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Hope FloatsMid-Hudson Aquatics is one of the many local charities supported by Vassar’s Community Works program

When the Poughkeepsie YMCA closed several years ago, hundreds of families who used the swimming pool suddenly had no affordable place to take their children when the local outdoor pools closed for the season.

Galen Franchek, founder and director of Mid-Hudson Aquatics, spent some time on a recent Friday night with her swimmers at Vassar’s Kresge Pool.

Over the past five years, the instructors and coaches of Mid-Hudson Aquatics have been working hard to fill that need. Using several local venues, including Vassar’s Kresge Pool, the organization has been teaching children of all ages and abilities to swim, and many of them are now competing on the Mid-Hudson Aquatics swim team.

On a recent Friday evening, Mid-Hudson Aquatics founder Galen Franchek smiled as she gazed at dozens of her young swimmers – some taking lessons, others preparing for an upcoming swim meet – at Kresge Pool. “Five years ago, we didn’t have a team and we were teaching about 30 kids how to swim,” Franchek said. “Three years ago, we started a team, and today we have more than 160 kids in our program, and 95 percent of those who are competing didn’t know how to swim when they came to us.”

Four years ago, Bryan Ramirez couldn’t swim. Now he competes on the Mid-Hudson Aquatics swim team.

No family is turned away from Mid-Hudson Aquatics for lack of ability to pay. The organization relies on donations, including a grant from Vassar’s Community Works program, to ensure it is affordable for any child who wants to participate. “Our kids are from different religious backgrounds, different economic status, different races, and they don’t see any of that,” Franchek said. “They just see themselves as kids who love to swim and be part of a team.”

Poughkeepsie resident Virginia Ramirez said her 12-year-old son, Bryan, had benefited from the program in several ways. “When he started four years ago, he didn’t know how to swim, and now he competes,” Ramirez said. “But they teach more than swimming here. The skills Bryan has learned, taking direction and being part of a team, has made him a better student in school. Watching him compete makes me nervous sometimes, but it makes me very happy too.”

Ten-year-old Sam Chastain, who has been competing in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle and backstroke since he was 7, said he loved being part of Mid-Hudson Aquatics. “The best I’ve ever done is second place, but that doesn’t matter,” Sam said. “Being a part of this team has been amazing.”

10-year-old Sam Chastain says being a part of the team is “amazing.”

Tracy Sutherland, chair of this year’s Community Works campaign, said the college was pleased to be able to support organizations such as Mid-Hudson Aquatics that are making a difference in their community. “Public access to pools for Poughkeepsie area residents have disappeared over the last decade, and the lack of accessible lessons at the remaining pools in Dutchess County created a barrier for many families to teach their children to swim,” Sutherland said. “The Community Works Committee was pleased to help Mid-Hudson Aquatics bridge that gap in services and help them provide no- or low-cost swim lessons for children with autism and other disabilities.”

Sutherland urged members of the Vassar community to continue to support such worthwhile organizations. “Since its inception in the Fall of 2001 the Community Works Campaign has served as a constant reminder of the dedication of Vassar College to the community,” she said. “It is critical to continue this support it in any way we can.”

To learn more or to make a donation, go to the Community Works campaign.