization for the past four years and it is by far my favorite activity on campus,” Kuenning said. “It’s really easy to get caught up in schoolwork and larger problems in life, but being able to spend part of Sunday evening working with a child and teaching them how to swim is a reminder that the small victories are just as rewarding.”
Berry said the program also has an impact on the children and families involved. “The kids are such joys to work with, and their parents really appreciate the wonderful bonds they form with their instructors while exploring the water and learning skills in an environment that is comfortable and open for them,” she said.
Although Project Splash is a rather young program, the goal is to spread awareness of the profound impact it has on both Mount Holyoke students and its child participants. Those involved hope that more students and children can learn and grow from what Kuenning calls “an amazing program.”