New campaign aims to cut down on drownings

Program will offer free swimming lessons to more than 700 children

By Kumasi Aaron - Reporter/The Morning Show anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - School is out for many students in our area, that means a lot of summer fun in the water.

Several groups in Jacksonville are coming together to make sure kids are having fun in the water safely. They're announcing a new campaign which will offer free swimming lessons in hopes that it will prevent another child from drowning accidentally.

That's why Shirley Lucas says it was so important for her son to learn before he got in the water at Oceanway Pool.

Lucas says, "I think everybody, all children should know how to swim. I feel safer knowing that they can swim being around a large body of water whether it's the pool or a beach or anything like that."

But not every child in Jacksonville can swim. That's why Mayor Alvin Brown joined Safe Kids Northeast Florida and other community partners to announce a campaign called "Waterproof Jacksonville."

"There's so many young people in our community who can't afford to take swimming lessons," Mayor Brown says. "And all of our great partners have decided to step up to the plate."

The program will offer free swimming lessons to more than 700 children, and advance swimming lessons to 300 more based on financial need.

Accidental drowning is the leading cause of death in Florida in children under 5, and Cynthia Dennis with Safe Kids Northeast Florida is hoping this new initiative will help turn that around.

"Every year enough kids drown in Florida to fill three or four preschool classrooms," Dennis says. "Kids that never got to reach their fifth birthday from a totally unnecessary tragedy."

There have been several drowning deaths and one close call in just the last few weeks.

In May, a two year old boy drowned three days after being found unresponsive in a day care pool. On Tuesday, a family found a 4-year-old Orange Park child in a pool unresponsive. Luckily they were able to revive the child.

And it's not just pools.

A 17-year-old disappeared in the water last week after fishing in the waters near Fort Clinch State Park. The Coast Guard said there have been two drowning deaths in St. Augustine, one in Jacksonville and another in Fernandina in the last two weeks.

This is just the kickoff for Waterproof Jacksonville. Later this month there will be a Town Hall meeting where parents can learn more about water safety and sign up for free lessons.

"We feel like it will be better to get some face to face time with parents and there will be more of a buy in to actually follow through with the lessons and that type of thing." Dennis says.

The YMCA will also be offering 272 children on free or reduced school lunch FREE swim instruction from July 1-31 at YMCA pools in Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties.

The program is available to children in kindergarten through fifth grade. They do not have to be YMCA members to participate, but children must register by June 28 at the Y and need to have their free or reduced school lunch verification letter at the time of registration.

It's an initiative they hope will save lives and insure a safe and fun filled summer.

Click here for more information about the swim initiative.

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