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East Aurora teens dive into pool experience

Juan Cortez right listens instructions from scubinstructor Irene Bach during scubdiving exploratiprovided by Triple ThreMentoring held East AurorHigh School Saturday

Juan Cortez, right, listens to instructions from scuba instructor, Irene Bach, during the scuba diving exploration provided by Triple Threat Mentoring held at East Aurora High School on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. |Tim Perroud~for Sun Times Media

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Updated: March 27, 2013 6:03AM

AURORA — After bobbing in the shallow end with 40 pounds of scuba gear, East Aurora High School freshman Katia Carillo swam gracefully using the fins on her feet to propel her halfway across the East High pool.

“I am actually an average swimmer, but today I felt like I was gliding. It was really cool how the equipment feels lightweight in the water,” said Carillo, 14.

“I actually want to be a marine biologist one day,” she said, after an hourlong scuba session.

About 30 students on Saturday had a rare glimpse into the beauty of the under-water world as they straddled the bottom of their high school pool looking for decoy marine life.

Two organizations passionate about giving youth opportunities to positively influence their lives partnered with the East Aurora School District to give kids their first scuba diving experience.

Triple Threat Mentoring helps urban youth realize their potential through programs and events in athletics, academics and arts. And while STARS (Scuba Training At-Risk Students) International provides at-risk youth a positive outlet incorporating the sport of scuba diving.

Groups of students were each assigned to diving instructors and master divers to get acquainted with the essential pieces of equipment including the scuba mask, regulator, swim fins and compressed-air tank.

For fun, they dropped artificial marine life into the water to give the students an idea and an appreciation for what they would have to swim around in a real-life scuba diving adventure.

Building confidence

“This gives the youth an experience they probably would never have a chance to do — this is a very high-end sport,” said Kevin Vaughn, CEO and founder of STARS International.

Vaughn, a longtime scuba diver, has brought the Lake in the Hills-based program to schools, social agencies and police departments in the area to help build confidence, self-esteem and problem-solving skills.

“The changes I have seen in kids have been phenomenal, and it has changed my life forever in seeing a whole other avenue that is possible for positively influencing our youth,” he said.

Compared to the bone-chilling 20-degree weather outdoors, the pool area felt around 90 degrees, and the blue bottom pool water was warm to the touch as well.

“The water quality is pretty much what you would see scuba diving 100 to 200 feet under water in the Caribbean, and the water temperature is very close,” Vaughn said.

Caleb Luper said he and his wife left the corporate world when they realized “their lives were meant to be committed to helping others.” They founded Triple Threat Mentoring in Aurora. The nonprofit organization recruits adult volunteers and builds partnerships with communities, schools and churches.

“We believe people have gifts, talents and passions within them, but a lot of times they do it for themselves or it is a hobby,” Luper said. “When they learn to give it away in love and service to under-resourced children and families — it is an experience like no other.”

Luper said they have worked with some 17,000 children in the past five years.

“Scuba diving is something usually reserved for a more affluent community,” he said. “This is an unforgettable experience for these kids.”

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