Donations provide free swim lessons to children

Hundreds of students getting life-saving water safety training

By Mark Collins - Meteorologist

Children in a YMCA swim lesson group learn water safety.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Community groups raised funds to provide free swim lessons to more than 250 local students at the new Winston Family YMCA.

Water is everywhere in Jacksonville and it can be unsafe for children who don't know how to swim. Of the 18 people who drowned in Jacksonville this year 5 were kids under 14.

It is a generational problem where parents themselves can not swim and skills or new training is not passed on to their children. Not having access to lessons or financial restraints are barriers to acquiring water skills. 

The Y’s Safety Around Water curriculum teaches children how to swim to the surface and reach a pool edge. The goal is to teach children how to get out safely and respond to unexpected water situations.

Money raised from local charities, including the Jacksonville Rotary Club, will support free swimming lessons for children in Jacksonville.

The Rotary Club of West Jacksonville presented a $33,000 check to the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast in support of its drowning prevention effort.  One of its group members, Josh Harrison, spearheaded support which sparked additional contributions from Firehouse Subs and other local business leaders. Councilman Garrett Dennis passed legislation to kick in an additional 25 thousand.

The program has a focus on children who can't afford lessons. 70% of the children who cannot swim are African American and 60% are Hispanic.  Success of the program will come when students teach skills to other kids and family members.

Students have begun taking water safety education from Holy Rosary Catholic School, St. Pius Catholic School, Pickett Elementary School and Reynolds Lane Elementary School. All swim lessons will take place at the new Winston Family YMCA, which features a 25-meter lap pool with six lanes and a warmer pool for lessons with younger children.

“Swimming is an important life skill in the growth and development of all children. No one should miss the opportunity because of their financial restraints or lack of access to lessons,” said YMCA of Florida’s First Coast President and CEO Eric Mann. “Our partnership with the Rotary Club of West Jacksonville aligns with the city’s initiative to prevent childhood drowning and allows us to impact more youth in the First Coast community.”

“We recognize that education is the key to drowning prevention, and we are excited to provide life-saving water safety training to hundreds of students,” said the Rotary Club of West Jacksonville president Kathy Cold. “This grant will also create jobs by funding lifeguard-and-swim-instructor training for students.”

For more information about the Safety Around Water program, visit FirstCoastYMCA.org.