Inclusive Swim & Art Programs for Children of ALL Abilities and Needs
REACH founder, Florencio Flores Palomo, was born and raised in rural Nebraska, the youngest of 14 children. At the age of 3, while playing near a canal by the farm his family worked on, he slipped and fell into the canal and nearly drowned. Fortunately he was able to grab onto some weeds and pull himself up to safety. However, this even traumatized him so much that taking a bath was was a nightmare for him. This fear stayed with him until the age of 26 at which time he was offered a career promotion in sports and recreation. The promotion came with one catch, Florencio had to learn how to swim so that he could properly manage all the city pools and swim lessons. Florencio turned to the one person who was always there to help him with life’s challenges, his father. As always it was his fathers straight forward approach and advice that gave Florencio the push he needed to face his fear. “You can do it, this is a very good opportunity for you and you never know where this opportunity is going to take you” With the encouragement from his father and his drive to succeed, Florencio accepted the promotion and challenge to learn to swim. After several swim instructors failed to connect with him and understand his fears, along Judy Hewett, a woman who he affectionally now refers to as his “swim angel”. Due to a back injury, Judy was confined to arm braces and getting into the pool to help Florencio was not an option. However, through her patient and loving energy, not only did she connect well with him but helped him navigate through his fears as she taught him how to swim. In return for helping Florencio overcome his fears (and keep his job) Judy had one request, to help her with a group of students she was working with. This group happened to be the local chapter of special olympics. Florencio loved this experience so much and Judy recognized the joy in him. At the end of the first day of working these kids Judy pulled Florencio aside and said to him words that, unbeknownst to him at the time, put him on the path to his destiny “You truly do have a gift 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” Throughout Florencio time as the recreation specialist of his hometown, Judy remained a a dear mentor and friend to him, challenging him to always strive for me. Two years after learning how to swim in Nebraska, Florencio accepted a job offer as an Aquatic Director for a private club in NYC and set out to start a new life. Armed with the knowledge and techniques Judy taught him and once he created on his own, Florencio quickly gained the reputation of being able to teach those students who other instructors felt they could not. After 17 successful years of a working for major aquatic centers in NYC, Florencio wanted to make bigger impact in aquatics and focus on the population of children he felt was over looked way to often, those with special needs. With his passion for teaching and dream, in the summer of 2015 Florencio resigned from his Aquatic Director position and took a leap of faith and created REACH ACADEMY. That first season began with 17 students, now REACH welcomes 200 students every season, all of whom learn how to swim independently at the end of each season. “Starting REACH has been the best decision of my life…I truly believe REACH is my calling and how I intend on leaving a good mark in the world” -Florencio Flores Palomo
Meaning behind "REACH"
When it came to finding the perfect name for his new swim academy, once again “destiny” stepped in. While sitting at home, trying to figure out a name that would best describe everything he wanted his program to embody (defying odds, inclusiveness, family atmosphere, joy, striving for the best) he did what always did to help him think, turned on his music. Florencio turn on his iPod and immediately the song “REACH” by Gloria Estefan began playing. The lyrics resonated with him “the more I believe, the more that this dream will be mine” Instantly he knew “REACH academy” was the perfect name. A place where children could REACH above and beyond all expectations that were put on them and “rise above the stars” as the lyrics so beautifully state. Interestingly enough, this song already played a significant role in his life at the beginning of his aquatic career so this chance playing on his iPod seemed like destiny. A few months prior to Florencio starting his aquatic career, he was sitting outside his family home, preparing himself mentally for his first day of swim lessons. HIs mother came up to him and gave him a gift. It was the CD “Destiny” by Gloria Estefan. Florencio had always been a big fan of her music and was thrilled to receive her latest CD. “I saw your face light up when you saw the video on TV the other day and I wanted you to have this song with you anytime you needed to be reminded you will be ok in life” From that point on “REACH” became his anthem anytime he needed an extra push to get through life’s challenges. Little did he know that this gift of “Destiny” was truly a sign of the destiny that was waiting for him. If the song playing on his iPod when he was deciding on a name for his academy was not enough, late one night during those first few months of starting REACH, the song provided yet another sign that he was on the right path. Florencio was up late one night worry about finances and whether he had made the right decision. He never doubted his passion for what he wanted to do but leaving the security of a full time job and utilizing his life savings start his dream was a bit overwhelming. Both of his parents had since passed away and he didn't have them to call to get their reassurance that all will be fine. All he could do is close his eyes and ask for a sign from them, any sign to help ease his mind. As he was laying in silence when he heard the sound of music coming from his home office. When he got up to turn the music off, he was stunned in amazement as the song playing became more and more clear….it was REACH. Needless to say this was all the sign he needed to remind him “you will be ok” just as his mother told him years earlier as she gifted him this song. Two years after starting REACH, Florencio reached out to Mrs. Estefan with his story and asked for permission to use her inspiring song for a video he was making of his REACH kids learning to swim. She graciously agreed to let him use the song and sent along this very touching note. Dear Florencio It’s stories like yours that make songwriting worthwhile and I feel honored to have contributed in some small way to the building of your dream. Keep doing the inspirational work that you do in health, love, and happiness! All the best, Gloria Estefan