“All of the participants in the Dolphins’ program have some sort of disability – for many just physically getting around is very challenging. Once in the water, they experience this weightlessness in their body and are given this mobility they have never had before. To be able to see the impact of that moment and the joy it brings them, is the most powerful part of the Dolphins program.”
Nashville Dolphins Junior Board Member and Jet Linx Nashville Client Services Specialist Elliott Sutter has witnessed first hand the impact the Nashville Dolphins aquatic programs have on the children and adults who participate in them. As a nonprofit organization, the Nashville Dolphins provide free aquatic programs to children and adults with special needs. Elliott and his father, Base Partner Trey Sutter, have brought the Dolphins under Jet Linx sponsorship through our Nashville Base, continuing the long relationship the entire Sutter family – including Trey’s wife, Dotty, and their other two sons, Ben and Tommy – have had with the organization since it was founded in 2003.
The Sutter’s involvement with the Dolphins began with a close family friend recognizing the possibilities of a swim program dedicated to kids with special needs. “It really all started with Dotty’s close friend, Beth Scruggs, offering swim lessons for children at a local country club,” said Trey.
“Beth was teaching swim lessons and a parent approached her to ask if she would help her teenager, who had down syndrome, prepare for swimming in the Special Olympics. Beth agreed, and soon thereafter a swim team was born,” explained Megan Kelly, Nashville Dolphins Program Director. “Once she did that, a lot more parents started to reach out and before she knew it, she had eight kids who she was training to compete. That is how the idea to start the Dolphins program really came about.”
With formal programs established, the Dolphins began practicing at pools in the Nashville area and the number of participants in the program quickly grew. “Dotty got involved as Beth’s friend, but also as someone with a background in business and accounting. She began working as the chairman of the board and helped the organization reach a nonprofit status in 2012,” explained Trey. “She has really been the driving force for the business side. Before they knew it, they had a charity that was raising a substantial amount of money every year, with over 200 children participating in their programs.”
NASHVILLE DOLPHINS SWIMMERS RANGE FROM BEGINNERS, JUST LEARNING TO BLOW BUBBLES AND KICK THEIR FEET, TO SWIM TEAM MEMBERS WHO PRACTICE SEVERAL TIMES A WEEK AND COMPETE IN THE SPECIAL OLYMPICS
Elliott, along with brothers Ben and Tommy, started volunteering for the Dolphins as swim coaches while they were in high school. “Once the program had twenty kids or so showing up for lessons, they started to need volunteers – people who were willing to jump in the pool and be right by their side, because for many of the children, it’s their first time swimming and that can be very intimidating,” said Elliott. “My brothers and I did that all throughout high school. Since moving back home from college, Ben and I have both become members of the Junior Board to continue being involved and helping out.”
The Dolphins aquatic programs are provided at no cost to both kids and adults, with no age limit capping participation. Dedicated to providing a safe, relaxed and fun environment for the swimmers to learn, the programs tailor to each one of their needs. “We promote swimming as a lifelong sport and no matter how young or old you are, our programs promote exercise while building a strong community and team for these individuals to connect with,” said Kelly. As the Nashville Dolphins Program Director, Kelly is involved with every program and all other parts of the organization – her favorite part being able to spend time with the kids.
“I wear a lot of hats in the organization, but I feel incredibly lucky to be able to be present at every practice and every swim class. It allows me to be connected with every kid,” she explained. “They are always excited to see you. Even after being with the Dolphins for five years, they still treat me like I’m the coolest person in the room. They will make your day, and it’s special to have that kind of bond with them.”
The Nashville Dolphins offer three aquatic programs. Participants start by learning to swim as Future Dolphins, moving up and building on their skills as Junior Dolphins, and eventually become part of the Dolphins Swim Team and have the opportunity to participate in the Special Olympics. “We are able to take a group of our swimmers on a trip to a Special Olympics meet every year, where we cover all of the expenses. It gives them the opportunity to travel as a team and wear their Dolphins gear,” said Kelly. “It also gives them a sense of normalcy. They see their siblings or peers go on trips with their sports team and we are giving them the opportunity to do that as well.”
“It has been a really cool experience for me to see kids move up in our programs,” shared Kelly. “We recently had a little girl move up from our Future Dolphins to the Junior Dolphins program and when I told her mom she was ready to progress, she became very emotional. When she was born, the doctor told her parents that she would never be able to walk, so to see her thriving in our program has been really special for her and her family. It’s moments like these that really show how our programs are helping these kids.”
“When one of the kids places with a medal in one of the meets, it’s a huge personal accomplishment and they take a lot of pride in it. Being able to witness their achievement and the excitement it brings them and the team is pretty memorable,” said Elliott.
Currently, the Nashville Dolphins practice at six pools across the Nashville metro area, which can make space limited as they compete with other swim programs to reserve times. “Ideally, we hope that in the next five to ten years we will have raised enough money to build our own facility. We have grown so much just in the last five years, going from 100 kids to over 220!” marveled Kelly. “We’re slowly running out of space, so we would love a home base to call our own.”
A PASSION FOR THE DOLPHINS RUNS IN THE FAMILY
Right: Jet Linx Nashville Base Partner Trey Sutter (front) and son Elliott Sutter, a Client Services Specialist for the Nashville Base, have brought the Jet Linx spirit of community involvement to the Nashville Dolphins, an organization that the entire Sutter family has been involved with since its founding in 2003. Elliott has volunteered as a swim coach for the Dolphins since High School and now serves as a Junior Board Member.
To raise funds for their programs and the facility needed to accommodate continued growth, the Dolphins host annual events, including the Boots and Bubbles crawfish boil every summer and their newest event, Soundwaves and Sweethearts – a private, invitation-only concert that this year featured Grammy award-winning artist Sheryl Crow.
“This was our first Soundwaves and Sweetheart event, but we hope to make it an annual event because it was extremely successful. The idea of hosting a music event came about because we are in Nashville – it is Music City after all!” exclaimed Kelly. “One of our lead swim instructors coaches Sheryl Crow’s child on a club team and they have become friends. Sheryl also attended a swimathon for the Dolphins, so she was able to meet some of our kids and learn about our organization. After we came up with the idea for the event, we reached out to see if she would be interested in performing and she said that she’d love to!”
The Soundwaves and Sweethearts event took place in February at the Nashville home of Sylvia Roberts – frequently used as a filming location for the hit TV show Nashville.
As guests arrived, they were offered cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while they mingled and eagerly awaited Crow’s performance. The entire Sutter family was in attendance, along with the rest of the Jet Linx Nashville team. “Events like Soundwaves and Sweethearts allow us to build strong client relationships and truly give our clients access to the best-of-the-best in Nashville!” said Nashville Client Services Specialist Paige Beahm.
Crow took the stage on a small platform in a room surrounded by over two hundred guests on both the floor and balcony above. Behind her, a grand staircase illuminated by the Nashville Dolphins logo. According to the team, she played all of her hits including “All I Wanna Do,” “Strong Enough,” and “Soak Up the Sun.” “She performed a part of ‘Islands in the Stream’ by Kenny Rogers. That was my favorite part of the evening hands downs,” recalled Elliott.
Following the performance, a lucky Jet Linx client walked away with the raffle prize – a guitar signed and presented to them by Crow herself.
“Overall, the event was a huge success. Everyone had a great time and hosting an event like this is really special for the organization. Both Beth and Dotty are very plugged into the community, so a lot people that show up to these events to support us, but we also get new people learning about the Dolphins program and offering their support as well,” said Kelly.
Sutter was thrilled with the turnout and success of the event. “We sold about 225 tickets and raised over $45,000,” he noted. “Many of our guests even made donations at the end of the evening. To have our clients and close friends come out to support a cause that we’re really passionate about means a lot.”
“Our sponsorship of the Dolphins allows Jet Linx to give back to the local community and to these children, while maintaining that image of Jet Linx and our desire to do great work,” Sutter continued. “It also allows our clients to get involved, spreading awareness of the program. My interest has been to drive financial sponsorship to help the charity that my family has been so involved with and continue spreading awareness for both the Dolphins and Jet Linx.”