Richard religiously spends two afternoons a week working out in the pool at the YMCA of the Suncoast (Y) in Clearwater.

Without the assistance of a mechanical contraption dubbed PAL, however, he jokes that his visits would be “an electrifying experience” for his fellow aquatic fitness buffs.

Decades after diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS), Richard relies on a motorized wheelchair to get around. The Y’s PAL – or Portable Aquatic Lift – enables Richard to safely transition out of his chair and into the water, where buoyancy frees him to exercise muscles limited on land.

“For me, it’s the only way to maintain my health,” Richard explains. “If I miss my swimming for a week – or two – I lose ground.  It’s that tenuous.” The PAL, says Richard, “is the only way I can safely get in and out. It’s made a huge difference.  Even if I had a pool of my own, I wouldn’t have an arrangement like this.  Plus, the Y is a place where you feel everybody is working to get fit.  So just to be doing that on a regular basis is important.”

When a previous pool lift had to be replaced after many wet years of service to disabled adults and children alike, the $7,000 price tag could have been a budget buster for the Y. Grant funds from the Pinellas Community Foundation turned out to be a lifesaver, covering $5,000 of its cost.

District VP Stephanie Zaragoza says the YMCA of the Suncoast has long benefited from Pinellas Community Foundation support. Beyond one-time capital improvement grants for items like the PAL, Zaragoza credits PCF’s operating grants for helping them keep a promise to the community – never turning someone away for an inability to pay.

“The operational dollars that we receive from Pinellas Community Foundation help provide financial assistance and scholarships to our members who otherwise would not be able to afford the programs and services we offer,” says Zaragoza. That includes after-school programs that offer mentoring to help close the achievement gap in community schools – and which some families would be hard-pressed to afford.

“Part of our mission is to strengthen the foundation of our community.  And if we’re not serving all facets of the community, then we’re really not fulfilling our mission,” Zaragoza reflects. “We’re able to do that because of the Pinellas Community Foundation.”