A child with autism is 160 times more likely to drown compared with their neurotypical peers, and over 90 per cent of deaths of children with autism under the age of 14 are attributed to drowning.
These "truly horrifying statistics" provided by Denny Rowlands were the reason he began the Red Fins Nippers program, which accommodates the needs of children with challenges including autism, hearing loss, visual impairment, and physical and intellectual disabilities, at Wanda Surf Life Saving Club.
Mr Rowlands is one of six individuals who are finalists in the 2021 Westfield Miranda Local Heroes program.
Shire community members have the opportunity to give back to these individuals who are making a difference in their neighbourhood, by casting their vote online. Three winners will each take $10,000 for their respective organisations.
"It's really fulfilling to see kids who struggle with everyday activities achieve little things like getting into the water, going out past the break. That's really rewarding," Mr Rowlands told the Leader.
We're really passionate about supporting individuals to overcome adversity and build resilience.- Ashleigh Daines
"The proudest moment of last season was when two of our Red Fins took their first steps to become lifesavers by completing their first rescue certificate. One was my youngest son and he has now joined me on my patrol at Wanda."
Mr Rowlands would use the grant money to purchase beach wheelchairs.
Ashleigh Daines, CEO at The Family Co, is also a finalist. She would use the money to fund a six-week support group and increase the organisation's capacity to provide one-on-one case management support for women impacted by domestic violence.
"We're really passionate about supporting individuals to overcome adversity and build resilience," said Ms Daines.
"The Family Co helps achieve this through three pillars: child youth and family support; domestic and family violence support; and education and training."
Other local finalists are Amethyst Barnbrook of Expanding Influences, Danielle Lucas of Care 4 Kids Ltd, Emma Watts of The Daisie Chain and Geoff Vickers of Special Olympics - Sydney South.
Vote for your favourite finalist online at www.westfield.com.au/local-heroes by August 30.
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