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Sanibel Sea School to host a day at the beach for special needs adults

By Staff | Jun 23, 2015

BRIAN WIERIMA Field trips provided by the Sanibel Sea School are afforded from funds which are raised during the Sanibel Sea School's “Octifest,” which was March 28 on the Sanibel Causeway Islands. A group of Heights Center kids who took a Sanibel Sea School field trip in late February included, from left, Bethsada Valentin, Tamiese Goodman, Sanibel Sea School instructor Nicole Finnicum, Jailaya Thomas, Edwin Marcos and Amaya Mendoza. The Sanibel Sea School will be hosting 20 adults who have autism from the Community Hearts and Homes, a service provider with supported living homes in Cape Coral, to a day of learning June 29, at the beach. The event will be held on one of the causeway beaches and will be funded entirely by scholarships.

A chance meeting turned into a highly-anticipated day for a group of special needs adults, who will experience the wonders of the ocean, thanks to the Sanibel Sea School and its scholarship program.

The chain of events started when Leah Biery, the Sea School’s director of operations, was showing her former duplex to Lisa Cronin, who was moving onto the island near her job at Premier Sotheby’s International Realty as office administrator.

The two hit it off and started chatting about the Sea School.

“I was showing the (duplex) to Lisa, and we started chatting and talked about the Sanibel Sea School and what we do,” Biery said. “Then we got chatting about her daughter, Rachal.”

Rachal, who is a special needs adult with autism, loves the ocean, Cronin added.

“Rachal is an amazing adult with autism and Leah got a spark in her eye when we were talking about her because she always wanted to work with adults who have special needs,” Cronin said. “I was so excited, because opportunities don’t come around like this very much.”

The first visit for Cronin to the duplex didn’t result in her moving in, because it was too small for all of her furniture.

Eventually, though, the second visit and conversation resulted in a signed lease and an eventual date set up for the Sea School to host Rachal and 19 other special needs adults from the Community Hearts and Homes in Cape Coral.

“I donated a bunch of my furniture to a crisis center and we also got to talk more about the Sea School and the Community Hearts and Homes,” Cronin said.

Community Hearts and Homes is a service provider with supported living homes which give independence to those like Rachal and her friends. The homes have two special needs adults and one caregiver living in them.

“Rachal has one home, with one caregiver and one roommate, so it’s one on two and it’s just beautiful,” Cronin said. “(Officials from Community Hearts and Homes) were so excited about the opportunity and started working with (the Sea School’s) Nicole (Finnicum) about the scholarships.”

The Sanibel Sea School offers scholarships for those in financial need if an individual requests one due to hardship. The scholarships are afforded from their annual fundraiser “Octifest.”

A date was reserved on Monday, June 29, with 20 special needs adults and 12 caregivers being hosted by Sea School counselors/teachers on one of the Causeway Island beaches.

It’s a day which has been marked on Rachal’s calendar since the news broke.

“Rachal has been here (in Florida) since 2000 and she just loves it,” Cronin said. “She loves the water and loves swimming in it. We spend time on the beach once a week. When we go, Rachal talks to the angels when she is in the ocean and picks up the sand dollars with her feet.”

It’s a perfect match with the Sea School, which is 100-percent funding the day, and will consist of teaching the students how to stand up on surfboards, learning about the ocean ecosystem and how to respect the wildlife which lives in it.

“Lisa told me how much Rachal loves the water, and I thought it would be perfect to get them on the surfboards,” Biery said. “We’ll teach them how to stand up and catch a few waves. We will also be using dip nets, do some shelling and show them the diversity of life and teach them how to respect nature and releasing them gently back out in nature.

“Then they will have a beach day after that.”

When word got out to the participants about the June 29 adventure, it’s been a topic of conversation ever since.

“You can’t believe how excited they are for this,” Cronin said. “Rachal is always reminding me, ‘The 29th is coming close, the 29th is coming close.’ It’s so exciting for them.”

The goal of the Sea School counselors will be to show how to respect the ocean and everything it brings with it.

“One of the major goals is to take students out of their comfort zone, while still being safe,” Biery said. “We will go beyond their comforts, pushing their limits, showing them they can enjoy it.

“We also will be showing them what’s underneath the surface of the water, splash around and get our feet wet.”

Cronin is especially grateful for the opportunity to see her daughter in complete bliss, while enjoying the best of what Mother Nature can provide.

“This shows our community is so giving and loving, and it’s just confirmation after meeting Leah,” Cronin said. “Rachal and her friends will experience such a powerful program, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Due to the fund-raising efforts of the Sanibel Sea School’s “Octifest,” opportunities like June 29, is available to those who cannot experience the wonders of the ocean.

But one thing is for certain, the smiles and laughter emanating June 29, will be a direct result of those efforts.