This summer, the pool at ADHC Winnetka was able to open for the first time in four years! We were not able to use the pool during the pandemic, and on the other side of it, finding a lifeguard who understands the unique needs of our clients was challenging. Enter Stephanie Salto! Stephanie has worked as a lifeguard for four years, and we were so pleased to welcome her to Valley Village this summer. Over the last few weeks on our social media, we’ve shown Valley Village followers and friends a look at our lifts, floats, and the recreational activities available to clients at our pool – and now it’s time for a closer look at how we make it all happen and the benefits it affords!
This is Stephanie’s first summer working at Valley Village, though she has previously worked with people with developmental disabilities in other lifeguarding jobs. “I wanted to become a lifeguard because I had friends who did it,” she says. “I was enlisted in the military, so I never previously had the chance! After my service, I knew this would be a great part time job for both myself and my daughter.” In her previous lifeguarding job, she worked closely with children and says “I loved being able to be a role model for safety. It brightens my day to know that I could help make people feel safe.”
There are lots of daily responsibilities involved in maintenance of the pool. “We have a heated pool, so I’m in charge of the pH levels, acid, and chlorine. That’s the first thing I check every morning,” Stephanie explains. “For physical therapy sessions, the pool is heated to 94 degrees and precision is important, but for recreation, it lowers a little anywhere from 87 to 90 degrees. I sanitize the equipment and the shower room. I also take inventory and inspect the equipment every morning for wear and tear, make sure all the life vest buckles and safety belts are working properly. Clients always wear a life vest or a belt.”
Safety is a lifeguard’s biggest responsibility, and Stephanie says that in a typical shift, she spends it “constantly patrolling and scanning the water. If a staff member needs my help, I’ll hop in the water and assist. Clients are never alone in the pool, and it is always locked when I’m not in.” Additional safety protocols include that before entering the water, clients always rinse off in the shower room and apply sunscreen.
With the pool open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 11:30am, there are a few different ways it’s used. Program director Candy Puga says that clients and our PT consultant set goals for the pool. “Some clients are learning to kick. It’s also great for extending limbs and stretching, and we try to have some clients lay back and learn to float. Stephanie helps out and assists. The pool really benefits the staff, too – we’re learning to exercise things we didn’t know we could exercise and clients are very excited about that!”
While the pool is great for physical therapy, it’s also great for recreation! “The clients always say things like “I love splashing, I can’t wait to splash.” One told me that floating feels like being in space,” Stephanie says. “It’s so nice getting to see the clients smile, relax and unwind. I play music and make it as fun as possible. A summer mix, tropical beach noises, spa music, white noise like rain or waves, things like that can add to the experience and make it so relaxing.” The enjoyment the pool brings to our clients is as important to Stephanie as their safety is. “I love that I can always see the joy on everyone’s faces,” she says. “That’s my favorite part of being a lifeguard.”