Water Therapy For The Family

Easter Seals' Event Puts Kids With Disabilities On Boats

July 26, 2009|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,laura.vozzella@baltsun.com

Jonathan and Samuel Tower played pirates Saturday in the Inner Harbor while their parents indulged in an even wilder fantasy: having an easy family outing with a special-needs kid.

Jonathan has autism and a neuromuscular disorder. Nearly 3 and just starting to walk, he needs a wheelchair and a special diet.

"It's hard to take the show on the road," said the boys' mother, Heather Tower of Woodbridge.

It was a little easier to do that Saturday, when the Towers took part in the Easter Seals' annual Cruise for Kids. They were among 400 people who got to enjoy the Inner Harbor aboard private yachts, sailboats and even a replica pirate ship.

The Towers still needed to pack the wheelchair and a gluten-, casein-, soy-free lunch for Jonathan, but everything else was arranged for them.

"I think it was therapeutic for the whole family," said Joel Tower, the boys' father.

Now in its 18th year, Cruise for Kids provides a free day of fun for families struggling with disabilities. About 50 boaters lent their yachts and time at HarborView Marina. Urban Pirates, which usually takes tourists out of Fells Point, treated its passengers to more than a harbor tour. The kids got to shoot a water cannon, do the "pirate limbo" and bag some modest booty, like tiny plastic sharks and a few bandannas.

"It's probably one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had in my 30 years of boating," said Alan Karpas, a member of an Annapolis-based sailing club, Sailing Chavurah, that has participated for the past eight years. This year, the club sent 10 sailboats, including Karpas' 50-footer.

"You give people who struggle the whole year with challenges in their lives - you give them a day of simple pleasure," said Faye Kronisch, another member of the sailing club. "The family we were out with today had never been on a boat before - the parents and the children. So it was really exciting for them."

Because boating is so expensive, and because disabilities can drain so much of a family's energy and financial resources, being on the water was a rare treat.

"We had a ball," said Crystal Emery of Bowie, after zipping around the harbor on a big twin-engine powerboat with her husband, Rodney, and their son, Christopher, 4, who has cerebral palsy.

Seven-year-old Joseph Fieldings of Randallstown, who has a genetic disorder called TAR Syndrome, was wowed by the Carolina Lady, his 58-foot yacht for a day.

The part that most stood out for him?

"The couch," he said.

Joseph and his four siblings couldn't get over that there was a real living area inside the boat, explained their mother, Alicia Fieldings. The big thrill for her: A day out.

"It's really a treat," she said. "Nobody knows what we go through to care for these lovely, special children. It made me feel good there are organizations and people that don't forget you, that pull you into their lives for a few hours."

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