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ARK-ND provides therapy for kids

| Thursday, November 1, 2018

Every Sunday night, Rolfs Aquatic Center fills up with student volunteers who gather with kids from the community for an hour of swim lessons and pool games. The weekly meetings function as a fun activity for the kids who attend, but they also aim to offer distraction — the club aims to help children suffering from serious medical conditions, senior and co-president of Aquatic Relief for Kids at Notre Dame (ARK-ND) Ann Iverson said.

ARK-ND coordinates with local hospitals to aid pediatric cancer and diabetic patients through aquatic therapy, providing a safe environment for the young patients to have fun for an evening. 

ARK-ND was founded by a member of the Notre Dame women’s water polo team who suffered from cancer as a child and participated in a similar program when she was young. She founded ARK-ND to give pediatric cancer patients in their maintenance phase of treatment an opportunity to play games, connect and swim, senior and co-president Caroline Murtagh said in an email.

Both Iverson and Murtagh have been involved in ARK-ND since their freshman years, and as a result, have built relationships with some of the patients who have been coming to meetings for years.

“It is such a joy to work with these families … I have loved watching the kids grow,” Murtagh said.  “One girl was afraid to put her face in the water for months, so she spent every lesson doggy paddling in a bubble. Then, one day, she told me that she had a secret — she said that she learned to swim. All of a sudden, she was putting her face in the water, swimming without a bubble and jumping off the side of the pool.”

Iverson also recalled kids who were afraid of the pool a few years back who have since grown up and now thoroughly enjoy swimming and playing in the water.

Iverson said ARK-ND not only functions as a healthy distraction for the children, but the activities also aid the parents of the children.

“I think [ARK-ND] is a good community for the kids and for their parents because they are able to be around other people who have experienced similar situations; that includes kids who have had cancer and also their siblings who can meet other kids who have siblings with cancer,” Iverson said.

Murtagh said a father of a pediatric cancer patient wrote a letter about ARK-ND this year and gave it to her to show his sincere appreciation.

“In the letter, he talked about how much his family had been struggling through his daughter’s cancer, but ARK provided just a short time each week where he could see his kids smile and laugh,” Murtagh said.  “Although our club is small and we play only a tiny role in these families’ lives, moments like this mean everything.”

Iverson said the club welcomes any student who can swim and is interested in volunteering to join.

“It’s nice because it’s pretty low commitment, but you can tell the kids love it,” Iverson said.  “It’s a good way to start out your week on a Sunday night, if you’re stressed about homework and tests — it’s a nice break.”

Iverson also discussed the benefit of engaging in community service as a Notre Dame student.

“Even though this occurs on campus, it’s people from the broader South Bend community we meet. … Getting to know them and hearing what’s going on in their makes me feel more connected to the community, which is important,” Iverson said.

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