Leila Dycus staff writer
A group of special people from Madison First United Methodist Church started this summer with a new journey that would teach them lessons they never knew they were capable of conquering. “I think they learned that they can do what ever they put their minds to,” said JH Ministry leader Fran Holmes. For the past six weeks the Jesus’s Helpers Ministry from Madison First United Methodist Church have been participating in a new swimming program. One of Madison’s finest swimmers, Mary Claire Cardwell, led the group of children, teens and adults. The program wrapped up recently but what they accomplished will carry on for a lifetime. The swimming program began when Jean Holder and Fran Holmes approached Mary Claire at church. The idea was for Cardwell to lead the JH Ministry in a six-week program on Wednesday nights. Cardwell would teach the new swimmers to swim and help the experienced swimmers learn the major strokes of swimming.
“Mary Claire was fantastic, we couldn’t have asked for a better person to do it,” said Holmes. Many of the JH Ministry members participate in Special Olympics, while others had never experienced swimming before. The hope is that the ministry will have their own team of athletes swim in next year’s Special Olympic event. Another reason for the swimming lessons was to teach the members about water safety. Sometimes people are put in situations that require swimming skills and, for many of the people in the group, they were scared of swimming. The lessons made those with fears of the water more confident in themselves. For the swimmers that had never swam before they started out with a lifebelt. They were taught how to float on the water. By the end of the six weeks many of these people were able to float without the belt and some were even able to swim the length of the pool. This is where some of the most memorable moments of the experience were made. Seeing how far the group had come impacted not only the swimmers but also the leaders and volunteers. Parents and family members also played an important role in the process, as they showed support of their swimmers. “Seeing the joy in someone’s face every time they learned a new skill or swam for the first time were moments I’ll never forget,” said swim coach Mary Claire Cardwell. Cardwell didn’t lead the group alone; she recruited friends and other members of the area swim teams. Kilee Norman was a huge help almost every week. Norman helped the beginner swimmers while Cardwell worked with the more advanced swimmers on perfecting their strokes. Carolina Zant also helped the first week. “They all had so much fun, they didn’t want it to end but it had to for a little while,” said Holmes.
The hope is that the program will return in the winter or spring to get the group ready for Special Olympics. JH Ministries meets every week at MFUMC. Each month they have some type of special event for the group members. Holmes and Holder want people to know that their ministry is out there and open to anyone with disabilities. ‘We say we’re available for ages 11 to 111,” said Holmes. The JH ministry began eight years ago with just six members. Since then the ministry has grown to 20 members. Of the 20 members 10 people participated in the swimming lessons. Barry Rakestraw, Mary Allison Via, Tyler Love, Adam Benn, Peyton Hodges, Nikki Sells, Charity Ruark, Rick Lamar, Eric Nicholson, and Samantha Almand were the programs participants. “This experience gave me a new appreciation and respect for people with special needs in our community,” said Cardwell. “It was an extremely rewarding experience which helped me build new relationships with some really fun people.” The JH Ministries at Madison First United Methodist Church is always looking for volunteers. They need people to serve as peer mentors to participate with their group. For more information come by the church and they will set you up with the JH group. “It’s just been a great experience for all who the kids and adults who participate in it and also for those who have volunteered,” said Holmes. “It just becomes something that you can’t let go.”