Community Voices

Friends and Neighbors: Ocaquatics grant used to teach autistic children to swim

Crystal Academy students with autism and developmental delays get lessons in water safety through a new grant from Ocaquatics Swim School.
Crystal Academy students with autism and developmental delays get lessons in water safety through a new grant from Ocaquatics Swim School. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Summer may be four months away, but now is the perfect time to make sure your child knows how to swim.

Thanks to a generous grant from Ocaquatics, lessons will now be possible for 25 Crystal Academy students. The school, opened in June 2009, specializes in developing the behavioral and life skills of children with autism and other developmental delays.

“As we have learned by reading the journals and statistics of the National Autism Association, drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children with autism, but we can do something to prevent this from happening if we teach them about safety around bodies of water,” Crystal Academy President and Founder David Pike said in a release.

“Two factors are at play: One, many children with autism have a tendency to wander; and two, many children with autism love water. When these two factors combine and the children get close to bodies of water — pools, lakes, ponds — they can very quickly place themselves in danger. Tragically, in an attempt to get closer to the water, many fall in and aren’t able to swim to safety. This is the issue we want to address with the Swimming and Water Safety Program,” he said.

The new program will take place through March at the Ocaquatics Tropical indoor pool at 4950 SW 75 Ave. in Miami.

“The mission of Ocaquatics Swim School is to teach families to love swimming and to become safer, more comfortable and more responsible around the water. We are extremely excited to partner with the Crystal Academy to provide this service to 25 of their students,” said Miren Oca, CEO at Ocaquatics.

The staff and children at Crystal Academy celebrated the news in a big way since the school has been pursuing a tailored swimming program as part of its curriculum for a few years. Swim and safety lessons are critical in helping Crystal Academy continue its mission of “creating miracles in children’s lives by providing necessary life skills.”

“I knew that it meant we could help more of our children get the safety training, and the physical and emotional therapy through swimming, they desperately need,” Pike said of the grant. “We can’t wait to see our kids’ progress.”

To learn more about Crystal Academy or to arrange a visit, call Katherine “Kat” Cao at 305-567-5881. For more, visit and


More than 2,000 gently used books will be for sale from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., March 6, at the Publix at Southwest 146th Street and U.S. 1.

Known for its excellent selection and great prices, this annual sale includes cookbooks, children’s books, art books, biographies, and books about Florida, United States and world history, as well as current and classic fiction.

The South Miami-Dade Chapter of the Brandeis National Committee sponsors this popular annual event and funds raised support the libraries of Brandeis University. Enthusiastic BNC members, who have as their motto “old books for new,” have spent the year collecting and sorting for the big sale.


Grab your kilt and head to the 33rd annual Southeast Florida Scottish Festival celebrating culture and heritage 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., March 5, at Plantation Heritage Park, 1100 S. Fig Tree Lane (Southwest 63rd Avenue) west of Fort Lauderdale.

The big day includes massed pipe bands, heavy athletics, country dancing, highland dancing, clans and societies, fiddling and singing, piping and drumming competitions, and shepherding, with Scottish food, drink, and merchandise for sale.

The festival and games are open to the public. Admittance is $20 at ticket outlets in advance, online with no service charge, and $25 at the gate. The ticket for children 6-14 years is $2, and kids under 6 are admitted free.

The Scottish American Society of South Florida hosts this event. For more and advance tickets go to or call 954-460-5000.


Folks wait all year for Redland’s finest “Chicken BBQ” set for March 5 at Silver Palm United Methodist Church. The cooks have it down to a science after 42 years of this community event at 15855 SW 248 St.

Take-outs begin at 2:30 p.m. and eat-ins at Fellowship Hall at 4:30 p.m. Adults meals are $10 and children under 12 can get a meal for $6. Included: “Redland-grown vegetables and desserts prepared by the ladies of the church.”

The church is across the street and a little north from Knaus Berry Farm so you can stop there first to pick up your fruits, vegetables and sticky buns. Proceeds from the barbecue go toward local missions.


Florida’s first Underground Railroad that helped runaway slaves find freedom from the southern colonies functioned from the late 17th century until shortly after the American Revolution.

Retired Miami Dade College Professor Magdalena Lamarre will examine the role Spanish Florida played as the first Underground Railroad in a talk at noon March 7 at Room F222 of the Miami Dade College Homestead Campus at 500 College Terr., Homestead.

The free lecture is open to the public. A simple lunch can be ordered for $10 by calling 305-230-9185 before 2 p.m. March 4. Or bring your own brown bag of goodies to the lunch at 11:30 a.m.


Gabriel Beavers is the guest bassoon soloist at the next Spring Spectacular Concert with Concerto for Bassoon conducted by retired U.S. Air Force Col. Arnald D. Gabriel. Also on the program are Variations on a Korean Folk Song, Arabesque, The Hut of Baba Yaga and the Great Gate of Kiev, Midway March, and more. Robert Longfield is also conducting at this event at 8 p.m. March 8 at Gusman Hall, University of Miami, 1314 Miller Dr., Coral Gables.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for students and children over 5 years old, and are available at the box office on the day of the concert, or in advance online at Call 305-273-7687.


Switchboard of Miami was honored for the important service it provides to our community at the Miami-Dade County School Board February meeting.

Board member Raquel Regalado presented the recognition to Switchboard’s board member Yolanda Valencia, who was joined by Alexandra Schneider, Elizabeth Quizena, Grisel Aviles, Christina Lalama, Daniel De Vries, and Trudy Krasovic. John Ise, contract manager from The Children’s Trust, a major funder of the 2-1-1 Switchboard helpline, also was present for the honor.

Switchboard of Miami provides help to people in need who access the specialty 24/7 lines, such as the 305-358-4357 (HELP), 2-1-1, SNAP (Seniors Never Alone Program), Youth Gang Hotline, Human Trafficking Line, Lifeline, GLBT Helpline, South Florida First Responders, and others.

Trained and certified counselors answer the lines in English, Spanish, and Creole. They also have multilingual capacity. To learn more, or to volunteer, go to

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at