JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - More children in Northeast Florida and across the state will learn to swim thanks to a $310,000 donation from health care provider Florida Blue.
The money will be divided among four YMCA groups, including the YMCA of Florida's First Coast, which will receive $100,000.
The funds will be used to provide free swim lessons and mobile aquatics programs for more than 5,000 children and families through the YMCA's Safety Around Water program. At least 800 children in the Northeast Florida community will benefit, YMCA officials said.
The program includes teaching children how to reach the water's surface if they're submerged and how to get to the edge of a pool.
It also teaches children how to exit any body of water and respond to unexpected water situations.
"Enough children drown in Florida each year to fill four classrooms, so learning life safety water skills is a real solution," said Susan Towler, of Florida Blue.
Josh Harrison nearly drowned at age 3 when he was playing with a cousin and jumped into Doctor's Lake in Clay County.
He now serves on the board of a local Y and makes sure his own 7-year-old daughter is safe around water.
"You can't put fences around every body of water in Florida -- retention ponds, pools, the ocean," Harrison said. "(We teach kids) just to be safe, to respect it."
Angel Walker told News4Jax on Tuesday that one of her biggest fears is "that I'll lose one of my kids to drowning -- something that can be prevented."
That's why she signed up all three of her children for the YMCA's Safety Around Water program. Walker's 12-year-old daughter, Paris, said so far, it's going well.
"I've learned how to not drown," Paris Walker said. "How to stay above the water and kick my feet, like, keep kicking my feet so I won't go under."
Research shows that participation in formal water safety and swim lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children 1 to 4 years of age, YMCA officials said.
“Every child deserves access to water safety resources,” said YMCA of Florida’s First Coast President and CEO Eric Mann. “We thank Florida Blue for this incredibly generous support of the Safety Around Water initiative. This gift enables us to teach lifesaving water safety skills to more than 800 additional children in our North Florida community alone. Building a stronger, safer and healthier community is an ongoing effort that cannot be achieved without partnerships like this.”
Walker said she was exciting to hear that news.
"It's fabulous. I'm so thankful for the program, for the children of our community, because they definitely need to know how to swim," the mother said.
The other YMCA groups receiving funds are the YMCA of South Palm Beach County and YMCA of South Florida, which each received a $100,000 grant, and the Manatee YMCA, which received a $10,000 donation.
The YMCA of Florida’s First Coast has provided swim lessons to the Jacksonville community since the 1950s. For more information about the Safety Around Water program, visit FirstCoastYMCA.org.
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