Solana Beach mothers learn to swim

The Pláticas de Mejorar group learned to swim at the Boys & Girls Club in Solana Beach.
The Pláticas de Mejorar group learned to swim at the Boys & Girls Club in Solana Beach.
(Monica Stapleton)

It’s 5 a.m. in the morning, still dark and cold, but for a group of Solana Beach mothers, the water at the Boys & Girls Club of San Dieguito pool is an energizing escape and a newfound source of joy. Over the past several months, women in the local Pláticas de Mejorar support group have been learning to swim and enjoying the physical and emotional benefits that come along with their time spent in the water.

“I am so happy and proud of myself that at my age I could learn to overcome my fears and do something new,” said group member Josephina Ledesma. “I am now encouraged to learn new things and know I can overcome my fears. I was always taking my kids to the pool and now I can go also. Thank goodness for this wonderful community that gave us their time and taught us this life skill.”

Pláticas de Mejorar, which translates to “Self-Improvement Conversations”, is a parent support group for Spanish-speaking women in the La Colonia De Eden Gardens community. They meet weekly to discuss topics such as mental health, family issues and the immigrant experience.

Monica Stapleton, a bilingual marriage and family therapist, founded the group in 2018 with a grant from the city of Solana Beach. Every year she has expanded on the opportunities and activities offered to the mothers, incorporating everything from yoga to painting—last year the group hosted its first art show.

Learning to swim was always on her list as something for the women to try and conquer.

Boys & Girls Club instructors taught the mothers swimming skills.
Boys & Girls Club instructors taught the mothers swimming skills.
(Monica Stapleton)

“It took about three years to encourage and build them up to get them into the pool and now they don’t want to stop,” Stapleton said.

What started out as a four-month pilot program with the Boys & Girls Club evolved into an eight-week swimming program. Stapleton and the new swimmers said the instructors Kevin Sotelo and Patty Mariscal were positive, encouraging, patient and gentle as they took care to help the mothers overcome some really serious fears.

“The Boys & Girls Club was extraordinary in the way that they taught them…it was magical,” Stapleton said.

The women almost couldn’t describe the feeling of accomplishment from being in the water. The fun and feel-good exercise became one way to work through trauma and everyday struggles—three of the mothers are scrambling to move because they live in the Solana Highlands Apartment complex on South Nardo that is being knocked down and redeveloped later this year. As Stapleton said, learning to swim gave them emotional and physical well-being and they felt so supported and loved by the local community.

Cecilia Gutierrez said she was grateful to lose her deep fear of water—she said to take that step of courage was a great motivation for the rest of her day: “With more motivation, the day becomes more beautiful. It helped me a lot to grow and to believe in myself.”

“Learning to swim gave me great satisfaction and I learned that no matter the age to learn new things that are benefiting my body and mind to feel more confident and with more energy and happier,” Ana Vieyra said. “A thousand thanks to all those who make it possible to help us improve as women and to become more positive and productive human beings.”

Since the program ended, some of the women like Sived Gutierrez are continuing to go swimming religiously at 5 a.m. three mornings a week during the free swim time: “Then I go very happy to work, I see things with more tranquility,” Gutierrez said. “My family sees a big difference in my well- being and we enjoy our time together more. My kids now want to join me.”

Stapleton is grateful for the Boys & Girls Club support and was able to get a couple of memberships for the women so they can continue to swim. She would love to get more community support to keep it going and provide more memberships for the women.

“For me learning to swim has given me more confidence. I looked forward to Sunday practice and came home well relaxed and with a lot of energy,” said Guadalupe Escobar. “If you want to accomplish your goals, you can meet them— like we learned to swim.”

To donate to support the group, visit or contact Monica Stapleton at