How Collaboration Creates a Common Good

By: Tom Ingram

At the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association, members from all corners of the diving industry have collaborated to provide wounded members of the U.S. military a chance to return to physical activity via diving.

Associations can have a genuine impact on their communities by engaging members and finding ways to apply their expertise to solving community problems. With a little observation of what the community needs, any association can apply its unique knowledge and reach out to families, society, and its own members to make a difference. Such is the case of the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association, which has been reaching out to wounded veterans of our foreign conflicts and involving the entire recreational-diving community through DEMA's "Be A Diver" campaign.

Few know the horrors of battle more clearly than the men and women of the U.S. military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some are wounded physically and emotionally by hostile action while deployed. With the knowledge that water can be a great equalizer, DEMA first reached out to Disabled Sports USA and the Wounded Warrior Project in 2006 to bring the therapeutic use of recreational diving to these brave men and women.

DEMA's goal was to encourage wounded vets to get back into athletic activity by learning to dive. Recreational scuba takes place in an environment that provides three-dimensional freedom, and diving allows these men and women to reunite mentally and physically with their families. Its therapeutic value was never more apparent than when we saw these men and women embracing the fun, togetherness, and excitement of learning to dive. They weren't wounded divers; they were divers.

This was truly an associationwide project. Member dive centers contributed diving instruction to interested vets and their families. Member manufacturers such as Oceanic contributed diving equipment. Training companies such as the Professional Association of Diving Instructors provided training materials and certification credentials. And DEMA sent diving instructors to the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire to complete the vets' open-water certification dives.

The residents of Bonaire welcomed the groups for their weeklong stay, feeding and housing them at the DEMA-member dive resort, Captain Don's Habitat. The manager, Jack Chalk, a veteran himself, has made unlimited diving at the resort available to participants since the project was first brought to his attention in 2006.

Though we are proud of working with these wounded vets, we have received far more from the vets than the association has given. Some vets had lost limbs. Some had the stress of battle and difficulty mentally rejoining with spouses, children, and the mainstream. But in each case they had an unbelievable optimism. Their families supported and participated in their desire to "Be A Diver," and in some cases it brought these families together for the first time since the veterans' return.

For me, the most inspiring observation was of Michael and his 10-year-old son Justin. Michael lost both legs in conflict but was an enthusiastic participant in the diver certification process. His son Justin accompanied him to Bonaire and had received instruction at the Junior Open Water level, enabling him to dive in up to 40 feet of water. Of course, Michael was without fins, so he used webbed gloves so he could easily swim underwater. The two completed their open-water dives separately because Justin couldn't dive deeper than 40 feet, but after completing the final dive they joined together in the shallow ocean. Justin swam to his dad with legs crossed, using only his arms, and completed the dive that way. When father and son embraced each other underwater, there wasn't a dry mask in the house.

Cases like this show how associations in any field can have a significant impact on people and their communities, simply by bringing together passionate people with unique skills to collaborate toward positive goals. In a larger sense, people and associations positively affecting each other is the ultimate and best outcome of any association effort. If helping wounded veterans learn to dive fits that bill, DEMA has accomplished a significant and valuable goal.

Tom Ingram is executive director of the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association in San Diego. Email: [email protected]