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Non-Profit Helps People with Disabilities Set Sail

January 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 


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If the goal of Shake-A-Leg Miami (SALM) is to empower adults and children with disabilities and make them feel they can take to the water with confidence, then this non-profit organization is exceeding it. Thanks to a partnership with the City of Miami, SALM has created a premiere community boating center in South Florida that helps more than 10,000 people annually.

“We use Biscayne Bay to teach environmental lessons and provide therapeutic sailing, swimming, and kayaking,” says Harry Horgan, president of the non-profit group located on Bayshore Drive along the bay in Miami.

shake a leg 2Shake-A-Leg began in Newport, Rhode Island after a 22-year-old Horgan became paralyzed in a car accident. He started it with the idea of helping himself and others maximize their independence. Dr. Barth Green, chief of neurosurgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital and a co-founder of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, recruited Horgan to initiate a year-round program in South Florida 25 years ago. SALM was born when it joined with the City of Miami to develop a watersports center for people with disabilities.

It grew through a team of passionate and caring people and relationships with organizations and corporations that allowed the development of classes and services, leading to the construction of the current SALM campus in 2002. It has a universally accessible community boating center with a marina, a fleet of 20 sailboats, 60 kayaks, and several safety boats, a boatyard and boat repair area and shop, multipurpose classrooms, a multimedia lab, and a rooftop observation deck. There are also two Eco Islands — places to learn about the area’s unique aquatic ecosystems and how to protect them.

“The partnership has been great. The city had the property, and we raised the money to develop it. It hasn’t cost the city anything,” Horgan says. “We provide a supportive environment accessible to persons with disabilities. We give them the opportunity to sail, kayak, fish, and live life on the water. They gain new confidence and see new possibilities.”

We Can Sail is a free Saturday recreational series for children and youth with disabilities and their families. They sail, kayak, powerboat, play basketball, and bowl. Each participant is paired with a high school mentor from the organization’s mentoring series, which trains volunteers to guide the kids in SALM’s events. Mentors help participants join the activities while giving parents a respite.

The Lockwood Memorial Dive Program is designed to certify adaptive divers. After an individual has attended the free, three-hour introductory session, he or she is put in touch with a Handicapped Scuba Association certified instructor. Once the adaptive diver is certified, he or she is teamed with trained buddy divers on free boat dives. (Buddy Diver Training for able-bodied certified divers is available, too.)

The During School Program serves more than 100 students from the Miami-Dade County Public Schools and other educational institutions. Differently abled students from elementary through high school visit SALM weekly for two hours to participate in education-based pursuits that aid in the development of skills. No fees are incurred by participants as the schools provide the buses and lunches for the kids to attend the 10-week course.

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Participation also opens up the world of boating to children and families with economic challenges. “They initially see boating as something inaccessible to them, but we help change that perception,” Horgan advises.

shake a leg 4New to SALM is a 60-foot, wheelchair-accessible sailing catamaran. This vessel, Impossible Dream, sets sail on what Horgan calls “a journey of hope, discovery, and engagement” to raise awareness about how the ocean and boating can be made accessible and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. Sail training and outings will take place off the coast of South Florida during the winter and spring, with a sail up the east coast set for summer. Impossible Dream will spend July in New York City working with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and then it heads up the coast of New England. A trip to Brazil is planned for 2016.

In the works for SALM is an all-purpose place where the body, mind, and spirit will be addressed via therapeutic exercise, yoga and meditation, and support group meetings. More facility space will be added for fitness, wellness, and rowing. “Our goal is to become a global destination for persons with disabilities,” Horgan says.

Though the focus is on enabling access and offerings for people with disabilities, the organization’s facilities are open to persons of all abilities interested in watersports and the environment. During the winter months, SALM lends logistical, physical, and equipment support to sailing regattas in Miami, and in spring, the center provides facilities and dockage to fishing tournaments. In the summer, it transforms into a kids’ camp.

Visit www.shakealegmiami.org to donate or volunteer.

By Barbara Capella Loehr


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