"She was one of the most amazing and inspiring people I have met and I feel so blessed to have been taught and mentored by her. I wish she could have seen REACH in action, I know she would have been proud but also pushing more for more would ask "whats next"; which was something she always said to me when I conquered a goal with swimming. To this day "whats next" is one of the things that keeps me going and pushing me in life and especially with REACH. She is greatly missed."
-REACH Founder; Florencio Flores Palomo on his mentor and "swim angel" Judy Hewett; pictured left
Foundedin the summer of 2015 by Florencio Flores Palomo; whom after 18 years of experience working in aquatics developing, implementing, and directing programs for major centers in NYC and his home state of Nebraska, wanted to create a unique swim program where children of all abilities and needs could come together to learn in a nurturing and inclusive environment. Within the first year, REACH became the most diverse and inclusive swim program in NYC bringing together children of all abilities and needs (autism, down syndrome, intellectual & physical disabilities, & neurotypical) to conquer their fears, learn to swim, and socialize---creating a truly unique learning experience. REACH is now rated as one the top swim programs for ALL children in NYC and the most inclusive. Every child matters and no child is left out at REACH
-Florencio Flores Palomo; REACH Founder & Executive Director
"it was the hardest thing I have ever had to face in my life but Judy made me feel so comfortable and I felt so safe around her. She genuinely cared about helping me, she wanted me to succeed and provided the belief in me that I didn't have myself."
"Starting REACH has been the best decision of my life. This is more than just a career. I truly believe with all my heart it is my calling and how I intend on leaving a good mark in the word"
At the age of 3, Florencio nearly drowned after falling into a canal by the farm his family worked on during the summer in Nebraska. Fortunatley, he was able to pull himself out of the canal by grabbing a hold of some weeds and ran to the safety of his family. The event naturally traumatized him and created a fear of water in him so intense that even taking bath was a traumatic experience for him. Being that his family was unable to afford swim lessons, he just avoided swimming and water that was deeper then his ankles.
After 23 years of avoiding facing his fear, life presented him with a career opportunity that gave him no choice but to face his fears head on. While working for the recreation department in his hometown of Scottsbluff Nebraska, his supervisor offered a promotion to him with one condition; he had overcome his fears and learn how to swim (being that part of his job would be overseeing the public pools. As with very other obstacle that came into his life, he took on the challenge.
After several instructors failed to connect with him and his fears; A woman named Judy Hewitt (whom he refers to as his swim angel) came into his life and offered to help him get over his fears. Unknowingly at the time, her simple act of kindness would prove to change Florencio's life forever.
Through her words, precise instruction, and the calming, nurturing energy she gave off, Judy was able to achieve what no other could before. He felt such a huge trust and bond with Judy that he let go of all fears and let her work her magic and over the course of three months, she helped Florencio get over his fears and tough him how to swim.
On the last day of lessons, Judy had one request of him, to help her with a group of swimmers she was working with and thought he would be a great help. Though unsure of how big of a help he could be, it was the least he could do in gratitude for what she had done for him. This group of students happened to be part of the local chapter of Special Olympics.
Florencio immediately bonded with the group and Judy was impressed with the rapport he had with the students and the way they gravitated to him. At the end of the day, Judy commented to him "you truly do have a have a gift for working with this group and I have a feeling you are going to have a long career in aquatics working with the special needs population.. this is your calling." Only having finished his last swim class with Judy days earlier (though happy with the compliment from his teacher and mentor) he didn't have the confidence yet to see the vision Judy had for him.
21 years later not only does he have the confidence, Judy's premonition has come true. Not only has Florencio paid it forward with Judy and has taught countless children and adults get over their fears and learn to swim he is now the Founder and owner of his own swim academy that focuses on special needs children. Florencio is far from the scared little 3 year old who nearly drowned and has become exactly what his mentor, Judy Hewitt, envisioned for him all those years ago.
Sadly, Ms. Judy Hewitt passed away in December of 2016 and never got the chance to see what the seeds of inspiration she planted so many years ago grew into.
Florencio dreams of the day of opening his own aquatic center and looks forward to dedicating the center in her honor "The Judy Hewitt Learning Center"