Free swim lessons for Jacksonville children

By Crystal Moyer - Traffic/reporter
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - School is out, but some kids in Jacksonville are still taking lessons.

Several groups are working together offering free swim lessons for young people in Duval County. It's all part of an initiative to keep kids safe in the water.

There have been several drowning deaths in the area recently, and the city is trying to turn that around. Mayor Alvin Brown announced a campaign called Waterproof Jacksonville, and community leaders want to make sure there's no excuse why kids don't know how to swim.

Fear of water isn't the only reason why someone doesn't want to learn how to swim. There are many more factors.

"There are children that are worried about how the water may treat their hair. There are mothers worried about how their children may look in a swimsuit. Some of its financial," said Pam Roman, of JaxParks.

Roman said the Waterproof Jax program will offer free swim lessons with professionals who will help get families more comfortable with the water.

"We had a young girl. She was 12 years old. She did not know how to swim," Roman said. "She had long, braided hair, and her mom did not want her in the pool."

Roman got the family in touch with an instructor that could help.

"He got her in the water, introduced her to the swim cap and some products that will help her hair, which made mom feel better, made her feel better," Roman said.

Community leaders want to make sure kids can survive in a situation where they're in the water. After all, Jacksonville is surrounded by lakes, pools and the ocean.

Cynthia Dennis, of Safe Kids Northeast Florida, said drowning is the leading killer of children in Florida. She said in many cases young kids are attracted to pools and lakes and accidentally fall in.

"It's a huge deal, a huge safety issue that we all need to be concerned with, and swim lessons is a big part of that in making kids safer in the water, in addition to age-appropriate careful supervision of kids anytime they're around water," Dennis said.

Several organizations came together to offer more than 700 kids free swim lessons this summer.

"We're offering them at 23 pools so they get lessons almost anywhere in Duval County," Roman said.

The lessons are free to any child ages 4 and up who qualifies for free or reduced lunch at school.

"It should be a part of every summer," Dennis said. "That's what we do for at least a couple weeks. We take swim lessons, and it's a fun thing to do and it's very beneficial."

Two-hundred vouchers will be available Thursday night at a town hall meeting for the next session of free swim lessons. The meeting is being held at the Emmett Reed Community Center at 7 p.m. There will be a panel of experts there to help answer any questions or concerns parents may have.

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