|Heloise and Howard Stewart and their family
have been impacted by and have impacted
Abilities United since 1963.
Heloise and Howard Stewart met Betty Wright in 1963 during their search for swim lessons for their daughter Mimi, who had cerebral palsy. Her physical therapist recommended the therapeutic support provided by aquatic therapy.
Soon Mimi was a new student at Betty Wright’s pool, originally located in her Barron Park backyard in Palo Alto. Mimi did so well under the loving but disciplined instruction of Betty Wright that Mimi’s sister, Sue (at age 13), became a teacher after earning her Junior Life Saving Certificate.
Both Sue and Heloise, now a spry 92-year-old, reminisce warmly about how the pool created a unique spirit of community involvement. “Patients and families were involved; we all felt like family. That kind of community spirit was priceless.”
Heloise describes Betty Wright as a Palo Alto legend. “She taught thousands of local children how to swim. She loved working with all children, welcoming disabled children, including Mimi, into the existing swim groups. She instilled confidence and responsibility in both her swim students and volunteer staff. She matched the teachers to the needs of each child, expecting the teachers to maintain careful records on their students’ progress.”
As the classes grew in size, a larger pool was needed and, in 1966, plans were developed for a new public pool that eventually became the Abilities United Betty Wright Swim Center. “Betty needed help raising funds for the new pool,” says Heloise, “so we decided to sign a promissory note for the $5,000 to launch the fundraising campaign to get it built.”
To raise funds, Howard recruited the Key and “S” Clubs at Cubberley and Palo Alto High Schools to create a three-year paper drive. Every Saturday, 15-30 students worked on paper routes. Howard provided route leadership. Heloise was the organizer and provided Saturday lunches for the students.
After three years, the Stewarts and students together raised $15,000. The state provided a matching grant while the Wedde Guild, a local philanthropic group, provided the first matching gift. The pool opened in 1969. Heloise recalls that accomplishment, “What our community did to build Abilities United, our society needs now. What the young students accomplished would not directly benefit them. These young volunteers had responsibility for the wellbeing of others and made a great difference. They created change.”
Remembering their deeply satisfying experiences with Betty Wright and Abilities United, Heloise and Howard Stewart left a gift to Abilities United in their estate plan. Heloise recalls, “The pool and C.A.R. (now Abilities United) were at the center of our family life for eight years. We all believed in Betty and helped to make her dream come true.”
Thank you Heloise and your family for believing in the abilities of all individuals and for your help to make the dreams of future participants of Abilities United come true.
Based on an interview with Sue and Heloise Stewart in 2012. Written by Bob Thomas. Edited by Sue and Heloise Stewart and Wendy Kuehnl.