Olympian Bella Sims stands with her grandmother Sherri Hironaka (right) and close family friend Ruth Harada at the Vale City Pool on Aug. 10, 2021. Sims was visiting to talk about her Olympic experience with young swimmers. (The Enterprise/FILE)

VALE – Sherri Hironaka said the idea to start a fundraiser to help youth in town began shortly after her granddaughter, Bella Sims, visited the Vale Pool last summer.

Sims, 16, a member of the U.S. Olympic women’s swim team and a silver medalist, swooped into Vale last August to sign autographs, pose for photos and interact with young local snorkelers.

The event was a success, and not long after Hironaka wondered what she could do to promote swimming.

“We got to thinking about that, about helping kids with swimming passes or lessons,” said Hironaka.

Hironaka, along with her niece Lynn McKinney, decided to create the Bella Sims Dream Big Swim Fund.

The fund is designed for now to pay for swim lessons and provide equipment – such as goggles – for a limited number of Vale youth. Hironaka said sponsors of the fund also want to help reduce rates for swim lessons for families with several children and create a social media presence using city and private Facebook groups.

The program will be overseen by the city, but Hironaka and McKinney will spearhead the effort, said Todd Fuller, Vale city manager.

“We are all for it. I think it is a very positive fund and they are willing to do most of the work,” said Fuller.

Hironaka said her granddaughter was enthusiastic about the idea.

“She wants to use her voice for something positive. She wants to be a role model,” said Hironaka.

Hironaka said she kicked off the effort with a meeting with Vale City Pool Manger Jody Sharp in April and then coordinated with the city.

“We will continue to do fundraising through the summer,” said Hironaka.

The fund is now taking donations. Interested individuals can mail donations to Vale City Hall at 150 Longfellow St. N. or to the Dream Big Fund at 1015 S.W. 1st Ave., in Ontario.

“We will turn over any of the funds to the city. We actually added a line item in our budget to capture that revenue and disperse it out. The majority of it will go to lessons, but if a kid needs googles or a swim suit we can help with that too,” said Fuller.

Hironaka said parents interested in the fund for their children should contact Sharp at the pool or Fuller at city hall to pick up an application.

“There are a limited number of spots this year because we are just starting,” said Hironaka.

Last summer, Sims, who lives in Las Vegas, clinched a silver medal in the Tokyo Olympics as she competed in the first heat of the women’s 4x200 freestyle relay.

Sims visited Ontario after the Tokyo Olympics to see her grandparents – Sherri and Dennis - and trained at the Vale pool during her stay.

So far, said Fuller, the city has collected about $600 for the fund.

Dave Bengoa, Boise, of Floor Tech Inc., works away last week on a repair project for the Vale Pool’s deck. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

“It is a really positive thing to have this Olympic swimmer, a national swimmer, kind of affiliated with us now,” said Fuller.

The swim fund isn’t the only new element to the Vale pool this year. Crews began work last week on a new deck for the pool, said Fuller.

The new deck, which costs $32,000, will make the area where swimmers congregate safer by eliminating slick spots, said Fuller.

“It will also atheistically look very nice. It is also not supposed to be hot to the touch in the summer,” said Fuller.

News tip? Contact Pat Caldwell at [email protected] malheurenterprise.com.

Previous coverage:

Olympic silver medalist visits Vale pool, fundraises for local kids

PHOTOS: Olympic silver medalist makes a big splash at the Vale City Pool

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