(Picture taken from Diveheart Foundation website)
By Vernon Smith Jr.
Nonprofit Sector News
June 19, 2020
No matter what circumstances or fears you may face in life, there is always a way to persevere. Whether that be a disability, having post-traumatic stress, or something else, Diveheart Foundation is dedicated to helping people reach their goals.
Downers Grove, Ill-based Diveheart is all about working with individuals who have a disability and still want to try to learn how to scuba dive. It was started in 2001 by former Chicago area broadcast journalist Jim Elliott “to instill the ‘can do’ spirit in participants, inspiring them to take on challenges that they may not have considered before. Using zero gravity and the adventure paradigm, we help participants believe that if they can scuba dive they can do anything.”
Elliot says it is easier to teach someone who has a disability how to scuba dive because they are accustomed to daily routines that are more complicated than those who are not disabled. He describes it as: “Their head is already in the game. By the time they are ready to get in the water with us, they’re kind of into it…breathing is a big part of what we do and once we teach them how to breath we work with the adaptive diver to get them neutrally buoyant.”
Elliott explains how being a part of this organization could help participants do other activities, “They go on and take on other challenges. We have people who have only done one pool session with us, and gone on and done rock climbing, hose therapy…it gave them that leg up and confidence.”
Elliott is still the organization’s president, but over the years, the organization has grown to include programs not just in “Chicagoland” (including Milwaukee’s Marquette University), but also in Atlanta, the Washington, D.C., area, Florida (Miami, West Palm Beach, and Eckerd College), and Malaysia. The organization’s total revenues were almost $600,000 in 2017 (the latest official number available).
Due to Covid-19, this nonprofit had to make some adjustments. Executive Director Tinamarie Hernandez said, “We have halted all of our pool programs but, what we have been doing are projects that don’t require the water.” For example, the organization has revised its website to make it more accessible for people with disabilities.
Hernandez also emphasizes the organization’s new “playbooks”: “We are going to take a specific area within adaptive diving and focus on it…we are going to create a smaller playbook that would address the things we learned as an organization on what works, so that our instructors who are out there, who are working with disabilities can benefit.” Founder Jim Elliott explains that Diveheart also will start an “empathy program.” “We
are going to be sharing with schools on our website…three PowerPoints that would include a lot of videos which are very inspiring and appealing.” Students will be able to use curriculum materials that inform them about various disabilities and what classroom exercises can be done so that all students can learn a little about what it is like to have a disability, such as blindness, he said.
Even though they aren’t supposed to be working, Hernandez, Elliott and other staff members have been keeping up with their members, and they have updated Diveheart’s database to make it easier. “We continue our educational outreach programs,” Hernandez said. “We reach out to some service organization, Rotary, or support group with different types of disabilities or condition. We also have been checking in on our participants and continuing a lot of what we do on our social media, so we can stay in touch with everybody.”
Diveheart also offers supplements written materials with online training. As Hernandez explained, “You have to read a book, then do your online training, and then there is no getting around doing the physical part of it because you have to do your skills in the pool and then as well as the open water.” All training materials also are being translated into Spanish.
For more information, visit Diveheart’s website.