Sarah Dealy, 17, became the first person to complete the eight-mile solo swim across Bellingham Bay on Friday, Sept. 4, at 1 p.m., finishing in six hours.
Donors pledged per mile in support of Skookum Kids and about $2,000 was raised for the transitional home for Whatcom County foster children.
“The first couple miles I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it to mile four because it was so cold,” Dealy said.
But she did make it and faster than anticipated. Dealy told her supporters to meet at Taylor Dock by Boulevard Park at 2 p.m. but she arrived an hour early. She left Lummi Shore at 7 a.m. and was followed by a kayak and a powerboat the entire way across the bay.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Shivering and just a little numb from the water, which was 53 degrees, Dealy was greeted by family and friends who followed her journey on social media.
People were pledging to donate even as she swam, Dealy said.
“I think the biggest thing I learned was just that Bellingham is an amazing community,” she said. “Because of the way everyone just stepped up and helped me, it was mind blowing.”
Ray Deck III, founder of Skookum, said people come to him all the time with ideas to raise support and often nothing happens. When Dealy approached him with the idea for a swim, he was skeptical but she proved his fears wrong.
“The difference here is, Sarah refused to quit,” Deck said. “That’s what separates the crazy ideas from people who raise their hands in victory.”
Skookum Kids is one of only three transitional homes like it in Washington. The idea behind the program is that when emergencies arise, children who find themselves in the foster system should have a safe place to go while a more permanent home can be found.
“We have learned some things since we began,” Deck said. “It’s kind of a new concept. There are only two other facilities like this in the state, one that has been open about five years and the other about a year.”
Each child can stay at the house for up to three days, at $100 per day, with fresh food, a bed and a support system of two or three volunteers in the house at all times. So far, Skookum has been completely funded by donations and is staying on the projected budget.
In the absence of a local transitional home, foster families were burdened with late-night calls to drop everything and take in a child, Deck said. Sometimes, it’s impossible for them to do so.
“That phone call makes foster parents feel like they are failing,” Deck said.
Moving around a lot while in the foster system has been shown to have negative effects. After five moves, children average falling behind one grade level in school, Deck said. After more than five moves, it’s a semester per move. With transitional housing, Deck and his team hope to reduce the number of moves Whatcom County foster children endure.
In the two months they have opened, Skookum Kids has helped 13 children.
On average, nearly 20 children enter foster care each month in Whatcom County.
Initially open from noon on Friday to noon on Monday, Skookum requires around 40 volunteers each weekend to run smoothly. This weekend is the first time housing hours have been officially expanded to Thursday. The hope of volunteers is that Skookum is open 24/7 in the near future.
Donors were encouraged to pledge money per mile Dealy completed or to give directly to Skookum Kids. Even though the swim is now over anyone can still donate, Dealy said.
To prepare for a swim of this magnitude, Dealy trained with a friend on a swim team to perfect her form for distance. Nearly eight months of daily training in the pool, six of those months including open water swims a few times per week, prepared her physically for one of the biggest challenges of her life.
Experience caring for foster children through babysitting and volunteer camps motivated Dealy to keep swimming and get the word out to the community about Skookum.
Dealy is now completing her application to become a volunteer at Skookum Kids and work directly with the children who stay in the home.