Carrie Stolar is Solberg Creative’s marketing strategist, project manager, and event planner. As if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she has a passion that drives her out of bed at unholy hours of the morning: She coaches adult swimming through her association with U.S. Masters Swimming, including teaching adults who never learned how to swim. It’s a part of her life that brings her considerable joy (even at 5 a.m.).

But recently, she had the opportunity to bring the gift of swimming to a group of people that are not usually eligible for this type of opportunity: Afghani women.

A Group that Needed Specific Conditions

The idea originated with a nonprofit called Alight, which does amazing work helping refugees who come to the U.S. find their way and make new homes. The work Alight does is more than finding homes and jobs, although those are obviously important. They also look for ways for the immigrants and refugees to have good lives beyond Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (an example of Alight’s work in this area is discussed here).

An Afghani woman who’s an Alight representative connected with one of Stolar’s colleagues about setting up swim lessons for a group of Afghani women. He was interested, but soon realized he couldn’t help them because he’s male. Afghani women wouldn’t be allowed into a pool area wearing Afghani swimsuits with a man present.

Finding the Right Place

So Stolar became involved. While her colleague had done a great deal of groundwork, there was still much to do. One of the first difficulties: Finding a suitable pool. “We had to find a pool area that only women could use and if there were any outside windows, they could be covered,” Stolar said. “And there needed to be a place for the women’s kids to be nearby, where Alight would provide childcare.”

Stolar coaches at a pool in Minnetonka, and the aquatics director agreed to donate the pool time (not an inconsiderable donation). The windows could be covered, and the area from the locker room to the pool could be safeguarded against men.

Overcoming Financial Hurdles

Then the challenge of cost arose. Many of the women couldn’t afford what was essentially private lessons. U.S. Masters Swimming provided a trial 30-day membership which covers the students with insurance (and all needed to be at least 18). The next financial hurdle was the high cost of the specialized swimsuits. Stolar’s colleague was able to get donations to purchase those, and Minnesota Masters provided the swim caps and goggles.

Thirty-two women signed up, and during the classes, Stolar had anywhere from 11-13 volunteers helping in the water. The ages ranged from 20s to 50s and everything in between. Some of the women brought younger sisters or daughters to help overcome language barriers. Some of them traveled considerable distances across the Twin Cities metro at rush hour to participate.

One student had an even more pressing need for the class: She works as a flight attendant, and they’re required to go through water training in case of flight emergencies. But she had a significant fear of water and was clearly afraid to enter the pool at her first lesson. She asked to stay in the water longer than the other students, and by the end of the third lesson, she could swim.

Joyful Experiences

Besides the gratification of helping these women learn how to swim, which was tremendously exciting for the participants, Stolar also realized there was another aspect that made this worthwhile: The amount of joy emanating from the women. “They’re very social and connected,” she said. “Many of them clearly knew each other. They greeted each other so warmly. And they were so joyful to be there because they knew what an opportunity this was, and they’d never had this before.”

Afghan women at swimming lessons

Ongoing Needs

The less joyful part was realizing how much these women wanted more of this experience and how difficult it would be to arrange for them. “At the end, many of them came up to me and said, ‘Where can we keep swimming?’ And I’m scratching my head, because I don’t know.”

Because many pool areas are built with enormous windows, the requirement to cover them temporarily is daunting, as is the ability to keep men from any area where they might glimpse the women traveling between the locker rooms and the pool. Stolar hopes to find other schools that might have suitable pool situations.

Opportunity for Younger Swimmers

Because Stolar was limited to only being able to teach adult students, it broke her heart to have some of the younger daughters and sisters ask about swim lessons for themselves. That will take finding a pool that can insure younger swimmers and also cover the windows.

She’d love to see that happen. “These women were so joyful and so happy that it rubbed off on all the volunteers,” she said. “All of us agree that this was by far the most amazing, most joyful, the best class we’ve ever taken part in because these women were so thankful and joyful, so happy to be there.”

This is one in a series of stories about what makes the women behind Solberg Creative passionate and involved. Interested in learning more about Solberg Creative’s marketing strategy, project management, and event planning services? Send us a message.