For most parents, the possibility of their young child, who doesn’t know how to swim, falling into a pool or lake is a terrifying prospect. For Yanelli Popa, this fear was multiplied when it came to her son Diego, who is diagnosed with Autism.

“I was nervous, but I wanted him to learn because most of the deaths with Autism are drowning. And we didn’t want that to happen to Diego,” Yanelli said.

Children with Autism wander off at a rate 4 times more than unaffected siblings. Of that number, 91% of deaths related to wandering are a result of drowning. Additionally, 32% of all parents of a child with Autism report a “close call” with a possible drowning.

Diego had no fear of the water, so Yanelli reached out to the Y about swim lessons. Between travelling to Charleston to see specialists who knew about his condition and local therapy sessions, swim lessons were a luxury they were unable to afford. Additionally, Yanelli was pregnant with their second child.

That’s where the Y stepped in, providing a scholarship for Diego to be able to take swim lessons. Diego learned to float and slowly learned to swim. And four years later, Diego can swim on his own.

“He’s grown a lot, from not being able to float to now being able to swim,” Yanelli said. “The YMCA gave us hope, and we are very thankful to the YMCA for helping him grow. We thank you for everything!”