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Mike Von Plinsky spent three decades amassing a work history with everything from aerospace engineering to professional business management, but in recent years, he’s added something new.

“I never thought that I would have running a rock show on my resume,” he said.

A new chapter in Von Plinsky’s life has brought him to founding a nonprofit organization, the Florida Helps Foundation, as well as using his business acumen to assist people running other nonprofits. When you have nonprofit charities, you have a need for fundraising, so that’s why Von Plinsky applied his business experience toward producing music festivals.

On Saturday, Nov. 14, five reggae and tropical rock acts will take the stage at the first Fort Myers Beach Back Bay Bash. The music festival will take place at Bootlegger’s Waterfront Barbeque, which is located at Salty Sam’s Marina on San Carlos Island. The festival schedule takes a hybrid approach with family festival activities and tropical rock entertainment during the day followed by a shift toward an adult reggae music festival atmosphere for the evening.

The festival will raise funds for PADLS — Persons with Autism or Disabilities Learn to Swim, the Tabarrini Foundation’s Children’s Music Outreach and My Autism Connection.

Naples reggae powerhouse SowFlo headlines the evening concert that also includes The Jungle Boyz Reggae and Motown Band. Fort Myers Beach’s own Jeb Taylor Band headlines the trop-rock day program, which also includes Times Square Sunset Celebration favorite High Tide and solo guitarist Renee Hose from Cape Coral.

The “Kidz Zone” play area for families will offer a supervised bounce house, boat rides and pirate cruise, mermaid tank, magicians, clowns, a Fort Myers Beach fire truck and a fashion show. The play area will include activities for autistic and other children with special needs.

Along with a vendor area, the festival will also offer an “Awareness Alley” as a resource for parents that will highlight nonprofits with services for children with special needs. Among those organizations will be PADLS, an offshoot of Von Plinsky’s foundation, which offers water safety training to special-needs individuals.

“I have a brother with special needs and a nephew with autism,” he said. “When I did research, I discovered this shockingly unaddressed area. There are almost no programs that address water safety for these kids. We are about drowning prevention and water safety, so if a kid falls into the water, whether a canal or the Gulf of Mexico, they can come up, not choke and get themselves turned around.”

Accidental drownings are the major cause of death for children with special needs under the age of 15, and for every child who dies, an additional four children are hospitalized from near-drowning incidents. About 3,000 children with the autism spectrum diagnosis live in Southwest Florida, and many more with other disabilities live in the area. Given the year-round accessibility in Florida to numerous bodies of water, water safety training is critical for all children. However, regular swimming classes don’t work well for children with special needs.

“God bless the good done by big programs at community pools, but because of finances, they have to teach 10 or 20 children at once,” Von Plinsky said.

“Because of the behavioral issues, the special-needs children have to get one-on-one attention that is not available in regular classes.”

After receiving a $23,000 start-up grant in December from Autism Speaks, the national autism science and advocacy organization, the PADLS program researched educational techniques, trained instructors and launched its first classes taught in donated space at the Cape Coral Yacht Club pool. The program isn’t intended to train the children to become Olympic swimmers; the focus is strictly on drowning prevention and safety. Instructors in the program helped to move one child, 7-year-old Leytin Miller of Cape Coral, from terror to comfort in the water after only a few lessons.

“At his first session, there were other people in the pool looking at him because he was screaming and deathly afraid of being in the pool,” said Leytin’s father, Scott Miller. “It went from that to, ‘We get to go see Barb (the instructor) today.’ It was a real 180 degrees in regards to him and the pool.”

As Scott Miller talked about his son’s new comfort with the water, Leytin giggled while he listened to his father speak about the lessons and chimed in to remind Scott about his favorite parts of the classes.

“The paramount thing is safety,” Scott Miller said. “Any parent has fears and concerns that you carry with you making sure your kid is safe, but those fears and concerns for safety are elevated when your child doesn’t understand the seriousness and ramifications of safety things. Being able to feel they are going to be safer around the pool and water helps with the anxiety of being a special-needs parent.”

Having taught 275 half-hour lessons during the start-up sessions in July and September, PADLS is off to a splashing start. Von Plinsky wants to expand the program to pools near families throughout the three counties of Southwest Florida, but unfortunately, the Autism Speaks startup grant is nearly expended.

The program must now find local support through sponsors, financial and pool-use donors, and large fundraising events such as the Back Bay Bash.

“Parents who learn about this program are overwhelmingly happy they found it,” Von Plinsky said.

Connect with this writer: @LauraTichySmith (Twitter)

Contact PADLS

What: PADLS — Persons with Autism or Disabilities Learn to Swim

Info: 896-2847; info@flhelps.org; flhelps.org/padls

Next lessons: Expected in January

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