Shaler adaptive aquatics program makes big splash

| Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 5:33 p.m.

More eager swimmers have the opportunity to get their feet wet, thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers.

The waiting list for participants in the Shaler Adaptive Aquatics for Health, or SAAH, program, formerly Shaler Area Activities for the Handicapped, was cut in half this fall because of more people volunteering for the program. SAAH provides three 10-week swimming sessions each year for people with mental or physical disabilities.

“Our search for volunteers has been answered,” said Jim McDermott, a Shaler Area teacher who runs the program with his wife and fellow Shaler Area teacher, Julie.

Several Shaler Area residents signed up to volunteer with the organization, and a group of Pine-Richland students in the Wolfe Pack, the baseball team's volunteer organization, heard about SAAH and started volunteering their time and recruiting their friends. Each week, four to six Pine-Richland students travel down to Shaler Township to jump in the pool with the participants.

“It's fun to get outside of our own school district and see other people and lend a hand,” said Deven Grosskinsky, a junior at Pine-Richland High School.

“If volunteers stop coming here, they don't get to swim Sunday morning. We're really helping them in the pool and out.”

Justin McCarthy, a junior at Pine-Richland, wasn't sure what to expect the first time he volunteered with SAAH earlier this month, but, he said, he enjoyed himself.

“They're here to have fun, and they want someone to hang out with,” McCarthy said.

“Since (some of the participants) are our age, I can talk to them about the same things I talk to my friends about. It's a regular interaction.”

Each Sunday, participants pair off with a volunteer instructor and jump into the water to practice a kick or stroke, get a cardiovascular workout or create friendships.

The program meets at Crawford Pool in Kiwanis Park in the summer and at the indoor pool at Shaler Area Elementary School on Scott Avenue during the spring and fall.

Nick Koski, a Shaler Area graduate, now of Pittsburgh's Morningside neighborhood, started volunteering for the program after he saw its effect on his niece, Tatum Koski, 6 of Shaler. Tatum always has enjoyed being the water, so it was natural for her family to sign her up for swimming lessons, but the traditional program wasn't the right environment for Tatum, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2.

The family then found SAAH, and Tatum excelled in the one-on-one interactions with volunteers.

“We realized after the first session this was the program we had to be in,” Nick Koski said. “The people who ran it, the people who volunteered, and the people who participated, we found a home fast.”

Now each week, Tatum grabs her swimsuit and sets it on the table ready for her next lesson with Dominique Viscomi, a junior at Shaler Area High School who has been working with her.

“I like to see how happy she is in the water,” Viscomi said.

The McDermotts said the volunteers have allowed the program to flourish, and they hope they eventually will have enough volunteers to eliminate the waiting list.

“The volunteers guarantee the kids have that one to one,” Julie McDermott said. “When they're not here, there is a kid without someone, or you have to double up.”

“With the one to one, they can create that bond. It's more than just a swimming program.”

For more information or to volunteer, contact Jim or Julie McDermott at

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at

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