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I remember screaming with all the other campers at Portland Sports Camp; we were being attacked. It was a shark – he had massive arms and legs, was very hairy and he had the biggest head I’d even seen. Despite these uncharacteristic attributes, we knew he was a fierce creature because of the fin atop his head.  This hand-fin belonged to the camp’s director and Maine legend, Mort Soule. Mort would glide through the shallow end at Kiwanis Pool as campers would squeal and dog paddle out of his path. Before we knew it, the shark would have a camper in his clutches. Instantly, both shark and minnow were laughing as Mort pretended to gnaw on the camper’s gangly limbs. When he finished his meal, Mort would plunk the child back in the water, each of us hoping to be next. 

Photo by josh Reynolds: Mort Soule of Portland stands near home plate in Fenway Park before practicing his reading of Casey At The Bat in preparation for Sunday’s State of Maine Day at Fenway Park. JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE (Living/Arts, mclennan)

This week I finish up working at summer school in the Portland School District. As I reflect on the past two months, I recognize that a highlight has been taking our students to that same special pool that I enjoyed as a child. On the corner of Douglass and St. James St., Kiwanis Pool has been a neighborhood treasure for over thirty years; it provides neighborhood kids a place to swim, hosts campers and offers swimming lanes for high-school swimmers and adults alike. The water is always moving there. 

 There are few places like Kiwanis Pool, where kids and adults of all ages spend time in the same space, sharing a common bond – in this case, a place to swim and cool off. I realize now how monumental this simple sharing of space can be. A child without grandparents may not have the opportunity to interact with someone in the over seventy set, the pool provides this forum. A kid who has parents that don’t exercise can see someone who looks like their mom swimming laps. A child’s perception of the world is shaped by and limited to the things and the people that they are exposed to on a daily basis.

Campers eagerly await the bus for Kiwanis Pool in the summer of 1992.

For a number of our younger summer school students, going to the pool once a week has also provided them with the opportunity to learn how to swim. I was able to see progression in these students each week, and the time in the water provided the teachers and staff an opportunity to create stronger ties with each student. “I am right here” and “I got you” were frequently uttered reassurances as each kid took the small but monumental risk of letting go of the sidewall and paddling into outstretched arms. Creating strong relationships with caring adults is essential in fostering healthy childhood growth. Mort Soule provided that support for so many kids, and in turn many of his past-campers look to do the same in our communities.

 The creation of these vital relationships does not need to be restricted to summertime or the public pool. In fact, School Square was founded on the belief that schools are the hubs of each community and that it is our responsibility to make it easier for caring adults to be champions for our youngest generation. Our mission is to help connect caring adults with children in schools while supporting educators and their needs.

 What can you do? Sign up to be a volunteer, whether it’s once a day or once a year – come on in the water’s fine!

The water is fine!