ANDOVER — Chloe Adie got to swim in the water at Pomps Pond for her first time Monday morning.
Her mother, Katie Adie, said the Haverhill family had never bothered to visit the pond prior because there was no floating wheelchair, which would have allowed for Chloe to splash around in the water alongside her two sisters.
That finally changed on Monday, as SMILE Mass donated the first floating wheelchair to Pomps Pond — marking their 135th wheelchair donation.
Chloe, 18, strapped into the chair with help from her mother and those at the Recreation Department, and was wheeled into the water, where she was pushed around and splashed by her sisters Gabby, 12, and Avrey, 7.
"It feels awesome," Chloe said about being in the water. "I love to swim and use the squirt gun."
And that is exactly what she did, as she was guided through the water and sprayed by her two younger siblings. She said it felt good to be able to cool off at a place she was never able to before.
The wheelchair donation was just as exciting for Gabby and Avrey. Gabby said they typically spend their beach days playing in the sand if there isn't a wheelchair for Chloe to use, not wanting to leave out their oldest sister if they head into the water.
"This makes the summers better," said Katie, as she stood by closely watching her girls.
The wheelchair allows users to lounge and float comfortably in the water, and has three different inclined positions, said Lotte Diomede, co-founder of SMILE Mass. Diomede founded the nonprofit organization with her friend Susan Brown.
The wheelchair can roll on hard surfaces, like the sand at Pomps Pond, and gradually make its way into the water with guidance from another person.
One of the three chair inclines allows the person to be fully laid back in the case of a medical emergency, enabling them to be taken care of right in the chair, or wheeled out to an EMT if needed.
Diomede said the wheelchairs cost from $2,000 to $2,800 each, and are fully funded through fundraisers and grants. She said the organization's success is mainly credited to people sponsoring them.
"We want to create an environment that's normal," Diomede said. "These kids don't want to be different, they want to fit in."
According to their website, SMILE Mass strives to become the leading resource for handicap accessibility in vacation and recreation experiences. Coming up on 10 years of service, the duo that founded it said their inspiration came from raising their own children with disabilities.
The idea for the floating wheelchairs came when Diomede was at a beach in Yarmouth with her son. She described the only wheelchair at the beach for her son to use as an "old, dingy beach wheelchair." Worried about the safety of the chair, and wishing her son had a means to enjoy a day at the beach, an idea sparked in her mind.
"I said, 'I got it. We're going to build beach wheelchairs,'" she said.
Over the past decade, the organization has provided much more than that. Diomede said they have donated bikes, strollers, running strollers, and even opened the first fully-handicap accessible playground in the MetroWest. They also opened a fully-accessible beach home rental in Truro last year.
Through their loaner program, families are able to pick up wheelchairs when they go on vacation, free of charge, so their disabled children can enjoy beach vacations the way they deserve. Diomede said the program offsets the heavy demand, and eases any financial stress on families.
With a goal of donating 10 to 20 floating wheelchairs each summer, Diomede and Brown have made an impact on communities all around New England, and continue to boost their contributions year after year.
"We both want to make the world accessible to them (children with disabilities)," Brown said.
Chloe will be participating in the Falmouth Road Race next month, and is sponsoring SMILE Mass. Donations can be made at crowdrise.com/chloes-crusade1.