The industry is filled with great programs for children, but Sahara Sam’s Oasis Indoor Water Park definitely stands out. Inspired by his 28-year-old sister with special needs, owner Ilya Girlya and his staff have created an environment that accommodates children with special needs, often with little concern over whether or not it fits into the business plan.
Every two months, and during two special summer events, the Special Events At Sam’s program takes over the 58,000-square-foot waterpark. Children with special needs and their families are invited to the SEAS program for a reduced price of $15; nonswimmers pay $5. Parents are encouraged to relax, and kids can play without fear of bullying or body insecurities. The staff, which receives special sensitivity training, assists — and food rules are relaxed because many participants have special food restrictions.
Typically, 400 to 500 people attend SEAS events. Many of the children have multiple challenges, including autism. To further meet their needs, the usual noise level is scaled down.
SEAS is not Sahara Sam’s only special needs program. When the waterpark upgraded its computers, used items were donated to families and programs serving the local community.
Sahara Sam’s also offers a community education program that has reached more than 8,500 kids. Delivered in a “Sambulance,” the program is designed to educate students about safety awareness, emergency situations, first aid and water safety. With these programs, Sam’s Oasis is a shining example of the positive impact a waterpark can make in its community.
When it comes to his efforts for special needs kids, Girlya believes in paying it forward. As he says, “Where other facilities might prefer to spend their money on ads, I prefer to spend it on building relationships in the community. It will all come back to you, in so many ways.”