I take the breaststroke, backstroke and freestyle for granted — I was taken to a pool to learn how to blow bubbles starting at 6 months old.
At 7, I remember having to leave the swim team banquet early, only to learn that I had received the “Most Improved” award, which we all know means, “You REALLY sucked, but now you suck less!” I went back in the banquet with my gap-toothed grin, beaming because not only could I swim, but I could swim better than when I started on the team!
Swimming is not a right or a given for a lot of children, and east Charlotte knows this all too well. The last six summers, there have been one or two deaths by drowning every year. The YMCA of Greater Charlotte has taken notice and implemented the research-based Safety Around Water program, adopting one or two apartment complexes to visit on a weekly basis to teach free swimming lessons for five weeks in a row.
According to Dave Buskey, aquatics director at the Simmons YMCA, 70 percent of African American children and 60 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim, compared to 30 percent of Caucasian children. “We’re wanting in East Charlotte to attack that,” he said.
The Simmons, Johnston and Harris YMCA branches adopted six apartment complexes last year, teaching 300 children and adults how to swim. They are expanding to 20 sites this year with a goal of reaching 1,000 people, leaving residents safer with a healthy respect for the water and with skills on how to swim and help others to be safe around water.
“Most drownings that happen do so within 10 feet of safety,” Buskey said. “Our goal is to take those kids that are part of the demographic, part of the statistic, and give them the tools to use in a possible deadly situation.”
One of the Safety Around Water sites, Woodbridge Apartment community on Albemarle Road (basically the front yard of Simmons), knows this to be true. One of the middle school boys in their community drowned in the complex’s pool over Memorial Day weekend 2014. This community was the first to sign up for the Safety Around Water program in 2015.
Not only was the program successful in equipping community members with the skill set to respect the water and to know how to swim, but it unexpectedly created community amongst the residents.
Vanessa, a resident and mother of two, enrolled her kids in the swimming lessons because she never learned and still doesn’t know how to swim. She didn’t want her children being fearful of the water like she was. Coming to the pool every day week after week, the parents got to learn each other and watch their kids play. “I had no idea who a lot of these people were [before the lessons]. I wanted my kids to know how to swim. They’ve come such a long way,” Vanessa said. “That would not have been possible without this program. Please don’t forget about us.”
The Y has a challenging summer ahead and a fun day on June 24 as they join the World Water Park Association to offer the world’s largest swim lesson from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. It’s a free event with a 30-minute lesson, which they hope will encourage kids to want to participate in the Safety Around Water programs or take lessons. (Find a location here.)