Statement of Sandy Ackley
Programming and Events Coordinator
Sailability Greater Tampa Bay, Clearwater, FL
Sailability Greater Tampa Bay, Inc., is a 501 (c) 3 operating out of Pinellas County, whose services are provided to the Greater Tampa Bay Area. We pride ourselves on our mission, which is to provide affordable, accessible sailing activities and education to children and adults of all ages and abilities, focusing on community integration to improve the quality of life for all involved.
The concept of our program was born in March of 2001. It was at that time that a small group of people envisioned and implemented an opportunity within their community. The challenged individuals, that we take sailing, quickly realized that the only limitations they faced were those of the mind, and that whatever one might set their mind to do can be accomplished; this I know because my husband is a veteran who is disabled and Recreational Therapy is what kept my family strong.
Sailability is 9 years old now and has built a fleet of 13 Access Dinghy boats, 3 catamarans and a motor boat. A grant, fundraising and local supporters made it possible for us to purchase our first 303 servo assist boat which has adaptive equipment which includes a “sip and puff”, chin control, electronic joysticks and adaptive seating, which a ventilator dependent quadriplegic would be able to sail independently. In fact, after training provided by Sailability Greater Tampa Bay, Inc., Lynn Moers, a ventilator dependent quadriplegic from James A Haley Hospital, set a record here in Clearwater to be the first ventilator dependent quad to sail independently in the United States on an Access Dinghy. Lynn and other veterans come to our community sails, which are held 4 times a year, and lead the way. Demonstrating the opportunities our waters could provide to veterans while he navigates the Clearwater Intercoastal waterway. Wheelchair bound vets from our community, recreational rehab and spinal chord programs, various veteran support groups as well as the paralyzed veterans, James A Haley, Bay Pines Hospital and returning Iraqi Veterans accompanied by their families, friends and, therapists, watch in awe from atop “The Miss Beverly” this is when I know that what I do gives our Vets a sense of worth, confidence, assurance and belief, while building on self esteem reaching there goals and drives as I watch there arms in the air screaming out words of joy and triumph, and happy tears running down there faces. I know this because Sailability is what empowers people and kept my family strong.
The Miss Beverly is a 24 foot wheelchair accessible pontoon boat that resides at McDill. The Miss Beverly is borrowed to take Bay Pines, James A Haley Veterans and community Veterans out fishing or used as a spectator boat for the more “I have to challenge Sandy” veteran while others sail the bay. I get them all in a boat sooner or later. They learn to trust and believe in themselves again, this I know with certainty.
We serve over 500 people per year on an all volunteer staff. Since we are driven to get as many veterans out on the water as possible, we also strive to support those who would like to facilitate programs such as ours locally, regionally, and nationally. Not only does this enhance awareness of all individuals, it facilitates the need to keep our waterways and environment, not only eco-friendly and pristine, but accessible to all.
We are proud of the fact that since our inception, we have been able to have a positive impact on many individuals. Our program has graduated a multitude of sailors; many of which where either mentally or physically challenged, as well as able bodied children, adults, and seniors. Some of those physically challenged individuals include but not limited to, paraplegics, quadriplegics, amputees, stroke survivors, and those with neurological impairments such as cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis and head trauma injuries. Moreover, we have been able to introduce the experience of sailing and touch the lives of more than 500 individuals, along with their family members and caregivers, this I know because I get the tears of joy, the “Thank You for giving me my life back” cards, the gratitude from Recreation Therapists, the appreciation from family and friends, these sailboat rides are more rewarding to me than I can describe, men that have the wind taken out of there sails, from them I get my strength to make others strong.
Sailability GTB also has the ability to travel to outside counties and support other groups. Our presence at these travel events raise the awareness in our community for the need to maintain community inclusion and accessibility for all while giving our veterans what they need and deserve. We are obligated to do this for people who gave there souls, in belief that we will stand by them. We feel that our presence and support within our community will fuel the acceleration of programs like ours, and this I know because my son is a 3rd generation Marine who volunteered since he was 10 years old, putting veterans out on the water. These proud veterans taught my son loyalty, trust, and gave him confidence and strength.
We pride ourselves on the fact that all these accomplishments have been made available through an EXTREMELY dedicated volunteer staff. And, as we move into this next decade, we anticipate growing our program and touching many more lives as we live through war.