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'Project WaterWell' seeks funding for Swim Center

Betty Wright aquatic facility built in 1969

A paralyzed Menlo Park man and his wife who have benefited from water-based therapy at Abilities United's Betty Wright Swim Center in Palo Alto have started a fundraising campaign to help refurbish the aging facility.

Ron Cote and Geri Hadley are trying to raise $425,000 by Jan. 31 to upgrade the ventilation system, add solar thermal, put in new sliding glass doors and add an aquatic-therapist training program.

The campaign has raised $180,000 and has a $50,000 matching grant from an anonymous donor who uses the pool, said Linda Chin, Abilities United fund development director.

About $220,000 is needed to begin the solar system, which would cut the center's energy costs about in half and save thousands of dollars. A new system would free up money for scholarships for people in need who cannot afford services, Renate Henry Olaisen, Abilities United director of social enterprise, said.

"Project WaterWell" will also help start a hydrotherapist-training program that would make the Betty Wright facility a training center. Most such centers are located in Europe and in other countries, where hydrotherapy is part of comprehensive rehabilitative services, he said. There is a great need for more trained hydrotherapists, and the center could use four or five more trained staff to accommodate the need, he said.

The 93-degree water so necessary for healing and loosening spastic muscles that are a condition of paralysis creates a steamy, close environment that persons with asthma and other respiratory conditions find difficult to be in, he said. A new ventilation system will benefit those patients and family members who work with them, he said.

About $30,000 is needed to replace the original sliding glass doors that are falling out of their tracks, he said.

The building was constructed as a community project in 1969.

The swim center was founded by Betty Wright, who died in 2002. Wright was involved with special needs during her childhood when she accompanied her mother as a volunteer at Oakland Children's Hospital. She founded a swim center at her home in Barron Park to teach disabled children to swim, then designed a special pool for rehabilitation for persons who are developmentally or physically disabled, autistic or arthritic, or who have had strokes or heart conditions or been injured.

The coral-colored tiles that line special gutters for holding on to the pool sides matched her favorite nail-polish color, Olaisen said.

Wright nearly drowned in the Sutro Baths in San Francisco as a child, Olaisen said. She never forgot that feeling of helplessness, and it was one of the reasons she sought to create a pool where everyone, regardless of ability, could feel safe and welcome, she said in an interview.

Donations to Project WaterWell can be made to Abilities United at AbilitiesUnited.org/waterwell or by contacting 650-618-3329.

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