We’ve been in the pool industry in the Midwest for 27 years. About 12 years ago, we started concentrating on local city pool projects. As a mid-sized pool contractor, we mostly help with smaller city pools.

In working with these small rural communities, we kept coming across the same problems: Officials didn’t know how to map out the process of financing and building a pool or spa. For these officials in many small communities, it isn’t their primary position — it’s a secondary job or even a voluntary position. So they wouldn’t know how to develop plans or raise the funds for a new body of water, whether it was a new or renovated pool, spa, splash pad or other form of water.

They also often don’t know what to expect in terms of pricing. They’d ask contractors about big projects, not realizing they cost $1½ to $2 million. A lot of these communities just can’t afford it. Or it takes them five to seven years to do it — three to five to organize it, then a couple more to fund it.

Filling the gap

But people need access to aquatic therapy.

My wife is in the health-care industry, and almost every discipline is turning to aquatic therapy. Everybody is recommending it — even to help with the opioid crisis, as part of a treatment regimen. Aquatic therapy is one of the top options with occupational therapists and other medical professionals I’ve spoken with.

I’m also a disabled veteran, and I work a lot with others. We see plenty who benefit from water. It doesn’t always mean the biggest, most expensive or fanciest feature — just a solution to achieve their goal.

But in many rural communities, there aren’t enough aquatics facilities. Even if they have an outdoor pool, they only keep it open for the kids, which means Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend. I’ve had people say, “We only have 300 people in the whole town, so we really can’t afford anything.” I help when I can. I explain that they don’t need a major center to provide therapy. Maybe we can take a corner of their little town hall building, where they have meetings once a month, and put a small aquatics feature such as a swim spa. Now they have year-round use.

There’s more than one type of plan that can work for them. They just need some guidance. To help these towns around the country, I am establishing a nonprofit organization called Aquatics Empowered. We want to help find their best solution for providing access to aquatic therapy. We’re trying to help create a blueprint — a step-by-step process for working toward that solution.

We may help them acquire grants and resources. Through a website, we can connect communities with each other for advice, and with industry professionals for guidance. The site also will include information on the benefits of aquatic therapy and advice for organizing resources to build a facility.

We plan to work with other organizations — medical groups, industry organizations, manufacturers. We want to harness all that energy and ability, and bring that to rural communities.

Our goal is for every rural town to have and maintain an aquatics facility, even if it’s only a hot tub in the City Hall building. While the main focus is on communities, we may help individuals as well. For individuals in these rural areas, we plan to take donated hot tubs and repurpose them to donate to disabled individuals or Make a Wish children.

Aquatics Empowered has been in the works for six years. I’ve been researching and talking to people, and we’ve been providing a lot of services for free. We’re waiting for our 501(c)(3) registration.

We’ve heard story after story of how aquatic therapy helps those with disabilities, children with autism, or rehabilitating athletes. I’ve spoken with people from the Autism Society who have seen huge success when children with autism get in water and work with a physical therapist.

I spoke with a man whose son had Down syndrome. The child had major surgery and was in a cast from the waist down. They had a terrible time teaching him to walk, because he couldn’t understand. One day he was at a hotel and saw the pool was empty. He asked if he could take his son in the pool, and they said yes. “I got my son in the pool, and he was ecstatic,” the man told me. “He had fun, and he started moving.” They went to a pool twice a week, and after about six weeks, his son tried to crawl and walk again.

I was in tears.

That’s the thing that really gets me fired up. Water has healing capabilities, whether it’s mentally or physically. It isn’t just for recreation — it’s life-changing.